Dec 17

Yankees Re-sign Headley, Capuano

Chase HeadleyI’m a little surprised that Chase Headley only received a 4-year/$52 million deal. As the top remaining third baseman on the market, and a solid bet to actually be worth the money he’ll be paid, I felt fairly confident that he’d average in the 15 million dollar range. Of course, that kind of figure would have been a slight overpay, but it’s raining Benjamins in the bigs these days.

The market never approached 15 per, and the sudden frugality by GMs is the Yankees gain as they locked up a clear position of need at an excellent value. There were rumors that Headley had an offer for 4-years/$65 million, which was quickly dismissed as poppycock, and reports that the Houston Astros had offered five and 65, though I wonder about the latter. 13 million is a lot to leave on the table, no matter how much more competitive he believes the Yankees might be, and with there being no state income tax in Texas . . . you get the idea. Maybe Headley really loves the Chelsea Hotel or ice skating in Rockefeller Center.

Hum some Leonard Cohen, and New York City it is.

By now, everyone knows the Headley story. He was really good, an overnight San Diego sensation, then he was constantly injured and became “Career Year” Hedley or “One-Time” Chase. That’s not particularly fair as he was still worth in the neighborhood of 3-4 wins depending on your WAR du jour, and over the last two years (discounting his extraordinary 2012) he’s recorded the 10th most wins by fWAR (8.0) and 12th (7.3) by bWAR for a third baseman in the Majors.

Kudos, One-Time!

If he hits comparable to how he did after being traded to the Yankees, .262/.371/.398 with six home runs in 58 games, with just enough pop to sit mid-teens while playing solid defense, this deal is a winner. Honestly, I find it difficult to find fault here since Headley will earn his 52 million in the first three years alone (depending on how much a win is truly worth these days) and will play that final year for free. That doesn’t happen all that often in the Bronx, and Brian Cashman should be congratulated for snookering Headley into forgoing Houston’s extra year (if for reals).

Remove Headley’s contributions last season, and the Yankees were seventh in total fWAR for third base in the AL over the last two seasons (sigh, so many prepositions), barely topping the Angels who had a whole lot of nothing there until David Freese turned in passable last year. It’s a similar story if we go back to 2012, the year after Alex Rodriguez decided to get all broken and old. They sit seventh, and with the AL East now suddenly boasting a plethora of talented third sackers, the Yankees needed to re-sign their most valuable infielder (only Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner topped Headley’s 2.8 fWAR for position players) from last year’s team or watch as the Red Sox manage to employ them all and sprinkle them around the diamond.

We can debate all day long if the Yankees have enough to win the division (they don’t) but there’s little debate that an infield of Didi Gregorius, Martin Prado, and Mark Teixeira desperately needed some kind of offense to balance out the .220s Gregorius and Teixeira will throw out. At the age of 34, it’s all hope and medical miracles that Teixeira’s wrist will stop bothering him. I’m fudging a bit here by not including Brian McCann in that group, but McCann is certain to improve upon that .232/.286/.406 line he had last season, especially considering his lifetime OBP of .343. He still hit 23 home runs, which was nice. Add in a full season of Headley, and we’re discussing a group that scores a few runs and competes in the East.

Most interesting to me was the Yankees re-signing Chris Capuano to a one-year deal. Others are more bullish on the Yankees rotation than I am. Personally, I think it’s a group brimming with question marks, so retaining Capuano is a sound move if the idea is depth in case of injury: a near certainty. I hope it doesn’t signal the retirement of Hiroki Kuroda or is meant to fill Brandon McCarthy’s vacated spot. We’re years removed from when Capuano pitched anything close to a regular workload. It was two years ago when he last made 30+ starts.

Five million for Capuano, though, is another thrift store deal for the Yankees, and either something big is in the works or we’re looking at a front office that has seen the state of the organization and is looking to save cash. If it’s the latter, why sign Headley for 13 million per? You take flyers on guys in the four to five million range, like the Padres did with Brandon Morrow, and if they pan out you extend an offer and either receive an extra pick or negotiating leverage. Capuano is 36. Apparently the Yankees are banking that the Mets are in the market for a starter next year.

Chase Headley photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Dec 15

Catalog Christmas Shopping

So far, in these first few weeks leading up to Christmas, I’ve made pounds of chocolate candies with my mother-in-law; eaten an unhealthy quantity of said candy; introduced Frosty, Christmas Comes to Pacland, Yogi’s First Christmas, and the He-man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special to my daughter; and decided that my next big project is a movie called Puppies and Poinsettias that will be perfect for Hallmark if Debbie Macomber hasn’t written it first.

What I haven’t done, however, is something that I used to love doing as a kid: memorizing the Sears’ Christmas Wish Book.1 Since I refuse to pay the 20 bucks to buy a physical copy of the 2014 Wish Book, and viewing all of the items online isn’t any different than shopping on Amazon, I’m stuck with whatever catalogs are mailed my way this holiday season. Lucky for me, I somehow ended up on the Hammacher Schlemmer mailing list, and I’m passing all of these amazing finds to you: the ones I cherish the most.

So long winter meetings! Hello Christmas! Let’s go shopping.

VaderToaster1.  Evil Empire – For anyone born prior to George Lucas and Hayden Christensen turning the black-clad slayer of billions into a maudlin, love-stricken farce, Darth Vader was a menace more feared by children than Keyser Soze. Alas. One abomination of a trilogy later, and Lucas forced Christensen into one of the most iconic scenes from the Return of the Jedi and Vader is a joke, now safe for the most important meal of the day.

“Here you are, honey. Would you like some Vader toast with those C-3PO’s? How about some metachlorian jam?”

The one-time Vader of the baseball world is the Yankees, and the Bronx Bombers are such an afterthought in the silly season of free agent shopping that we’re left wondering if they’ll even be able to re-sign Chase Headley.

Oh, it’s a sad day.

There was a time when the Yankees set the market and other teams reacted. When the Mets signed Carlos Beltran, I worried it would be the Yankees that swooped in and signed him. Every free agent was linked with New York in one form or fashion, whether by agents whispering their name to drive up the price or the Yankees all-consuming need to swallow the baseball world like a real life Norman Bombardini. When Bombardini says, “Yes. I plan to grow to infinite size . . . There will of course eventually cease to be room for anyone else in the universe at all,” it might have been the Steinbrenner’s talking.

Let’s take a quick look at where the Yankees are today:

  • Their best starting pitcher may or may not be seconds away from Tommy John surgery with the continued use of his splitter, but since he elected to not have the surgery there will always be that lingering doubt if with each next pitch he’ll be out for the upcoming season.
  • 28 starts are gone with Brandon McCarthy signing with the Dodgers and the Yankees sending Shane Greene to the Tigers in the deal that eventually led to Didi Gregorius taking over short.
  • Hiroki Kuroda has yet to decide if he’s retiring for real or returning. At least he hasn’t announced it yet.
  • Ivan Nova will be back a year after TJ surgery. How will he pitch?
  • Michael Pineda missed time, again, for right shoulder issues for the third straight season. He’s missed 2+ seasons due to his shoulder since 2012.
  • C. Sabathia had surgery on his right knee, missed 75% of the season, and is two years removed from being good. But, hey, cheer up. At least he missed having microfracture surgery. That is, of course, because knee surgery and a 285 pound soon-to-be 35 year old isn’t scary enough.
  • Their former closer now pitches for the White Sox.
  • Gregorius hit .226/.290/.363 last season.
  • Alex Rodriguez still wants to return.
  • Is Martin Prado the answer at second?
  • Mark Teixeira is still on the books through 2016, and he hit .216 last year.

Don’t worry about a thing though. They still only have 180 million tied up with 13 players. Paying 9 million a year for a reliever is a move a team capable of competing makes, a luxury move. The Yankees are going to be horrid next year. How about using that money to overpay some so-so starter.

Breakfast in the Bronx.

FauxFireplace2.  Holiday Cheer Not Included – I’ll stay in New York to discuss a team near and dear to me. For years the Mets have been preaching patience. One more year. Just wait until the kids fill out the rotation and the Mets make a run at the NL East. Well, here we are. Matt Harvey will be back in 2015; Jacob deGrom was a revelation; Zach Wheeler will sooner or later figure out how to dominate in the strike zone, and Noah Syndergaard should never, ever be discussed in a trade unless it’s for Troy Tulowitzki.

The Mets big move? Moving in the fences. Again.

What’s the obvious choice when you’re hoping to compete with talented, young pitchers? Move in the fences. For years the team and fans have blamed Citi Field for the lack of offense, so why not move in the fences to make everyone better? Hey, look everyone. We know we haven’t been able to produce a shortstop of Major League quality since the best one in team history signed with the Marlins. At the time I agreed with the decision to let Jose Reyes walk. 6 years/$106 million was way too much money for a guy as brittle as Reyes, but the team could have at least made an attempt to fill his position.

This offseason? Sandy Alderson apparently has a mandate from up high to keep the payroll at 100 million, which is ridiculous. According to Spotrac, the Mets have the 19th largest payroll in the Majors as of right now. They play in the number one media market, the largest city in the United States by population, and are by complete accident a damn icon despite their best efforts to alienate their fans. Never mind the team has pissed away the best years of David Wright’s career on shaky, no defense outfielders (still ongoing) or chasing B-Level free agents because the owners are broke.

The big story now is the team needs to trade one or all of Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, or Bartolo Colon to make way for Syndergaard and/or free up cash to actually sign someone. Why? Once again, they’re the NEW YORK METS. They should have their checkbooks at the ready to sign whomever they damn well please.

Remember those fences after they fall five games short of the second wild card but the Wilpons are pointing to Wilmer Flores’ 10 home runs as proof that the plan is working and look at those kids go. See? We didn’t screw up that Curtis Granderson signing last season! He slugged five more home runs while hitting .230!

In retrospect, doesn’t the Michael Cuddyer signing look more and more like a way to buy on the cheap? It wasn’t about filling a need. They signed a player that nobody else was guying to sign at the very beginning of free agency just so they could get a few years at 10.5 million each. And the Mets get the privilege of surrendering their first round draft pick just to watch Cuddyer play around 110 games a season.

Do you think Wright re-signed for this in 2013? Sure, he got paid, but the front office had to tell him they would do everything in their power to fix this mess. Have they? What’s the level of actually trying?

About 2-2.5?

So, the Mets and all the fans will be sitting before our faux fireplaces, sipping cold cocoa with marshmallow shaped whiskey stones.

The Yankees’ fans can join us. It sure is toasty in here.

BearedBeanie3.  Baby It’s Cold Outside – You wouldn’t know it by the present temperatures (53 in the Windy City and 54 in the nation’s capital) but Chicago gets cold outside in the winter, especially compared to DC. Last year, Chicago received 82 inches of snow, and while that’s about four feet more than Chicago’s average, even the thought of that much snow would send me scampering for the Caribbean until spring.

The Bearded Beanie goes to former Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche who moved to the South Side to help manager Robin Ventura and the gang make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

LaRoche doesn’t play first as well as he used to, but he’ll look like Will Clark compared to Jose Abreu. Abreu can DH, and the team improves two positions with a little creativity and the willingness to spend.

