Here’s a look at the other moves that were announced today:
- Tampa Bay Rays sign Troy Percival to a two-year, $8 million contract.
After making a bold, daring and smart decision in cutting ties with Delmon Young, the Rays turn around and spend a large chunk of their minimalist payroll on a 38-year-old relief pitcher who had been out of baseball for almost two years after essentially bailing on the Detroit Tigers after he got hurt while under a lucrative contract. Percival pitched well for the Cardinals over the second half of 2007, but can the Rays: A) trust him to stay healthy; and B) trust that he’s not going to be standing in the bullpen for a team that is 36-50, twelve games behind the Yankees and Red Sox, feel a twinge in his shoulder and simply go home? I understand that they’re addressing a need, but I think the Rays would be better served to find some young, affordable relief pitchers rather than to keep guys like Dan Wheeler or sign Percival when they’re not going to contend with them anyway.
- Houston Astros sign Kaz Matsui to a three-year, $15 million contract.
One would think that Matsui would have been happy in Colorado with the Rockies, a team that gave him a chance to play without any harassment or pressure and allowed him to find the success he was expected to have in New York with the Mets. I don’t know if the Rockies made a competitive offer before Matsui accepted the Astros deal, but there’s no way to know whether Matsui is going to revert to what he was before he got to the Rockies, or if he’s found his way in the United States and will be able to repeat his success with the Astros. I’m sure the Rockies wanted to keep him.
- Detroit Tigers sign Kenny Rogers to one-year contract.
Rogers fired Scott Boras because he wanted to stay in Detroit. It’s probable that Boras would have directed Rogers to Boras’s old buddy Tom Hicks of the Rangers for a fourth tour of duty. He probably could have gotten a decent amount of money on the open market, but he pitched well for Jim Leyland in 2006, was injured for much of 2007 and is better off staying with the Tigers in a comfortable and relaxed environment. If they can get twelve wins out of Rogers next season, I’m sure the Tigers will be satisfied.
- St. Louis Cardinals sign Cesar Izturis to one-year contract.
The Cardinals are becoming a garbage dump for unwanted players. What’s happened to this organization? Have they become so cheap that this team, in a great baseball town, with a great manager and blindly loyal fan base is reduced to replacing one mediocre player with another the kind that can be found on any street corner in San Pedro de Macoris? I completely understand replacing David Eckstein despite his intangibles, guts and clutch play; he sounded like he wanted a lot of money and a lot of years in his contract; but Cesar Izturis? This is a guy who the Cubs simply gave to the Pirates. Izturis can’t hit and the Cardinals are a team that is desperate for offense. If this is any indication, it’s going to be another off-season of spin doctoring and signings of players who no one else wants because the Cardinals don’t want to spend any money and don’t have the prospects to make any trades. Just awful.
This was not what I had in mind when the idea of trading Lastings Milledge was repeatedly broached this off-season. As a player, I think Milledge is going to be a producer; as a person, I think that he’s going to grow out of his bouts of emotionality and immaturity. With the claims that Athletics GM Billy Beane was in love with Milledge, I would have thought that Joe Blanton at least would have been coming back to the Mets if they were to trade Milledge. Instead, Mets GM Omar Minaya brought in two players he knew from his time with the Nationals/Expos in Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. Church is an okay player, but he’s the type of guy you can find when teams non-tender arbitration eligible players that they don’t want to pay. Schneider’s solid defensively and is well-liked, which apparently gives him the advantage over Johnny Estrada in reputation even though Estrada’s a better hitter. The only things I can surmise when looking at this deal are:
- The market for Milledge wasn’t anything close to what it was portrayed to be in the media, or the Mets weren’t willing to give up other pieces that Beane or anyone else was going to want for a starting pitcher.
- The Mets had no intention from the start of doing anything with Estrada except in the most extreme circumstances and they certainly didn’t want Paul Lo Duca back. Presumably, it was enough just to get out from under Guillermo Mota’s contract and they took Estrada to accomplish that end. No team in their right mind is going to give the Mets anything for Estrada knowing that the catcher isn’t going to be offered a contract. Schneider’s a pretty useful guy; he’s got some pop and is good defensively; but for Milledge? I don’t know.
- Other teams have more bullets to be able to obtain the likes of Johan Santana, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton and Minaya had this deal in front of him and decided to make it to fill the Mets apparent need at catcher and get a relatively useful outfield bat. One thing I’ll say is that if the Mets are so desperately infatuated with Carlos Gomez, they may as well just put him in the lineup in right field next year to start the season and let him play. If I were the Mets though, I probably would have tried to get one of those young bullpen parts that the Nationals have like Jonathan Albaladejo; but maybe they did and Nats GM Jim Bowden said no.