LeatherVest4.  Can’t Knock the Hustle – The list of front offices that should smile this widely grows by the day, but Theo Epstein receives this slick, genuine buffalo leather vest. Look at that guy? He’s the coolest cat around.

In an offseason where the Red Sox signed the two best third basemen for around 180 million combined because the available bats are pretty sad, moved one to the outfield, then traded the guy they received from Oakland after they traded their best pitcher to fill the void when that same pitcher signed with the Cubs, Theo Epstein looks as cool as a guy can with his leather vest and perfect hair.

He’s stocked with young position players when that’s all the thing these days, has a legitimate number one to pair with Jake Arrieta after trading away Jeff Samardzija for one of those talented youngsters, and traded for Miguel Montero who is a slight upgrade on Welington Castillo if things break just right.

I think we can cool it on the franchise altering hyperbole after Jon Lester signed, but he’s a nice pick up and will be the best left hander in a Cubs uniform since Ted Lilly left town. That shouldn’t lessen the rosy glow on Epstein’s cheeks as he remakes this franchise into a potential Central bully.

If the Cubs win the World Series, say in three years, should Epstein immediately be put on the Hall of Fame ballot?

If the Cubs do manage to win the Series (cart before horse, I know. Make the playoffs or, you know, finish above .500), can Rob Manfred force Epstein to move to the next embattled franchise that hasn’t won in a while . . . or ever? After Chicago, Epstein can move onto Seattle, Houston, or San Diego.

T Rex5.  Sometimes Old Means Old – This is by far and away my favorite item in this catalog. If you had $100,000 of disposable income, would you buy a life size T-Rex skeleton? Sure. If you’re that loaded, with money at your fingertips, the thought of owning a 15’ tall relic might just be the thing to complete your mansion. If you have that much money, are you flipping through the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog?

Doubtful.

It’s a completely self-indulgent item that misses the mark. People like me aren’t buying that thing. I’m more inclined to go with the light casting gloves that are so dumb that they might actually be useful. No? Not your style. What about these beauties? There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t need to call my broker when I’m out grabbing a smoke in ten degree weather. 80 dollars for that crap? Did I mention that I love, love, love this catalog?  It’s true.

This gift goes to the Minnesota Twins. The old is taken care of with the signing of Torii Hunter. He’ll be 39 next season, and if Minnesota is expecting him to be as feared in the field as he was way back in 2007 they’re going to be disappointed. On the plus side, it’s only a one-year deal, and Hunter is still capable with the bat. He’s a stop gap until Byron Buxton is ready.

No. The delusional part comes in by signing Ervin Santana for 4-years/$55 million with a 2019 option. The money is bad enough. Santana immediately becomes the team’s largest free agent signing in team history and the  second highest paid player behind Joe Mauer If $14 million doesn’t sound that bad, remember Santana will be receiving that early gift over four years. That’s a long time.

I just don’t see it. He’ll be 32 next season, and if the Twins are lucky, they get a #3 starter for those dollars. For significantly less, they could have gone after Justin Masterson and received comparable production if he checks out physically.

The good news is the Twins kept their protected first-round pick to sign Santana. There are always silver linings in these clouds.

Bumble6.  No Herbie? – I have my doubts about this Giancarlo Stanton contract. It’s so heavily backloaded that the Marlins are probably going to end up paying roughly 18 million per over the next six years if Stanton doesn’t beg the team to trade him to whoever is willing to pony up the prospects. Stanton will never see that 325 million.

It’s not going to happen.

After I heard about how the contract was structured, I immediately thought to myself that these are the same old Marlins, and the fans in Miami are soon going to see their team dismantled as their franchise superstar tweets his displeasure. Then, I read this today that made me realize that I’m not the only one calling shenanigans.

Am I the only one irate over this? Probably. I tend to overreact to things. Still, it seems to me to be a reasonable assumption that Jeffrey Loria and David Samson are literally banking on the idea that Stanton will opt out. They have no intention of paying that full contract, so it’s all PR and smoothing of ruffled feathers. “Thanks Miami for all those billions you’ll be paying to fund our stadium!  See, we’re still good guys!”

That truth aside, next year the Marlins will be fun. They already boast one of my favorite players in baseball with Christian Yelich, and then they go and trade for Mat Latos, my now second favorite NL East Matt.

There are so many things I love about that Latos trade for the Marlins, but the main reason I’m glad he’s here is that I’ll get to watch him pitch at least three times a year against both the Nats and the Mets.

A man can consume only so much baseball, and if Latos is part of that fun, then God bless us, everyone!

Eventually the Marlins will let the air out of their intimidating duo, but for right now it’s an all-out sprint for the playoffs.

Well, that’s it for part one. I’ll be back in a bit with more holiday shopping ideas.

  1. Click on 1985 Christmas Catalog and stare at the Transformers page. I did. I can’t even tell you how happy this made me then and just now. When my parents told me to stop watching the USA Cartoon Express and read, this was the very book that I picked up and studied.

Dec 14

White Sox Add Cabrera – Cubs Now on the Clock

"<strongTo call Melky Cabrera a huge upgrade in left field you have to believe the White Sox actually had a Major League-caliber player stationed there last season. The South Siders just improved by at least three wins, and with all their other moves from this offseason, just turned into a .500 ball club. Welcome, AL Central, to the land of mediocrity—where everyone is good enough to win just enough to be uninspiring.

The 2014 White Sox had one of two options in left field: Alejandro De Aza who is typically a safe bet to swipe 20 bags and top double-digit home runs (his 17 homers in ’13 look fluky now) but was traded to the Orioles and played well down the stretch, which was probably irritating to see him rejuvenated in Baltimore; or the mostly right, sometimes left Dayan Viciedo who plays horrid defense, strikes out a lot, but has youth and the promise of 20 home runs to make you believe he’s valuable.

Cabrera will surpass the combination of those two by the end of April and even if he can’t play defense as well as De Aza, he has a strong arm and should keep runners honest. By the final year of this three-year deal, he’ll be more DH than actual outfielder, but that’s a problem to worry about down the road. Is it an overpay?  Eh.  42-45 million over three years is the expected range, and that’s not really all that bad for what Cabrera provides. Look.  If Nick Markakis received 4/45, then 3/42-45 for Melky is reasonable. He’s only 30. It’s not like he’ll limp around left with a replacement hip by year three.

He’ll just waddle there a bit.

Rejoice Chicago! The city of Nelson Algren has become baseball’s focal point this offseason, and it’s a good thing to see. With the Windy City now the home of Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Arrieta, Jose Quintana, and the strong-armed Cabrera, I look forward to the daily The Man with the Golden Arm references.1 In fact, I demand it. If Algren can’t get some love this season in Chicago by the beat writers, then things have gone horribly wrong. While it’s debatable whether the Cubs and White Sox actually did enough to be real contenders in the escalating Midwestern arms race, it’s difficult to argue that both teams aren’t making an honest go of it.

In the last three weeks, the White Sox have addressed their closer role with the signing of David Robertson, the black hole that was first base, a strong #2-3 starter with Samardzija, and now left field. I’m not as high on Adam LaRoche as some. I doubt he’ll be worth 12.5 million over two years, much less paying him 25 million total over that span, but he’ll be an upgrade defensively at first. Honestly, I think his best asset might just be the attitude he brings to the field. Don’t be surprised if the White Sox infielders start playing with a little more moxie thanks to the “Buck Commander’s” machismo.

Regardless, between LaRoche and Jose Abreu at first and DH, Samardzija, and Robertson, the Sox have added 7-8 wins at a minimum. Are they contenders? Why not. Their rotation is just as good as what the Tigers will be throwing out there when/if they ever decide to keep their good, young pitchers that aren’t rock star famous, the Royals haven’t re-signed James Shields (or found a replacement as he becomes too pricy) and with a few breaks the White Sox are in the 85 win territory.

In the Central, with every team capable of walloping on the other, that might just be enough.

  1. In college, I read a lot of Algren. Couldn’t get enough of him. For my senior thesis, I wrote this short story about a coffee junky that was such a blatant rip off of the dialogue between Frankie Machine and Sparrow from The Man with the Golden Arm that I should have paid Algren’s estate royalties. Except no one but my professors would read it. Sometimes I think A Walk on the Wild Side might be my favorite of his novels, and I try to come up with legitimate literary reasons why this is the case, and then I re-read a line like “The great, secret and special American guilt of owning nothing, nothing at all, in the one land where ownership and virtue are one,” and I feel so foolish for doubting Frankie.

Dec 11

Detroit Tigers: the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Yoenis Cespedes (52) slides into second against the Orioles.

Yoenis Cespedes (52) slides into second against the Orioles.

I love initial reactions. They’re the best. When a buddy asked if I’d heard about trading for Yoenis Cespedes, my initial thought went something like, “Who’d the Tiger ship out? No way Dombrowski was dumb enough to trade Porcello.” Well. There you have it. Porcello is packing his Louis Vuitton signature luggage for Boston in what I imagine will be the first all matchup specific rotation in baseball history. The O’s are right heavy? Give ‘em Porcello. We’ll save Wade Miley for the Yanks on Tuesday.

I don’t even consider this a bad trade. The Tigers have to pay/play someone in the outfield, and they decided not to keep Torii Hunter and his Shrinky Dink-esque range from a homecoming and in right another season. Boston did extremely well to trade from a position of excess for a needed commodity, and Detroit traded a 25-year old pitcher that in all likelihood topped out with a career season for an older player who has the better arm—especially when you see Cespedes make throws like this:

Both will be free agents after next season. In the abstract, seen only through this trade, I like the deal. Cespedes immediately becomes the Tigers best outfielder unless J.D. Martinez’s ascent is for keeps. I’ll wait another year to see if the 23-year old can maintain his current level of pretty freaking good.

Big picture, though, what are the Tigers going to do about arms? Believe it or not, pitching was a strength for the team in 2014 with the Tigers ranking fourth in the AL in FIP and second in fWAR, even with Justin Verlander’s annual descent into average and Anibal Sanchez making 21 starts. Is Max Scherzer returning? If so, the Tigers are going to need to break out the hefty moneybags to keep all other bidders away. With the Yankees deciding to do, well, nothing this offseason to address their pitching, are they targeting Scherzer? Hiroki Kuroda hasn’t decided on retirement or a return . . . somewhere, and Brandon McCarthy is now in LA. What will the Tigers do with David Price who’s a free agent next season? Teams in the Central are loading up, not settling for the scraps the Tigers leave behind.

This deal addresses an immediate need (a healthy body to roam around the outfield) while opening up all sorts of leverage for Scott Boras. I like Scherzer the most in this free agent class, and I’m sure other executives feel the same. It’s not rocket science. The guy is really, really good, and was the Tigers best pitcher. If they plan on keeping him around, expect that 134 million dollar payroll to shoot way up. If they plan on keeping Price around after this season, hello luxury tax.

I assume Dombrowski has other plans in the works. If Scott Baker and Josh Johnson are the answer in Detroit, we’ll know that it just sort of happened after an all-nighter and someone forgot that Tolbert is a practical joker.

Yoenis Cespedes photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Dec 11

Dodgers Grab Winter Meeting Headlines

Jimmy Rollins at bat against the Washington Nationals.

Jimmy Rollins at bat against the Washington Nationals.

I was skeptical of the Dodgers trade for Jimmy Rollins. He’s still a solid defender, and if he’s not the Gold Glove winner he was just a few years ago, he’ll certainly look like the second coming of Pee Wee Reese compared to Hanley Ramirez at shortstop. Even at 36-years old next season.

I was more surprised to see Ruben Amaro realize that it’s time to put away the well-loved photo albums from three years ago and start over. Rollins was an easy trade. He openly clashed with Ryne Sandberg out of spring training, and if by September everything was puppies and rainbows between the two men, Rollins still missed 19 games with a hamstring strain, perhaps showing signs of being, well, mid-30s.

Don’t stop there. Jonathan Papelbon is 34; Marlon Byrd is 37; and Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz will play 2015 at 36. Oh, and here’s the obligatory Ryan Howard is 35 and still expensive and no one will trade for him mention. These are guys who could fill out a lineup for a contender, not toiling away in last place in a division that should be more competitive. The Nationals are still the team to beat, but the Mets and Marlins will at least make it interesting. The Phillies aren’t in that mix. Not now. It’s a sad day to see a team that’s better suited to take on the Springfield softball team than a Major League one. I was looking forward to another season of trade rumors and delusional Amaro jokes.

So, no big deal. The Dodgers essentially added an upgrade over the No-man that was not manning short presently, but it wasn’t exactly a game-changer. They were just getting older. They added an aging shortstop to a collection of unhappy outfielders who were fragile and openly complaining about playing time. Before the season even started. Oy! Well, at least they’d make good theater.

Then those crafty Dodgers went and traded Dee Gordon and Dan Haren, received Howie Kendrick from the Angels, and signed Brandon McCarthy to a 4-year/48 million dollar contract, all huge wins.

The Dodgers lose about five years in age between Kendrick and Gordon, but if anyone believes Gordon is hitting .289 again next season they’re flipping through the same memory books as Amaro. While he did lead the Majors in triples last season, Gordon is largely a singles hitter who was lucky with a high BABIP. His BB% of 4.8 was also second lowest in the Majors for second basemen, behind only Ian Kinsler. For a guy who stole 64 bases last season, Gordon’s 101 wRC+ was shockingly barely over league average.

A year of Kendrick over Gordon? Sign me up. There’s an extra win or two right there, and the Dodgers are on the hook for one year in case he turns into Chone Figgins once leaving Anaheim. So, GM Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman get a season to see if their new old infield has the right combination of creaky joints and accumulated wisdom to get them past the NLDS. Stock up on plenty of Osteo Bi-Flex or spike the Gatorade with glucosamine and the Dodgers should win the West at least.

I thought McCarthy was a solid deal on 2-years and 20 million, but with Jason Hammel signing that same deal with the Cubs, McCarthy suddenly became more expensive. 4-years and 48 million is reasonable in a per year salary, but I doubt if the Dodgers get four years of service out of McCarthy. At 3/48, this deal is still reasonable, though, if McCarthy pitches like he did with the Yankees last season. A return to the NL should see his numbers boosted, and regardless, it’s an upgrade over Haren.

Thank you, Zaidi and Friedman for making Wednesday night fun. Don’t pop the champagne just yet, but with the busy day they just had, the Dodgers added a good 3-4 wins. With the rumors of a possible Matt Kemp trade for the Padres Yasmani Grandal, they don’t appear to be done either.

Talk about making a list and checking it twice:

  • Need a shortstop: check
  • Upgrade at second: check
  • Upgrade rotation with a replacement for Zack Greinke (if opts out): check
  • Too many outfielders: TBA
  • Upgrade catcher: TBA

Jimmy Rollins photo credit: Matthew Straubmuller via photopin cc

Dec 08

Free Agent Fun with Comps: the Broken Arms

Gavin FloydThis is part 11 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Positions completed so far: catchers, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, left field, remaining outfielders, designated hitters, and starting pitchers part one and part two.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I continue discussing the starting pitchers.

STARTING PITCHERS

We’re down to our final group of starting pitchers, and this is where we discuss the starters with significant injury risk. Okay. Pitchers and injury are inherently intertwined, but those in this grouping are particularly worrisome.

For instance, if Gavin Floyd hadn’t suffered a broken olecranon bone in his pitching elbow, the season after returning from Tommy John surgery, how much interest would he be drawing this offseason?

At the time of suffering his injury, Floyd had been enjoying his return to the NL by posting a career best ERA+ and was on his way to his third win of the season. Considering how wonky his elbow looked after the break, will he even receive a similar $4 million one-year deal like Atlanta gave him after his TJ surgery? Floyd will be 32 next year, broke his elbow when he opened the can of whoop ass against the Nationals, and has pitched fewer than 80 innings in the last two seasons combined.

I figure the market is tepid.

Anyway, every one of these men carries a story similar to Floyd’s. It’s our job to sift through the torn ligaments and shoulder contusions and determine whether teams should save their money for overpriced DHs.

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Josh Johnson 31 Matt Morris David Cone Morris
Gavin Floyd 32 Bronson Arroyo Ted Lilly Arroyo
Brett Anderson 27 Travis Wood Chuck Finley Wood
Brandon Morrow 30 Carlos Villanueva Dave Stewart Morrow
Scott Baker 33 Carl Pavano Kris Benson
Colby Lewis 35 Mark Gardner Rodrigo Lopez Gardner
Chad Billingsley 30 Chuck Estrada Jake Peavy Billingsley
Franklin Morales 29 J.P. Howell Jeremy Affeldt Howell
Kevin Slowey 31 John Halama John Maine Slowey
Felipe Paulino 31 Justin Germano Philip Humber Paulino

Starting Pitchers by Comps

1.  Josh Johnson – If there’s a way to suppress a pitcher’s marketability, it has to be a second TJ surgery, right? Johnson first had the surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews in August of 2007, spent a large chunk of 2008 recovering, and then spent 2009-10 embarrassing hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a filthy slider.

Then Johnson suffered through an assortment of shoulder ailments that cost him a full season of games split amongst 2010-11 and triceps and forearm issues that cost another half season in ’13. Oh, yeah, there’s that whole second TJ surgery this past April.

Because Johnson made fewer than seven starts last season for San Diego (zero actually) the Padres could have had him on their staff for a measly $4 million, and the team declined because he can’t stay healthy. They’d rather offer him less. That’s not small market temerity. That’s sound financial sense.

If there’s a chance Johnson could stay healthy, he’s easily the most intriguing pitcher available in free agency outside of Scherzer, Lester, and Shields. Age and all those injuries have zapped him of some of the life on his fourseamer, but his slider was still effective the last time he actually showed it.

I discuss Matt Morris in relation to Scherzer (oddly enough, Cone is a Scherzer comp as well), so I won’t discuss that all over again. Should I be more worried about Scherzer because of the similar comps or higher on Johnson? At 30, Morris had labrum surgery and was essentially done as a big league pitcher. I’d rather have the ages 30-32 years of Morris, struggles and all, over having to carry six starters with Johnson around. Was Morris good then? No. At least he stuck around for 200 innings per.

2.  Gavin FloydJoel Zumaya suffered a fractured olecranon bone in 2010 and possibly would have been pitching in the Majors again in 2011 if he didn’t have to have a screw replaced in the same elbow one year later. Zumaya never pitched another game in the big leagues, but that wasn’t because of his broken elbow.

I won’t pretend to be a medical professional and say Floyd is in the clear because a broken olecranon bone looks to be caused by muscle fatigue and overuse, two things a pitcher knows pretty well, and who knows the lingering mental gymnastics a pitcher would have to overcome after breaking his elbow while throwing. Maybe Floyd returns to post a few seasons of quality baseball and maybe he doesn’t. He was roughly league average in the two seasons prior to his TJ surgery, and the best case scenario moving forward is that he gives a team much of the same with a return to full health.

That’s a big if.

I don’t want to oversell Floyd’s injury because I don’t know enough about it to be certain one way or the other. I do know that breaking a bone while doing something that you have to do thousands a time a year doesn’t sound all that promising and would worry me if I was signing his paychecks.

I like Floyd enough to offer him a minor-league contract and see what comes from it. Depending on him though is foolish.

Bronson Arroyo won’t win any awards for intimidation, but he’s been productive in his Cincinnati years. Last season with Arizona didn’t go so hot (oh, silly puns), but I hear TJ surgeries are all the thing these days.

A healthy Floyd gives Arroyo a fight, but Arroyo’s steady 2-2.5 bWAR since turning 32 wins the day.

3.  Brett Anderson –27 this upcoming February, Brett Anderson is the youngest free agent pitcher this offseason and left handed, and those two combined should make Anderson ridiculously overpaid. He’s probably not because of a history of missing games due to a list of injuries that rival an Operation board.

Since making it to the Majors in 2009, Anderson has missed 560 games due to injuries! That’s 3 ½ years. He missed 80% of ’14 due to a fractured index finger on his throwing hand and then a bulging disc.

The latter injury would worry me if I’m a GM. Some guys can’t seem to stay healthy, and Anderson is one of those guys. It’s a shame, too, since when he does pitch he does a pretty admirable job of it. He owns a career ERA+ of 112 and strikes out around seven per nine while allowing a hit an inning.

Travis Wood is probably a better hitter than he is a pitcher, jacking three home runs in each of the last two seasons, and is even used as a pinch hitter by the Cubs. All of his accumulated value comes down to one WTF season in 2013. Wood is a year older, and I’d take his future over Anderson’s medical bills.

4.  Brandon Morrow – I don’t know why I believe in Brandon Morrow. If you look at his injury history, it’s just as bleak as Anderson’s, and he’s three years older, which means he’s going to break down even quicker. Still. He throws ridiculously hard, strikes out a ton of batters, and has the most upside of anyone in this group not named Josh Johnson. He’s also missed nearly two full seasons of games since 2008, and the majority of those games were lost (217) since 2013.

Others have expended considerably more brain energy figuring out where Morrow will end up in a few years, but I still think he has something left and is probably a league average starter for the next few seasons if nothing else.

I covered Carlos Villanueva in part two, and while I like his mustache, I think a reasonably healthy Morrow surpasses him.

Scott Baker5.  Scott Baker – Besides being Kevin Slowey’s rotation-mate with the Twins from 2007-11 (#9 on our list), Baker was a damn fine pitcher until TJ surgery in 2012 sent him into a prolonged funk. He lost all of 2012 and nearly all of 2013 to surgery and recovery, and last season with the Rangers he worked mostly out of the pen with an occasional spot start.

Baker’s never been a big strikeout pitcher, but you have to believe the 6.1 K/9 posted last season will get better. By all rights, he should be listed higher, but his closest comp is Carl Pavano, and that scares me.

I think another year removed from surgery, a season away from the mess that was the Texas Rangers last year, and Baker will return to pitching okay. Will he surpass the 6 bWAR Pavano accumulated after turning 33?

I think so.

6.  Colby Lewis – The Rangers just re-signed Lewis to a one-year, $4 million dollar deal, so technically he’s not a free agent anymore. Lewis returned from a torn flexor tendon that shelved him in 2013 to pitch fairly blah last season. Let’s just say the guy who gave up around eight hits per nine while striking out in the neighborhood of 8-9 isn’t the one that showed up in Arlington last season.