- Mets ownership had told Minaya to get Milledge out of here with the first deal that made any sense at all; maybe there are other things going on behind the scenes that the public doesn’t know about.
Regardless, this is not a move that is going to turn around the Mets fortunes for 2008 unless something else is on the cooker; but the impression I get is that this move is what it is; and that’s something that makes you tilt your head, shrug your shoulders and say, "whatever".
As talented as Erik Bedard is, teams like the Mets should think long and hard before putting out all the stops to acquire him. Combining his extensive history of injuries; the fact that he’s never thrown 200 innings in a season; and that he’s not just reticent about the media, but downright hostile (Bedard’s Hostility—I remember reading another article in a similar vein, but couldn’t find it), makes him a bad fit for a New York team. If the Orioles are intending to trade Bedard, he would probably be better off going to a team like the Blue Jays (he’s from Canada); or another town where the media would be willing to leave him alone. Judging from the injuries and phobia about the media, he’s not a good idea for New York.
I’m not fanatical about on base percentage as many stats-obsessed people are; in fact, I think the stat (like any stat) can be misleading, but the San Francisco Giants are in a class of their own with feast or famine veterans who provide unproductive at bats. How is it possible for a team to put not one, not two, but three hitters in their everyday lineup with on base percentages at .298 and below and expect to be able to score enough runs to win? And now without Barry Bonds, exactly whom are the Giants going to count on to be able to provide a threat of any kind in that lineup?
Even if the Giants hadn’t decided to cut ties with Bonds, his indictment would’ve precluded them bringing him back anyway (unless he was granted furloughs to play in certain games as a precondition of a plea bargain—-and Barry Bonds as Willie Horton). Now the Giants have to find two power bats to provide what Bonds did in the middle of the lineup; no matter what anyone thought of Bonds, he was still a dangerous hitter who had to be pitched very carefully and was capable of busting a game open at any moment even on hobbled knees and under intense scrutiny from all sides. They tried to replace Bonds last season with such names as Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Adam Dunn and were rebuffed in all instances until they and Bonds had to reunite because neither could find a suitable alternative. The market for corner outfielders is nowhere near as strong this winter as it was last. The one thing I can see the Giants doing is jumping in on Andruw Jones; both are hurting for a match; both are getting desperate. It’s something that might make sense on both ends if Jones is reasonable with his contract demands.
I thought that the Giants were going to get in on, and possibly get, Alex Rodriguez had he truly been out on the market. Now that ARod has returned to the Yankees, the Giants are stuck with what they have at third base in Pedro Feliz. They have a bunch of veteran players with bloated salaries that they would have loved to push out the door along with Bonds; it would have made sense since most of them were brought in with the strategy of "building around Barry"; but they’re still there. Bengie Molina is supposedly available with the Mets considering him; Ray Durham, Randy Winn, Dave Roberts—-I’m sure the Giants would love to be rid of all of them. Omar Vizquel started to show his age with the bat last season and his range is diminished greatly along with that. He’s returning to the Giants next year and might be trade bait if the team falls out of contention early. Every year the Giants look like a team for whom it’s necessary to begin a wholesale housecleaning, and every year, they find more veterans to sign and try and plug into their holes. They made one very good move in getting young and talented outfielder Rajai Davis from the Pirates for Matt Morris at the trading deadline.
The saving grace for the Giants is that young foursome heading their rotation. Barry Zito was horrible in his first season with the Giants; his fastball, never impressive to begin with, was down at Tom Glavine/Jamie Moyer-like levels, but he’s never learned to pitch that way as Glavine and Moyer have. Zito’s going to have plenty of time and plenty of money as he tries to learn to pitch with an 84-mph fastball. Many people seem to be down on Zito and are giving the Giants a hard time for the contract they gave him, but I think he’s got the potential to rebound into a 15 or 16-10 type pitcher if the team gets some offense.
The Giants may have to deal one of the other pitchers from the group of Noah Lowry, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum if they want to get an offensive force the likes of Miguel Cabrera. The one I would give up in that circumstance is Lincecum. As alluring as his fastball and Orel Hershiser-type motion is, he’s still very small and appeared to tire at mid-season; has a unique and somewhat odd workout regimen; and didn’t pitch as well last season as everyone seems to be implying he did. His name should be openly bandied about to acquire a power bat.
Their bullpen performed well after the departure of Armando Benitez (for whom they got the talented and hard-throwing Randy Messenger). Brad Hennessey was serviceable as the closer; he couldn’t be much worse than Benitez if he’s given the job. Former Giants reliever Joe Nathan is supposedly going to be available from the Twins after Johan Santana is moved; perhaps they’d like to undo part of that awful trade for A.J. Pierzynski and get Nathan back to close.
The Giants problem is their offense. Manager Bruce Bochy handled the Bonds circus as well as anyone could have expected from a manager coming to a new team and walking into such a nightmare. He knows how to win games and handle his pitching staff; but this team cannot hit. Their offense is not just worse, but far worse, than their divisional rival the San Diego Padres, and that’s saying something. There aren’t any free agents out there for them to address their needs other than Andruw Jones and if they want someone like Miguel Cabrera, they’re probably going to have to include Lincecum as a starting point. It all depends on whether the Giants are intending to contend next season, or are willing to get one power bat and live with what they have hoping that contending teams will want the Giants veterans for their stretch runs. Otherwise, they’ll have to wait for those contracts to run out and then start to rebuild. The Giants have never done that though, and right now they seem completely frozen in place as they ponder life after Bonds.
The Dodgers are going to need every ounce of new manager Joe Torre’s famous class to help them make up for the shabby way in which they treated former manager Grady Little as they openly romanced first Joe Girardi and then Torre before even informing Little that he was being let go. The Dodgers have been reactionary ever since Frank McCourt purchased the team; first going with Paul DePodesta as their GM based on his role in Moneyball, and allowing him to demolish what had been a pretty good team; firing DePodesta and allowing Ned Colletti to spend, spend, spend his way to a mishmash of veterans and rookies who couldn’t stand the sight of one another; and now to Torre. The Dodgers aggressiveness of the past has now morphed into an open question as to what they intend to do this off-season.
Are they going to sink or swim with probably the best farm system in baseball and their remaining veterans?
Are they going to trade some of that young talent and try to win as quickly as possible?
Or are they going to continue with a similar roster as they had in 2007 and hope that Torre’s presence will create a peace between the veterans and rookies and Torre’s superior managerial skills (in relation to Little) will account for six or seven more wins and their injured players return healthy and ready to produce?
The Dodgers starting pitching staff was decimated by injuries to the point that they desperately and stupidly claimed the shot Esteban Loaiza and his ridiculous contract for next year from the Athletics and signed veteran David Wells. Wells pitched relatively well for the Dodgers; Loaiza was awful. Losing both Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf to season-ending injuries forced the Dodgers to look elsewhere for pitching help as they were trying to stay in the race in the National League West. Schmidt is expecting to be ready for the beginning of the season; whether he will be is unknown. Wolf is not expected back with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have been one of the teams mentioned in the sweepstakes for Johan Santana and (I think) one of the sleepers. They have the prospects that the Twins are going to want; whether they’re going to be willing to deal some combination within the likes of Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Clayton Kershaw, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andy La Roche to get Santana is the question. The Dodgers have thrown money and prospects at their problems under Colletti and acquired the likes of Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo, Danys Baez, Brett Tomko etc. with mixed results. Since they’re paying so much money to Schmidt and Derek Lowe with limited success, I don’t know whether McCourt is going to be willing to slice a significant chunk out of the team’s farm system and dole out the huge contract necessary to lock Santana up as a Dodger for the long term. I would think that the Dodgers would be more willing to go with Billingsley as a full-time starter; give Kershaw a chance in the starting rotation from the beginning of the season and go from there. They still have Brad Penny at the top of the rotation and Lowe is relatively reliable. If Schmidt can return to contribute something, they’re still one of the best teams in the National League West.
The bullpen is one of baseball’s best with the devastating late inning tandem of Broxton and Takashi Saito. Saito is probably one of the finest and least known closers in baseball. The joke was that when Torre was in Dodger Stadium trying on his new uniform top, Scott Proctor was already warming up in the bullpen. Torre was blamed for Proctor’s struggles late in his Yankees career by overusing him to the point of ineffectiveness. Proctor hasn’t blamed Torre for that, but the relievers in the Dodgers bullpen had better show up in shape and ready to pitch. If everyone out there is healthy, the Dodgers bullpen (along with some of the younger pitchers they’ve tried over the past few years) should be good as is.
If the Dodgers don’t deal their younger bats for a veteran arm like Santana, Dan Haren or Joe Blanton, it will be interesting to see what Torre does with Nomar Garciaparra. Garciaparra is a shell of his former self; he had almost no power in 2007 and might not even deserve to play regularly if Andy La Roche establishes himself. Torre has a tendency to play his veterans until they prove they no longer deserve to play, so Garciaparra presumably will receive every opportunity to return to form, at least in the beginning of the season.