He did make 29 starts and didn’t quit on the team, so maybe this contract is a thank you.

Since 2004, Lewis has missed 3 ½ years due to injury, and his medical profile looks more like Steve Austin’s (the Six Million Dollar Man one, not the wrestler, but both could work1) than a Major League pitcher. He’s three years removed from when he had back-to-back healthy seasons, and at 35, I’m guessing this season isn’t a repeat. Maybe it is. I hope so. A person can’t always be unlucky, right?

From the age of 35 on, Mark Gardner hovered right around 1-1.5 bWAR with a few sub replacement level seasons thrown in. I like Lewis, and I hope he does well, but I don’t think he tops Gardner.

7.  Chad Billingsley – Talk about bad luck. A season after undergoing TJ surgery, Billingsley missed ’14 due to a torn flexor tendon. At least it took Lewis 16 years to suffer the same fate. Billingsley. Stupid overachiever.

If he returns in 2015, he won’t turn 31 until late July, so he’s still young enough that a GM might hope for the return of the former All Star who owns a career 110 ERA+. In his eight years with the Dodgers, Billingsley has only two seasons where he’s posted an ERA above four and his career K/9 of 7.9 is intriguing.

Then again, he hasn’t thrown a Major League pitch since 04/15/2013.

Chuck Estrada pitched nine games for the Mets at the age of 29 and never pitched again. Seeing as the 1967 Mets lost 101 games, I can see why Estrada decided he’d rather walk away than witness that horror again.

I’m betting Billingsley returns for a few decent years.

LESS THAN ZERO

The only thing I remember about the movie Less than Zero is that it had a surprisingly star studded lineup for the day. James Spader, Andrew McCarthy, and Jamie Gertz were the big actors at the time, but in retrospect, Robert Downey Jr. was the one that would become the A-list megastar of today. At the time, though, he was the goofy sidekick in movies such as Back to School and Johnny Be Good. The one movie he starred in, The Pick-up Artist, I somehow ended up seeing in the theatre as an 11-year old.

Why? How? I don’t know. Things were a lot different in the 80s. Less than Zero did have a pretty decent soundtrack, though.

Anyway, sometimes the unexpected happens and goofy sidekicks turn into big stars. Is that going to happen with our remaining free agent pitchers? I doubt it. The heading above has more to do with the value delivered last season.

8.  Franklin Morales – Morales lost a third of 2013 to a bulging disc, but he pitched in the postseason for the World Champion Red Sox, so whatever. Souvenirs and mementos adorn trophy cases forever.

Last season, Morales essentially doubled the quantity of starts he had made in his seven seasons prior, and he thanked the Rockies for the opportunity by posting an ERA+ of 79 and earned a -0.4 bWAR in 142 1/3 innings.

I don’t really see big things in Morales’ future. But, that being said, he’s left-handed and under 30.

J.P. Howell still pitches and led the Dodgers bullpen in ERA last season at 2.39. Since turning 29, he’s earned 3.6 bWAR.

Howell is the clear winner.

9.  Kevin Slowey – Slowey: it’s not just a name; it’s a way of pitching. Ugh. The joke needs a little work, admittedly. Slowey’s last decent season was in 2010 when he started 28 games for the Twins. Since then, he’s earned -0.2 bWAR and has spent roughly 1 ½ seasons (114 of those games in the minors) on the DL.

Last season he pitched primarily out of the bullpen with the Marlins and allowed 12.8 H/9. The good news is that only three of those 53 hits he allowed were home runs. Look at the way he wears that throwback. Doesn’t he look like he belongs in a baggy uniform on grainy film? Oh, and he doesn’t walk many guys.

That’s fantastic!

After turning 31, John Halama was worth about 1/2 a win over the course of four seasons. You know what, I believe in Slowey. I think he finds a little of that 2008-10 Minneapolis magic and does it again.

The uni swayed me.

10.  Felipe Paulino – There were players who posted a lower ERA+ than Paulino’s 35, but not a single one of those players pitched more than 6 1/3 innings. Of course, Paulino only pitched 18.1 innings, and it has to be attributed to the tendonitis in his pitching shoulder that sidelined him since mid-April. Still. 35 is low. It’s five points higher than his age. My eyeballs hurt just looking at these stats.

Since 2008, Paulino has lost 696 games to injury. That’s 61% of the possible games in which he could have theoretically appeared.

If you called Paulino an injury risk, you would be telling people that you don’t understand what risk means. He’s guaranteed to end up on the DL. Someone will sign him. He can touch mid-90s with his fastball.

The Mets will sign him and ask him to pitch in the bullpen.

Justin Germano will be 32, has pitched nine years in the Majors, and has somehow accumulated fewer wins (-2.1) than Paulino (-0.1).

I just want this to end.

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS
All unique 1 3B
Josh Willingham 3 LF
Jim Lemon 3 LF
8 players 2 OF
6 players 2 DH
Andy Ashby, 5 SP
Kris Benson 5 SP

Similar Players by Count

Gavin Floyd and Scott Baker photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

  1. If you’re wondering, there is a Six Million Dollar Man Christmas episode, one that is based off of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and that I gleefully watched last night. It includes Ray Walston who most people remember as Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but I’ll always remember him as that guy on a bicycle with coffee from the movie Rad. Cru Jones forever!

Dec 02

Free Agent Fun with Comps: Starting Pitchers II

Justin Masterson - pitching with the Cleveland Indians.

Justin Masterson – pitching with the Cleveland Indians.

This is part 10 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Positions completed so far: catchers, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, left field, remaining outfielders, designated hitters, and starting pitchers part one.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I continue discussing the starting pitchers.

STARTING PITCHERS

The average age for this year’s free agents starters is 32.7 years old with the median coming in at 32. While not a particularly large group, there are a few remaining pitchers that are closer to the legal age to run for Senate than for President, so I’ll kick off today’s post with the youngsters who don’t carry a large medical files.

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Justin Masterson 30 Kip Wells Jason Schmidt Masterson
Edinson Volquez 30 Joey Hamilton Cal Eldred Volquez
Kyle Kendrick 30 Gavin Floyd Todd Stottlemyre Floyd
Carlos Villanueva 31 Chad Gaudin Gaudin Villanueva
Yohan Pino 31
Jake Peavy 34 Doug Drabek Kevin Appier Peavy
Aaron Harang 37 Pedro Astacio Randy Wolf Harang
Chris Young 35 Mike Norris Rick Reed Young
Roberto Hernandez 34 Tim Leary Kris Benson Leary
Ryan Vogelsong 37 Scott Kamieniecki R.A. Dickey Vogelsong
Chris Capuano 36 Eric Bedard Kris Benson Capuano
Bruce Chen 38 Mark Gardner Mike Bielecki Gardner
Kevin Correia 34 Frank Castillo Roberto Hernandez Castillo
Paul Maholm 33 Neal Heaton Andy Ashby Maholm
Brad Mills 29
Wandy Rodriguez 36 Dennis Rasmussen Jamie Moyer Rodriquez
Joe Saunders 34 Jake Westbrook Westbrook Westbrook
Eric Stults 35 Al Gettel Socks Seibold Stults
Randy Wolf 38 Rick Sutcliffe Sutcliffe Wolf

Starting Pitchers by Comps

YOUNGSTERS

1.  Justin Masterson – Going off of Masterson’s -1.7 bWAR from last season, he should probably been buried at the bottom. That’s silly. Masterson has a lot of good innings left in his arm. He’ll be 30 next year, has appeared in the All Star game, and has recorded two seasons where he’s been worth 3-4 wins. Sure, his 2014 was fairly putrid with a 5.88 ERA split between Cleveland and St. Louis. I’ll remember the Masterson from prior seasons and blame last season on his right knee. He went on the disabled list in late June, but Masterson claims it had been bothering him since April.

He is a ground ball inducing machine. Over the last two years, batters have made worms an endangered species by driving his sinker into the ground nearly 70% of the time, and Masterson has still managed to strike out 8+ over the last two seasons.

At the age of 30, Kip Wells was dealing with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and came back to lose time to various other injuries. Over parts of four different seasons with six different teams, he was worth -2.6 bWAR.

Call this the official Masterson bandwagon.

2.  Edinson Volquez – Okay, Volquez had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and spent a large majority of 2010 recovering, so technically, he’s young with a medical file, but since his surgery in ’09 he’s been on the DL twice with blisters. I think it’s safe (or about as safe as things can be anymore) to call Volquez a healthy option.

With that being said, which Volquez will potential teams be signing? After a breathtaking 2008 with Cincinnati where Volquez struck out nearly 10 per nine innings with a blistering fastball and enough wildness to keep batters constantly guessing, Volquez had his aforementioned surgery and essentially turned into a sub replacement pitcher who walked too many batters to be worth the bother.

Last season in Pittsburgh saw Volquez as something of a revelation, topping 190 innings for the first time since ’08 while lowering that walk rate to 3.3 per nine. In September, he managed to strike out 10 for the first time in nearly two years and even had an 18 inning scoreless streak as well. I don’t know if I’d offer more than a year or two to find out if this is the Volquez to expect going forward—I expect that his 2.5 bWAR from last season might just be the best we’re going to see—but he could fill out a rotation on the cheap. Pirates are looking to re-sign him, and my guess is he remains there.

At 29, Joey Hamilton had rotator cuff surgery and returned to pitch sub-replacement across parts of three seasons.

Volquez is the guy.

3.  Kyle Kendrick – The following basically sums up Kendrick over the years: .262, .277, .282, .299, and .310. Those numbers represent the batting average against Kendrick’s sinker, starting in 2010. Unfortunately for Kendrick, he throws his sinker around 45% of the time. Being a sinker ball pitcher, he does induce quite a few double-plays, averaging just shy of 13 over the last few years, which helps to minimize the damage done by the large quantity of base hits he allows. Last season was the first one since 2010 where he wasn’t worth at least 1 win, but all the lines are trending in the wrong direction to expect Kendrick to be anything more than an innings eater.

Since Gavin Floyd is presumably still active, this becomes another exercise in who provides the most value going forward. Almost. At 30, Floyd pitched one month before being lost to TJ surgery. Last season, he was pitching well until fracturing his olecranon bone in his elbow joint. After all of that, I still think Floyd can bounce back and provide enough value of the next few years to surpass Kendrick.

4.  Carlos Villanueva – Listing Villanueva as a starter is a stretch, admittedly, seeing as he made just five of them last year in 42 appearances, but he’s on the list and his injury history looks positively rosy compared to the infirmary to be discussed later. He doesn’t throw especially hard, in the low 90s perhaps, but his fourseamer really seems to jump from his hand. I’m a believer. His ERA is ugly at 4.64 last season with the Cubs, but his FIP was 3.13 and he’s struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings.

Is he starter? Probably not. He’s a good guy to have in the bullpen, making the occasional start but there for long relief mostly. Over the next couple of years he’s been worth a win or two per, and if he’s paid like a reliever, that’s a good deal.

Like Villanueva, Chad Gaudin will be 31 next year. Last season, Gaudin was signed to a minor-league deal by the Phillies but was released after failing a physical. Was it the carpal tunnel that sidelined him in 2013? He didn’t pitch in 2014, and who knows if he’ll pitch again in the big leagues.

Villanueva, awesome mustache and all, is our winner.

5.  Yohan Pino – Pino has bounced around the minor leagues ever since signing with the Twins as an amateur in 2004. After spending nine years in the minors, and staring 2014 there, he was finally called up and made 11 starts before being shut down with UCL sprain. He had a few nice starts, striking out seven on two different occasions, and his FIP of 3.94 showed much better than his 5.07 ERA.

He throws high 80s with fly ball tendencies. Good luck.

VETERANS

There are still plenty of youngish pitchers available, but they all carry with them past injury risks and will be discussed later. The following group consists of the wily veterans who are still capable Major League starters.

Jake Peavy6.  Jake Peavy – When the time comes for Peavy to retire, I’m going to miss him. If you can’t enjoy a man berating himself on the mound after every misstep, then you’re just not living La Schadenfreude loca.

Peavy’s rough go of it in the World Series where he allowed nine earned runs in 6 1/3 brought an end to a nice bounce back half season for the veteran righty. Other than an All Star season in 2012 with the White Sox, Peavy has sort of been hovering around decent for six or seven years. As a Giant, he went 6-4 in 12 starts with a 2.17 ERA. His 1.04 WHIP with San Francisco was his lowest since ’12. While he hasn’t been the Cy Young winner he was in 2007 with the Padres, he’s still been pretty good.

Keeping Peavy healthy has been an issue. Since ’09, he’s lost over 180 team games due to various injuries. Out of the last six seasons, Peavy has failed to spend significant time on the DL in only two of them.

Caveat emptor.

When he does pitch, he’s found success with an assortment of six pitches, though he typically throws his fourseamer, cutter, and sinker. He’s settled into a pitch to contact guy as his K/9 have trended down from his glory days pitching in the NL and striking out 9+ per nine innings, and last season his 7 per nine was the lowest of his career. I like to think that the entertainment of his neck vein popping as he screams into his mitt should be worth a two-year deal at least. Why not? It’s only money.

As a kid, I hated everything about Doug Drabek. I hated the Pirates. I hated his left leg kick and that stupid sweeping leg motion toward home. I hated that he won the Cy Young in 1990, and I especially hated that the Mets couldn’t beat out the Pirates to win the East. Stupid Doug Drabek and stupid Pirates.

Drabek was worth -1.0 bWAR over his age 34-35 seasons. Peavy should eclipse that.

7. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Just kidding. As mentioned previously, he signed with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. Between his slow windup and his tendency to never actually challenge a hitter, Matsuzaka took approximately 30-minutes per batter. I probably won’t miss that. Seriously. Watch his windup:

I think he fell asleep.

7.  Aaron Harang – For a guy signed by Atlanta after failing to make Cleveland’s roster out of spring training, Harang had to be pretty ecstatic with how ‘14. He topped 200 innings for the first time in seven years and finished with the lowest ERA and FIP (both 3.57) in his career. While he wasn’t exactly unhittable—his career H/9 is 9.4—with a heavy dose of sinkers and sliders, he induced batters into 15 double plays while giving up a reasonable .257/.317/.359 slash line with men on base.

Harang won’t overpower anyone at this point in his career. He’ll hover in the low 90s, strike out around seven per nine, and battle. Playing next season at 37, he’s not a long term solution, but with a solid defense behind him he’d make for a good back of the rotation starter for a year or two.

At 37, Pedro Astacio finished his career with a miserable half-season with the Nationals. Harang should top that.

8.  Chris Young – Technically, I should discuss Chris Young but I won’t. Not really. Young spent 2013 in the Nationals minor league system and returned to Seattle in 2014 for his finest season since his 2007 All Star year. Maybe a team takes a flier on the 6’10” righty. I wouldn’t count on lightning strike twice, however.

The important thing about Chris Young, in the context of this blog, is that his fourth closest comp is Rick Reed. In the late 90s I had an irrational devotion to Rick Reed when he pitched with the Mets. He was from WV, making him and John Kruk the only players that I knew of at the time from WV (with the help of Baseball-Reference, I just found out that both George Brett and Bill Mazeroski were born in the Mountain State as well), so immediately I was a big fan, and he didn’t throw particularly hard, making him always look a little overmatched against those big muscled batters of the day. Also, I didn’t throw very hard when I pitched, so of course I identified with him.

With the Mets, Reed made the All Star team twice, helped pitch the Mets into the NLCS for the first time since 1988, and started the lone Mets win in the 2000 World Series, allowing two earned runs against the fearsome Yankees.

Al Leiter was the real talent on those Mets pitching staffs, and Reed and Bobby Jones sort of existed on guile, but Reed was my favorite.

Mike Norris pitched 14 games in relief at 35. Young will sign with someone and surpass that.

9.  Roberto Hernandez – Hernandez earned 0.8 bWAR split between the Phillies and the Dodgers, and honestly, I suspect that number is artificially inflated because of the way he stymied the Nats when he was with Philadelphia. In two starts against Washington, he allowed zero earned runs on nine hits in 15 1/3. Somehow he managed to only strike out six Nats in those two starts, which is shocking considering Ian Desmond didn’t strike out once in either game. How is that possible?

I have a feeling that ‘14 was the best we’re going to see from Hernandez.

Tim Leary hovered around replacement level for Seattle in 1993 and was out of baseball one season later.

10.  Ryan Vogelsong – Fresh off of earning his second World Series ring with the Giants, Vogelsong enters the market at 37 years old. He made 32 starts for San Francisco last season, pitching pretty well all told. He surpassed his career averages in H/9, K/9, and WHIP and had a 3.85 FIP.

Vogelsong can still hit the low 90s on the gun, but over the years he’s switched to throwing fewer fourseamers and relying more on his cutter and sinker. His cutter last season was particularly nasty, resulting in batters hitting .221 off of it.

For a one year deal, he’s worth a look.

Scott Kamieniecki retired before pitching at 37. I think Vogelsong has one or two good seasons left in that arm.

SOFT TOSSING LEFTIES

11-19. Chris Capuano, Bruce Chen, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, Brad Mills, Wandy Rodriguez, Joe Saunders, Eric Stults, and Randy Wolf – Okay, so Kevin Correia is actually a righty, but he doesn’t throw hard and he’s an honorary member for this exercise. What? Better I tried to sneak that one past you?

Joe Saunders and, ahem, Correia are the likeliest of this group to touch 90 on the radar gun, but for the most part, we’re discussing a group of guys who change speeds and pitch to contact. Capuano is the closest we’ll see to a strikeout artist with a career average of 7.48 K/9 in a career spent almost entirely in the NL.

Chen and Wolf make for interesting cases. Neither pitcher threw all that effectively last season nor has either one made an announcement regarding retirement. Both would be pitching in 2015 at the age of 38. The most likely scenario is that both end up retiring soon and becoming college pitching coaches.

If you need a lefty (real or honorary) to fill out your rotation, there you go.

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS
All unique 1 3B
Josh Willingham 3 LF
Jim Lemon 3 LF
8 players 2 OF
6 players 2 DH
Andy Ashby, 5 SP
Kris Benson 5 SP

Similar Players by Count

Next I finishing looking at the starting pitchers—this time discussing the injury risks and a few potential bargains.

Justin Masterson photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Jake Peavy photo credit: Chicago Man via photopin cc

Nov 29

Free Agent Fun with Comps: Starting Pitchers

"<strongThis is part 9 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Positions completed so far: catchers, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, left field, remaining outfielders, and designated hitters.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I discuss the starting pitchers.

STARTING PITCHERS

By my count, there are currently 37 available free agent starting pitchers (Daisuke Matsuzaka is returning to Japan after signing with the reigning Japanese League champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks) available on the market with just under half of those playing the 2015 season at 33 years or older. There are just as many 37-year olds (three) as there are players in their 20s, and of those three youngsters (all left-handers oddly enough . . . ooh, collusion!) only one of them had an ERA+ above league average.

If a young starting pitcher hits the open market, he probably owns an issue or three (arm troubles, control issues, missing shoulder [it could happen]) that will give any buyer pause, but teams will call because if there’s one absolute truth in baseball: you can never have enough pitching.

Someone out there will take a flyer on Josh Johnson next year. I don’t know who it will be, and I don’t know for how much it will cost (probably cheap) but some GM will remember that mid-90s fastball and figure, “Why not. His Tommy John surgery was so last season. If nothing else, we’ll throw him in the bullpen like Wade Miller and make the last three innings a gauntlet of awful . . . like the Royals rode all the way to the Series.” That’s atrocious dialogue and optimistic thinking, but GMs are thinking it and Johnson will bank a few dollars in the meantime.

The Pirates have made something of an art out of resurrecting starters such as this, Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano for instance, so if I’m Chad Billingsley’s agent I’m on the phone with Neal Huntington every day until he gives my client a tryout. Both Volquez and Liriano are both beneficiaries of pitching coach Ray Searage’s voodoo magic and both will get paid (Liriano turned down the Bucs qualifying offer so possibly a multi-year deal in Pittsburgh).

Gavin Floyd should be pitching a tent outside PNC Park until given some face time.

Floyd and Billingsley are two of the recent Tommy John surgery patients over the last few years1, and there are 13 pitchers—with Colby Lewis going under the knife in 1997 for the ulnar collateral ligament (typically associated with TJ surgery) and again in 2012 for a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow—in this group who have had the surgery. Should teams be more worried about a pitcher having had the surgery or not having had it yet? Brandon McCarthy is 31 and saw a huge jump in both K/9 and cutter velocity last season.

Should a team freak out a little that he hasn’t had a major elbow injury? Is that more worrisome than the roughly two seasons of cumulative games he’s missed since 2009 because of various shoulder strains, soreness, or injuries?

Bronson Arroyo is 37 and went in for TJ surgery in 2014. No age is safe anymore. An enterprising agent might sell their client as having the surgery already so there’s nothing to fear. Does the scar bring a premium in today’s game?

Anyway, to keep this list manageable (and readable), I’ll be breaking the pitchers out into groups and discussing them in separate posts. It’s the holiday season. Time to bake cheesecakes; watch the true Christmas classics such as Die Hard, First Blood, and Lethal Weapon; and spend time decorating the tree with countless Star Wars ornaments.

I’ll get to the 31-year old journeyman starter in time.

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Max Scherzer 30 Matt Morris David Cone Scherzer
Jon Lester 31 Tim Hudson Ramon Martinez Lester
James Shields 33 Doc Medich Matt Morris Shields
Hiroki Kuroda 40 Luke Hamlin R.A. Dickey Kuroda
Ervin Santana 32 Pat Hentgen Darryl Kile Santana
Francisco Liriano 31 Randy Wolf Pete Harnisch Wolf
Jason Hammel 32 Scott Feldman Pete Schourek Feldman
Brandon McCarthy 31 Brian Lawrence Tomo Ohka McCarthy

Starting Pitchers by Comps

BIG TICKET PITCHERS

1.  Max Scherzer – For all the various reasons why I think Scherzer will do the best in this group, one of his comps at a similar age is David Cone. Brandon Webb sits just one above Cone at number nine, but we won’t discuss that. If there’s any connection at all between Scherzer and Cone, then I say sign this man immediately.

Scherzer is the youngest in this sub-group, playing ’15 at the young age of 30, and is coming off consecutive Top five Cy Young finishes (he won the award in 2013). With every Scherzer start I keep waiting for the wildness to return, that we’re going to see him revert back to those early years and walk 3+ per nine. That guy is gone. He strikes out a ton of batters. He’s the only one in this group to average over 10 K/9, and he’s done that three years in a row (he’s the active leader in K/9 at 9.59 and currently fourth in Major League history) all while topping the 200 inning mark in consecutive seasons and making 30+ starts in five straight.

Pitchers are never sure things, but I’d be confident saying Scherzer has some life left in that arm. Sometimes it looks like he’s throwing a wiffle ball.

Put him in the NL, and he leaps into the top 10 for single season K/9 by a starter. Put him in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers turn into the 1971 Orioles.

Matt Morris is one of the first pitchers I remember returning from TJ and being successful. Norm Charlton was sort of okay after he returned, and Eric Gagne was lights out with the Dodgers starting in 2002, a year after Morris broke through, but it was Morris that grabbed the headlines for his return and subsequent success.2 By the time he was 30, though, Morris had surgery on his labrum, and he struggled upon returning.

Scherzer is the pick.

2.  Jon Lester – Even Jon Lester couldn’t escape the Royals World Series inevitability express as the pedigreed lefty entered the eighth inning staked to a 7-3 lead in the wild card game and somehow exited after allowing two singles and a walk and being on the hook for six earned runs (something he’d done only one time last season). It was an ugly way to end the season, but the rest of the year was nothing short of a huge success.

He set career bests in innings pitched, BB/9, ERA, FIP, ERA+, and WHIP. His fWAR of 6.1 was the second best of his career while his bWAR of 4.6 was fourth. So, yeah. It was a pretty good year when you look back upon it.

Lester relied upon his cutter more in ’14, throwing the pitch 30% of the time, up from the low 20s where he’d been throwing it in prior seasons, and batters hit a meager .241 against it. Good times. Keep doing that Jon. For his career, he’s been equally tough on righties as he has been on lefties, and he averaged 9.01 K/9, the third time in his career he’s topped nine. If there’s concern, last season was the first time he walked fewer than two per nine and in both ’12 and ’13 he’d struck out around 7.5 per nine, which would make me wonder if last season was just a guy having one of those years and rediscovering lost glory or if we’ll see a Lester settle somewhere around 8-8.5.

Before getting bit by the TJ bug at 33, Tim Hudson had one good and one borderline All Star quality season with Atlanta at 31-32. Hudson accounted for 14.3 bWAR over the four seasons from 31-34 (including one season lost to TJ surgery), and the early 20s Lester surpasses that total without question. I’m going to go with Lester here, believing the latissimus dorsi strain and wonky mechanics from 2012 are well behind him and he won’t fall into anymore sustained funks.

If Hudson doesn’t get hurt, Hudson wins easily. Damn you stupid elbow ligaments!

3.  James Shields – Shields enters 2015 with eight consecutive seasons of throwing 200 or more innings, tying him with Justin Verlander with the second longest active streak in the Majors. Mark Buerhrle has the longest with 14 straight. In fact, since 2007 when that streak began, Shields has thrown the most innings in the big leagues with 1,785 2/3 innings, narrowly edging out Felix Hernandez by one solitary out.

Before running these numbers, I was sort of amazed by the fact that Shields has been so durable and thrown so many innings. Eight straight seasons? Golly! Yeah, well, Don Sutton did it 15 straight, and Greg Maddux managed the feat 14 times in a row (18 overall). Eight doesn’t seem all that impressive when compared to those totals, but to manage 30+ starts each year while remaining in the game long enough to reach 200 innings is both a skill and a mark of competence. People may not consider Jerry Koosman an all-time great, but he tossed eight straight seasons of 200+ innings between 1973-1980 and in only one of him was he sub-replacement.3

All of those innings don’t seem to be bothering Shields. He still cranks it up there, relying primarily on a low 90s fourseamer and a cutter. Pitching half of his games in Kauffman Stadium has helped him keep the ball in the park. He’s about middle of the pack for starters, averaging about .91 HR/9 last season and roughly the same for the last four. Basically, he’s not the guy who led the AL in home runs allowed with 34 in 2010.

Shields will be playing next year at the age of 33, and while there are plenty of examples of pitchers posting seasons of 3+ bWAR at 33 or older (Buerhrle and Hiroki Kuroda are two recent examples) it’s highly unlikely he’s going to get the payday of the two men above him. He’s a solid option to have in your rotation, but he won’t give you the Scherzer sizzle for instance. Four straight seasons of posting nearly 3 or greater bWAR is still pretty good.

Doc Medich pitched for both the Rangers and Brewers at 33, turning in the worst season of his career at -0.1 bWAR. Shields wins.

MID-ROTATION OPTIONS

Hiroki  Kuroda4.  Hiroki Kuroda – It might seem a little strange to place Kuroda above younger pitchers like Ervin Santana and Liriano, especially considering that if Kuroda decides to pitch next season, he’ll be 40 years old, but for a one-year deal I like him better than anyone else. For all the things that went wrong in the Bronx last year, Kuroda wasn’t one of them.

He was the Yankees best starter not named Masahiro Tanaka, and his 199 innings pitched easily led the club and left him one inning shy of reaching 200 for the fourth straight year. He also happened to post the best BB/9 and WHIP of his career.

If you’re wondering if the old guy is only good for the early going, think again. Kuroda seemed to improve as the season went along. In the final two months of the season, Kuroda allowed a paltry .224/.252/.325 batting line with an ERA of 3.13.

Luke Hamlin was out of baseball after his age 39 season. If Kuroda pitches, he should surpass the many fishing expeditions.

5.  Ervin Santana – If Santana was disappointed with the offers he received last year, settling for a one-year deal with the Braves after teams were scared off by Santana’s asking price, then he’ll definitely be disappointed with this offseason. The move to the NL helped Santana look more like a big strikeout pitcher, topping eight K/9 for the first time since 2008, but the wildness from Anaheim days returned as well. The 2.89 BB/9 from last year was more in line with his career average, making that 2.18 from 2013 look like the outlier.

Santana is a durable pitcher, making 30+ starts for the fifth straight season and narrowly missing out on 200 innings. His last season with any notable injury was 2009, so he’s a good guy to chew up innings and give you some mid-rotation relief. Looking for him to be a #2 or to be worth anything more than 1-2 wins might be a reach.

At Santana’s age, Pat Hentgen was on the downside of his career. TJ surgery ended his age 32 season and most of the following year as well. All told, in the four years from 2001-04, Hentgen was worth about 3.4 bWAR.

I figure Santana will surpass that at least.

6.  Francisco Liriano – Liriano received the dreaded qualifying offer from the Pirates, so you wonder just how hot his market will be. Liriano was on the fast track to superstardom until TJ surgery derailed his brilliant age 22 season of 2006. At the time, Liriano was 12-3 with an ERA+ of 208. He’d allowed an absurdly low 6.6 H/9 while striking out 10.7 per nine.

Prior to resurrecting his career in Pittsburgh, Liriano dealt with various should ailments, pitched like he’d forgotten where the strike zone was located, and mostly looked like a guy who would be remembered as the guy that should have dominated AL lineups alongside Johan Santana with each year making that A.J. Pierzynski trade look more and more foolish.

Liriano won’t eat up innings like others on this list. He’s never reached 200 and he’s inched over 160 the last two seasons, giving him only three seasons where he’s done that with his 191 2/3 innings pitched in 2010 way past him.

If he’s walking 3-3.5 per nine while striking 9+ he’s a pretty good bargain. If he’s walking 4-5 per nine, then it’s tough to justify big money. When he’s on, though, he does things like this. Poor Matt Adams.

Randy Wolf put in some solid work from the 31 on (he’ll also appear later in this list as a potential free agent). Over the next four years, he averaged around 2 wins per season, and I don’t think Liriano will top that.

7.  The spot that should be occupied by Gavin Floyd if he could stay healthy.4

8.  Jason Hammel – So, which one was the real Jason Hammel? Was it the guy who dominated in Chicago, posting 3.1 bWAR in half a season of work? He didn’t draw all the headlines like Jake Arrieta and Jeff Samardzija, but he posted a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts while tying a career high with 8.6 K/9. Was Hammel the one with the A’s?  His time with Oakland didn’t go as well. His ERA jumped to 4.26 (FIP from 3.19 to 5.10) and he happened to give up the single to Salvador Perez that plated Christian Colon in the 12th inning of the AL wild card game. Things ended badly.

Hammel relies primarily on a fourseamer and a slider, throwing each equally as often in any count. His slider was particularly effective last season as batters whiffed on the pitch about 16% of the time while hitting .194.

Calling Hammel mid-rotation is optimistic considering he’s had three seasons where he’s been worth two or more bWAR, but I’m buying into the Cubs days from the first half of ’14, figuring he might be worth half of that over a season or three.

Since Scott Feldman and Hammel are the same age, this exercise comes down to who I believe will provide more value going forward. Feldman will probably never have the upside of Hammel, but I believe he’ll be a steadier presence.

9.  Brandon McCarthy – Up until last year, things haven’t gone that great for McCarthy since getting hit by a line drive in the head. His time in Arizona was something of a disaster as he spent a season and a half allowing 10.7 H/9 in the desert with an ERA of 4.75. Leaving the easier league for the Yankees, after being traded with cash for Vidal Nuno, McCarthy went on to make 14 starts for New York, 10 of which were quality ones, including a four-hit shutout of Houston where he struck out eight Astros.

Okay, whatever. So it was Houston.

McCarthy will be 32 next season, and 2014 was the first season he hasn’t dealt with some sort of shoulder soreness since 2009. I highly doubt if he’ll hit 150 innings in each of the next few seasons much less the 200 he reached in 2014, but he’s probably worth a flier. He’s less mid-rotation and more wishful thinking for #4/5, but if he stays healthy, 1-2 quality years is some lucky team’s prize. Don’t break the bank, but 2/20 is a reasonable deal.

Brian Lawrence tore his rotator cuff at the age of 30, and his career was over after struggling in six starts with the Mets upon his return.

McCarthy wins this one.

 

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS
All unique 1 3B
Josh Willingham 3 LF
Jim Lemon 3 LF
8 players 2 OF
6 players 2 DH
Andy Ashby, 5 SP
Kris Benson 5 SP

Similar Players by Count

Next I continue looking at the starting pitchers.

Jon Lester and Hiroki Kuroda photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

  1. Unbelievably, there were 92 players in American professional baseball (minors and majors) that had this surgery last year with another 63 in 2013 according to the spreadsheet I got from baseballheatmaps.com. There were only 100 players total that had this surgery from between 1974 when it was performed on you know who and 1999. This isn’t a Tom Verducci like article on possible reasons why pitchers are going under the knife more often. Let’s just call it a shocking number. Was 2014 just a bad year? What will ’15 look like?
  2. I wonder, if Frank Viola goes under the knife now, at the age of 34 like he did way back in 1994, does he return to a reasonable level? I always liked Viola. He was a good, borderline great pitcher for quite a few years. Let’s say he rattles off a few quality seasons in his late 30s worth roughly 1-2 bWAR each. Could we make a HOF case for him? That question has been bugging me for the past few days after looking over this TJ list.
  3. Shields is similar in that regard. In only one of his eight seasons has he been sub-replacement.
  4. Will cover in a later post under potential bargains.

Nov 24

Free Agent Fun with Comps: the DHs

Kendrys MoralesThis is part 8 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Positions completed so far: catchers, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, left field, and remaining outfielders.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I discuss the DH.

DH

Of the players listed as designated hitters on the Trade Rumor’s website, I’ve covered the majority of them in other postings. Of those that remain, those that are retiring or likely to retire outnumber those that I’ll discuss below and there are as many potential Major League managers in this group (for this year) as there are full time DHs.

Retiring

Adam Dunn is calling it quits, retiring at 34 after 14 years of lots of walks, lots of strikeouts, and lots of arguments on whether he’s truly valuable or not. The young me would have called you crazy for arguing Dunn had any relative value on a baseball field. He started out his career way back in 2001 as a subpar left fielder with the Cincinnati Reds, doing his Adam Dunn thing by walloping, walking, and whiffing or as I like to call them Dunn’s True W’s.

I would have hated him if he were a Met. That’s not true. I would have loved him in compared to the likes of Shinjo and Joe McEwing, and let’s not even discuss those Roger Cedeno years, but I would have hated all those strikeouts and the passive-aggressive style of play that came to take over baseball.

Jonah Keri did a nice piece on Dunn for Grantland, so I won’t go too crazy with the details, but in the big picture, he hit 40 or more home runs six times in his career, 30 or more another three times, and finished with 462. He’s also one of four players to strike out 200+ times in a season, whiffing 222 times in 2012 to fall one shy of Mark Reynold’s record of 223. Of course, in that same year, Dunn walked 105 times, eclipsing the 100 walk mark for his eighth and final time. That’s a pretty extraordinary event really. He either walked of struck out 47% of the time that season and 44% of the time for his career. Add in home runs, and Dunn walked, whiffed, or walloped in half of his plate appearances.

Possibly Retiring

There’s no official word yet, but two players amongst this group who likely will be retiring are Jason Giambi and Raul Ibanez. Ibanez has been named as a finalist for the Rays managerial opening, which probably means his playing days are over. If the Rays don’t hire him, the Yankees may be interested in him as a coach as well. Gone are the days of Frank Chance playing first and coaching the Cubs, and Pete Rose was the last player to serve as both coach and player, so if Ibanez is ready to take over official duties as a manager, then he’ll be switching to coaches shoes rather than cleats.

Another player who may be hanging up his player’s spikes is Giambi, though it’s not official yet. According to Deadspin, Terry Francona has called Giambi his “manager-in-waiting,” and it seems like only a matter of time before this actually happens. Giambi will be 44 next year, and he played just 26 games in ’14, missing over half of the season due to either a rib fracture, a calf strain, or left knee inflammation. At 44, there’s only so much ibuprofen can do. I’m 38 and had an abdominal cramp just lifting my sorry butt from the sofa. Sometimes it’s time to admit that the gray in our hair isn’t highlights.

All players listed below are sorted by career bWAR.

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Jason Giambi 44 Andres Galarraga Dave Winfield
Raul Ibanez 42 Cy Williams Steve Finley
Corey Hart 33 Reggie Sanders Trot Nixon Sanders
Kendrys Morales 31 Gordy Coleman Juan Rivera Morales
Ryan Doumit 34 Eddie Bressoud Tim Teufel Doumit
Jonny Gomes 34 Paul Sorrento Henry Rodriguez Gomes
Jason Kubel 33 Marty Cordova Jayson Werth Cordova
Delmon Young 29 Al Oliver Darin Erstad Oliver

DHs by Comps

Jason Giambi1.  Jason Giambi – Giambi hasn’t played in over half a season’s games since 2010, and he’s been hanging around since on one-year deals for bupkis. He loves baseball. I think it’s great he wants to hang around the clubhouse and hang out with the fellas. It’s time, though, that he did that as a coach.

Giambi will always be remembered for his 2005 apology for <shrugs>. At the time it was an extremely confusing press conference, one that made Giambi something of a joke until about a week later when Jose Canseco’s book Juiced came out and started all kinds of steroid related silliness that included a Congressional hearing, great Rafael Palmeiro sound bites, the Mitchell Report, and a few thousand articles exploring the depths of sports writers’ shock, dismay, outrage, and/or guilt for not being aware of all this.

Giambi was a five-time All Star, the AL MVP in 2000, definitely should have won it in 2001 when he came in second to Ichiro, and finished fifth one other time. He’s hit 440 career home runs with nearly a .400 career OBP. I don’t want to write out his stats for the last few years. You can look them up.

Andres Galarraga retired after playing seven games at the age of 43. This one’s a tie.

2.  Raul Ibanez – Ibanez’s career took off for real after leaving Seattle and signing with the Royals on a minor league contract in 2001. That year he hit .280/.353/.495 with 13 home runs (or one fewer than he’d hit in five partial seasons he’d spent with the Mariners from 1996-2000). The Mariners certainly didn’t care. They had Ichiro in left, Mike Cameron in center, and won 116 regular season games. With Ibanez playing left, would the Mariners have won 118 instead?

Last year was a big drop off for Ibanez as he became unplayable against left handed pitchers (something he’s struggled with throughout his career but reaching epically disastrous proportions of .024/.109/.049 last season in a meager 47 at-bats) and failed to reach double digits in home runs for the first time since 2000. Maybe 2013 wasn’t happening again when he hit 29 home runs—aided largely by the 24 home runs he hit in the first half, but still—but the Angels bargained for more than 57 games. Probably. Who knows? Everything else worked in Anaheim last year. Maybe they knew this would happen too.

Cy Williams was an offensive force at 41 albeit in 66 games. He hit .292/.471/.554 with five homers and had an OPS+ of 147. Hey, at 42 he hit .471 in 21 at-bats. He didn’t play at 43, which is probably the same for Ibanez. Push.

3.  Corey Hart – covered with first basemen.

4.  Kendrys Morales – Like Stephen Drew, Morales played the arbitration wait and sign game and lost. After refusing the qualifying offer from Seattle, Morales eventually signed with Minnesota in June for 8 million. He then proceeded to have the worst season of his career, hitting.218/.274/.338 in combined duty with the Twins and Mariners and being worth -1.0 bWAR overall.

The great news is that he can’t receive the qualifying offer this year.

In hindsight, this was a disastrous deal. He lost out on about six million last season, and he’s unlikely to make that money back in 2015. If anything, he’ll probably sign a one-year deal in the 4-5 million range, making that one Scott Boras (his agent) gamble likely worth at least 10-12 million in lost wages for Morales.

Of all this group, Morales is the youngest (he’ll be 31 next season) and his years in Anaheim and Seattle prior to 2014 were productive. Last year was a punt, but I imagine Morales will return to have a few solid seasons.

The best things about Gordy Coleman are his name, he was born in Rockville, MD, and he looks like he belongs on Home Run Derby. I loved watching reruns of that show back in high school. Whither has thy gone?

That was not Gordy. Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew appeared in that particular episode, but Gordy could have appeared (in 1959, when the show was filmed, Coleman appeared in a scant six games for Cleveland, but whatever) and competed for wonderful cash prizes. A show filled with eventual Hall of Fame players and forced to give awkward on-air interviews. Oh man. This was great stuff.

At the age of 31 Gordy shared first with another eventual Hall of Famer Tony Perez, and his career was over at 32.

Morales wins.

5.  Ryan Doumit – I either missed Doumit with the catchers or he wasn’t listed at the time, but he appears in the DH grouping so everything works out. Like Morales, Doumit enters the free agent market after having a pretty bad ’14. In 100 games with the Braves, in which he was used largely as a pinch hitter, he hit .197/.235/.318 while striking out nearly 30% of the time. The latter is otherwise known as the Atlanta school of hitting.

While he technically can call games behind the plate, he hasn’t been used primarily as a catcher since 2011 when he was with the Pirates. Asking him to suit up and begin framing pitches again at 34 is probably not the best idea at this point in his career, so that either limits him to a backup catcher, outfielder fill-in role or a spot as DH.

In his last contract, he signed a two-year deal for 3.5 per, and he’ll probably sign for just south of that in his next contract.

At 34, Eddie Bressoud was worth 2.0 bWAR for the Mets, coming in fourth on the team behind Dennis Ribant, Ken Boyer, and Ron Hunt. Of the top five players on that 1966 Mets team by bWAR, only one, Jack Fisher, played for the team in ’67. The Mets turned a career year by Ribant into three decent seasons of Don Cardwell, traded Boyer along with Sandy Alomar for peanuts; and missed out on some more borderline All Star years by Ron Hunt by trading him for flotsam. If the Mets don’t trade Hunt off, he probably goes down as the best second baseman in Mets team history.

Why do you care? I don’t know, but three years later this team won it all.

Oh, and Doumit is the pick.

6.  Jonny Gomes – covered with left fielders.

7.  Jason Kubel – covered with left fielders.

8.  Delmon Young – covered with left fielders.

 

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS
All unique 1 3B
Josh Willingham 3 LF
Jim Lemon 3 LF
8 players 2 OF
6 players 2 DH

Similar Players by Count

 

Next I look at the starting pitching.

Kendrys Morales photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc
Jason Giambi photo credit: permanently scatterbrained via photopin cc

Nov 19

Free Agent Fun with Comps: Center & Right

Nick Markakis

This is part 7 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Positions completed so far: catchers, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, and left field.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I discuss the remaining outfielders.

OUTFIELD

Chris Young has already re-signed with the Yankees at a reasonable 2.5 million dollar one-year deal, which is more in line with what he probably should be making than the 7.25 million he received last offseason with the Mets. In fact, when the NY Post’s headline announces the deal as “Yankees re-sign Mets bust,” you have to figure last season in Flushing didn’t go as Sandy Alderson had hoped. Young played well in pinstripes, hitting three home runs in 23 games and playing solid defensively in left, but his time with the Mets produced a regrettable four months that by advanced metrics came out as the worst outfielder on the team. That includes a then 39-year old Bobby Abreau who was signed to a minor-league contract and whose appearance on the team I first thought was a joke.

Abreau played well, considering he was 39 years old and had been out of professional baseball for over a year.

So, the Chris Young era didn’t exactly leave fond memories.

Abreau announced his retirement in September, but another former NY outfielder isn’t ready to do the same. Ichiro Suzuki plans on returning to baseball at the age of 41, and if he were to somehow find a way to play in 140 games again next season he would be the first 41-year old player to do so since Craig Biggio in 2007. Biggio was unplayable at that age, producing a -2.1 bWAR, and considering Ichiro has been hovering around sub level the last two seasons, temper your expectations for 2015.

Other than that, in this group we have the perpetual promise of Colby Rasmus (I’ll discuss him in detail below), the peculiarly affordable Nick Markakis, and the superhuman power of Yasmani Tomas. Oh, boy. This group will be fun.

All players listed below are sorted by career bWAR

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Ichiro Suzuki 41 Kenny Lofton Lofton Suzuki
Torii Hunter 39 Dave Parker Joe Carter Parker
Alex Rios 34 Amos Otis Andy Van Slyke Rios
Nick Markakis 31 Gregg Jefferies Edgardo Alfonzo Markakis
Chris Young 31 Mike Cameron Cameron Cameron
Colby Rasmus 28 Chris B. Young Ron Gant Rasmus
Nori Aoki 33 Algie McBride McBride Aoki
Nate Schierholtz 31 Darrin Jackson Rob Mackowiak Jackson
Tony Campana 29
Yasmani Tomas 24

Outfielders by Comps

1.  Ichiro Suzuki – We’re four years removed from the last time Ichiro made the All Star team, but the future Hall of Famer is still a capable player entering his 40s. He swiped 15 bases last year, which is pretty shocking considering most people his age pull a muscle stepping out of the bathtub. It’s well known that he doesn’t walk, a skill that hasn’t improved with the wisdom of years. His 5.5% walk rate placed him in the bottom 20% of all players with 350+ at-bats, and his ISO of .056 was next to last. He can still play outfield, and the strong arm remains. He had four outfield assists last season.

Kenny Lofton was out of baseball by 41, but he was still good at 40. I miss Kenny Lofton. I remember fondly how he seemed to hit laser beams in that ’95 World Series in every AB. I haven’t looked at the stats, but his line drive % must have been 110. Don’t tell me if it’s not true. I have my beliefs. For this, Ichiro tops him, but he should probably think about retirement soon.

Torii Hunter2.  Torii Hunter – At 38, Hunter hit .286/.319/.446. His 111 OPS+ ranked 24th for all outfielders, and he was three years older than the next oldest player ahead of him. His bat still plays. Unfortunately, the Torii Hunter defense (the kind that ruins baseball) the world has grown accustomed to over the years has been in steady decline over the past couple of years and his -18.3 UZR in 2014 was the third worst for any qualified outfielder.

Any drop off with Hunter’s bat means his value is rock bottom, and while it doesn’t appear like he’s in decline—he hit double digit home runs for a 14th straight season—one of these days it’s going to happen.

Dave Parker was worth 1.1 bWAR at 39 then was sub-replacement after that. I like Hunter, but I don’t think he outpaces Parker.

3.  Alex Rios – Even Alex Rios couldn’t escape the wicked voodoo that was going on in Arlington last season as by early September his right thumb got infected and he ended up missing the remainder of the season. Seeing how Ron Washington just so happened to resign the same day (unrelated most likely, but who knows?) no one seemed to really care all that much for Rios’ departure. No, the no one caring probably had more to do with the Rangers being 53-87 at the time and Rios having a fairly tepid season.

Rios isn’t the most consistent of players. He oscillates between All Star worthy with seasons of sub-replacement value. By that measure, since last year was barely above replacement level he’s due. He’ll be 34, but he still has the legs to steal some bases and hold his own in the field. Will he be an All Star again?

That ship has probably sailed.

Once turning 34 Amos Otis was still a legitimate offensive weapon for the Royals, but the power he showed in peak years was largely gone. Even discounting Otis’ last quarter season in Pittsburgh, I think Rios surpasses him.

Barely.

4.  Nick Markakis – Orioles fans have been in denial about Markakis for the past four years or so. He’s a good player, a fine defender in right with the ability to hit and work the count (a near impossibility on a team of such free swingers), but the player that jacked 20+ home runs in his early 20s is never coming back.

I like Markakis. He’s a two-time Gold Glove winner and will consistently find ways to bring value to the team. Reportedly, he’s likely to re-sign with the Orioles in the 10-12 million dollar range, and that sounds about right.

Gregg Jefferies. Where do I even begin? As a kid, I bought into the great Mets hype machine that said Jefferies was going to be one of the best. He replaced one of the Mets beloved players in Wally Backman and was compared to Mickey Mantle. His 1989 Topps rookie card (scroll to the bottom) was one of my favorite cards. It was basically like every photo I had of me growing up in Little League only this time it was this guaranteed HOF player in my team’s uniform. 1988 the Mets destroyed the NL and ended up catching Orel Hershiser at the wrong time. With Jefferies now on the squad, 1989 was going to be the year the Doc, Sid, and Strawberry added that second World Series title.

Well. It didn’t really end up like that.

Jefferies played okay as a Met, but he never fulfilled the crazy expectations heaped upon him and a lot of the blame for the Mets falling short of winning the East was tossed his way. Things got so bad that he eventually composed a nine-paragraph letter that addressed the constant criticism and was read on WFAN. In it, Jefferies states, “I have never claimed to be the future of the Mets; this was a label that was put on me.” Ugh. That didn’t go over too well. He was sent to the Royals in December of 1991.

For this exercise, Markakis comes out on top.

5.  Chris Young – When Young was with the Diamondbacks, his walk rate sat around 11-12% and his OBP around .330-.340. Coupled with the 20 or so homers he would hit, he was an All Star level (he made the game in 2010) outfielder. Now? Since leaving the desert, he’s been worth less than a win in two seasons and hit 23 home runs total (less than what he hit in his All Star year).

My poor eyeballs grew tired of watching him strikeout seemingly every time there was a runner in scoring position, and by his splits, that’s not far from the truth. 1 Let’s just say, I don’t recall too many moments like this last season with the Mets. With RISP, he hit .222/.320/.420 with 17 strikeouts in 81 at-bats, around 21% of the time. That’s consistent with what he did throughout the year, so there’s that.

Hooray for consistency!

He’s still a good outfielder, can make plays, and he did perform extremely well with the Yankees in limited action.

Mike Cameron came to the Mets at the age of 31 at hit 30 home runs while swiping 20 bases. After the team signed Carlos Beltran in January of 2005, Cameron unhappily moved to right and then later that season the collision happened. He never played another game for the Mets and was traded to the Padres in November.

In eight seasons after passing 30, Cameron accumulated 16.7 bWAR. I don’t think Young comes close.

Colby Rasmus6.  Colby Rasmus – Here’s Rasmus’ profile from 2009 prior to him being called up by the Cardinals. Five tools. Elite center fielder. Can do it all. Doesn’t it seem like we’re still waiting for that player to arrive?

Rasmus was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft and was basically their top prospect until being called up. After a solid, if not spectacular inaugural season at the age of 22, he hit 23 homers and hit .276/.361/.498 in his sophomore year. The sky was the limit. The feud with Rasmus and Tony La Russa got so bad the Cardinals traded him to Toronto in 2011 for peanuts. The story got worse once Rasmus’ dad ripped La Russa after the trade, and Rasmus essentially had one All Star quality year in 2013 and struggled offensively in ’14.

On top of all that, last season Rasmus missed 33 games to a hamstring strain, the second season in a row where he’s missed 30+ games with another 24 games lost in 2011 to a wrist sprain, and by this September he was benched to give management the opportunity to see younger players. By mid-September Rasmus gave a 21 minute long interview where he opened up about his childhood and current mindset.

I bring all this up because that interview is both insightful and troubling. This is a kid who had absolutely zero joy for baseball. Listen to him discuss his childhood and he’s as emotionless as discussing what kind of bread he wants with his sub. His childhood was “work.” He didn’t remember it fondly. He thought it was “worth it,” big difference. When asked what the perfect end to a season would be, Rasmus said, “. . . play baseball and enjoy it with my teammates and be a part of the team . . . and just in a good place.”

Take into account that Rasmus had been benched for two weeks, so he was likely upset, but those aren’t the words of someone ready to play professional ball. He needed a hug, not people criticizing his routes to balls in the outfield. His childhood story, as recounted in the interview, reminded me of the baseball equivalent to Todd Marinovich and his father, where Rasmus’ dad essentially drove his sons to athletic dominance with the psychic consequences be damned. When the hell has baseball been fun for him? I don’t know what happened in St. Louis with La Russa or a vet dominant team that added to Colby’s misery, but baseball certainly wasn’t a release from all of his despondency.

I’m rooting for Colby Rasmus. If baseball isn’t the answer, then I hope he finds what is. He stated that “so many people are always just poking and prodding at me. I felt at times like a, like an animal at the zoo. You know, you just keep poking at them until one day they bite back at you.”

Everyone has his limit.

Rasmus’ closest comp is his list mate Chris Young. At 28, Young left Arizona to enter into his recent down years. I don’t care if Rasmus ever plays another inning. If so, I’ll go with Rasmus. I hope he finally finds the right situation.

7.  Nori Aoki – After being traded to Kansas City from Milwaukee for Will Smith, Aoki put up his typical solid season with the bat, working the counts and reaching base at a .350 clip. His home runs went down, moving from Miller Park to Kauffman Stadium will do that sort of thing, and his limited range in right was exposed. In the World Series, manager Ned Yost removed Aoki from right, shifting Lorenzo Cain there for games in San Francisco.

I don’t see this improving with Aoki turning 33.

Algie McBride started playing professional ball in the 19th century. He apparently could hit pretty well. He also wore a malformed hunk of leather on his hand and attempted to shag flies so who knows about his defense. If you’re wondering why I don’t just pick someone else, all of Aoki’s comps are from the 30s and 40s. Talk about old school.

I’ll take Aoki.

8.  Nate Schierholtz – Schierholtz has always hovered around replacement since entering the Majors at 23, but last season with the Cubs, he bottomed out. A career .264 hitter, Schierholtz hit .192/.240/.300 with the Cubs before being released. He was then picked up by the Nationals after Nate McLouth was lost for the season. With the Nats, he did do this once, which was his only homer with the team.

Will his bat come back? He’ll never be mistaken for an offensive force, but he was above average prior to 2013. He can also play pretty good defense, a must since he’s likely to earn a minor league contract and become a reserve.

Darrin Jackson put in his best season at 30, then was just above replacement after. Then one is probably a push, but I’ll pick Jackson.

9.  Tony Campagna – He’s spent the past four years bouncing between Triple A and the Majors, hitting ok (until the collective stink that was in Arizona this year caught up with him too) but without a bit of power.

Thor10.  Yasmani Tomas – When your agent says that you have “way more” power than Jose Abreau that’s saying something. Agents would never lie about these things. It’s like the Internet. Everything said is the truth.

Tomas appears ready to sign somewhere, but who knows what will come from Cuba’s next star. He’ll be playing at 24 next season, and he’s 6’4 and 230 pounds of muscle. Please, let the Mets open up the vault for this guy.

Hey, look, down in the suitors, the Mets are listed!

Others covered in previous posts:

Covered with second basemen: Emilio Bonifacio

Covered with left fielders: Endy Chavez, Nyjer Morgan, Tyler Colvin, Nelson Cruz, Chris Denorfia, and Scott Hairston

Running count of players appearing most in similarity lists:

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS
All unique 1 3B
Josh Willingham 3 LF
Jim Lemon 3 LF
8 players 2 OF

Similar Players by Count

 

Next I look at the designated hitters.

Nick Markakis and Torii Hunter photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Colby Rasmus photo credit: james_in_to via photopin cc

Thor (photo altered) photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

  1. Because I like to confirm what these stupid eyeballs are telling me

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