The Dodgers were supposedly very interested in free agent center fielder Aaron Rowand, which makes no sense whatsoever. It’s not that he’s not better than Juan Pierre, but what exactly are they going to do with Pierre if they sign Rowand? No one’s taking that Pierre contract unless the Yankees send Melky Cabrera to the Twins in exchange for Santana and the teams can deal some bad contracts (Johnny Damon? Kyle Farnsworth? Carl Pavano?) for Pierre. I don’t see that happening.
One of the main causes of Little’s downfall was the fissure between the veterans and rookies in the Dodgers clubhouse. Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez were especially vocal about the way the rookies seemed to lack preparation for games. Kent is a known loner and pariah in every clubhouse he’s been in, so his complaints are easily explained away or ignored; but Gonzalez has always been known as a pro’s pro and a leader. Torre will most certainly handle this situation more deftly than Little did.
Torre is going to be expected to work the same magic in Los Angeles as he did in New York with the Yankees; but those Yankees teams were far better and more prepared to win than this Dodgers team appears to be with all of their turmoil, injuries and in-fighting. It’s not as if Torre is this strategic wizard either, but he won’t make the same bizarre decisions as Little did. The Dodgers offense cannot be as bad as it was next season even if they don’t add a power bat. (Jason Bay or Carl Crawford would be good fits for left field.) If the Dodgers get their injured pitchers back, acquire a veteran starter and their bullpen continues the work they did last season, they’ll be in a good position to make Torre appear to be as much of a genius as his fans and apologists seem to think he is.
Top to bottom, this team is probably the best in their division right now, but that doesn’t always mean they’re going to win. If Torre is unable to repair the Dodgers as he is expected to, all this move from East to West will do is put a tarnish on Torre’s carefully crafted legacy, and that’s the last thing that Colletti or McCourt had in mind when they spent so lavishly and embarrassed their organization with their treatment of Little. It will be in everyone’s interest to win next year, and that’s why I still think they’re going to be big players for one of the available stars like Santana, Haren or Miguel Cabrera. There’s no one left to blame now because everyone’s favorite punching bag, Grady Little, was dumped like a piece of trash. Torre’s class and old-school charm had better be working overtime for this organization to regain some of its cachet or the Dodgers are going to be in for a rough ride as they try to get back on track.
The Mets have supposedly refused all efforts for the Twins to get them to include Jose Reyes in any deal for Johan Santana. There seem to be those in the New York media advocating that the Mets deal their affordable, 24-year-old, future superstar shortstop for a pitcher who’s logged a lot of innings over the past five years and is a free agent at the end of 2008. If the Mets are stupid enough and desperate enough to do something like that, then I may have to wash my hands of them entirely. And that’s on the record and is no joke.
As brutally as I’ve criticized the Rays in the past, I have to give them credit for making this trade with the Twins (NY Times Story). Delmon Young was a Milton Bradley-level explosion waiting to happen as long as the organization continually put up with, and refused to punish his poor behavior. The Rays have, in the past, been reluctant to formulate a baseline code of conduct for their players and stick to it; it was a free-for-all with coaches and players known more for their time on the police blotter than for doing their jobs on the field. Getting rid of Young is not only a step in the right direction for the franchise as far as tolerable conduct is concerned, but they had a glut of outfielders and addressed other problems they had with this deal.
Brendan Harris had a very good year as he finally got a chance to play regularly after several years bouncing from one organization to another; he’s a fiery player who may have had his career year in 2007. The Rays got him for nothing, so it was a pretty good return that they were able to add him to this deal without any of their other top infield prospects. Jason Pridie will also be heading to the Twins. Pridie is a minor league outfielder whose numbers are promising that he might contribute as a part-time player; the type of player whose abilities the Twins know how to maximize.
Getting Matt Garza addresses a massive need the Rays have. Garza, 24-years-old, has great stuff and the Rays have the opportunity to trot four young, high-end starters—-Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Garza and Jeff Niemann—-out to the mound. I’m not all that big a fan of Jason Bartlett (he looked like he needed to run into the clubhouse and change his pants during the 2006 playoffs), but he should be an insurance policy if Ben Zobrist or Joel Guzman never develop at shortstop and, at worst, would be a useful utility infielder. They also acquired young pitcher Eduardo Morlan, whose strikeout numbers and walk totals indicate that he throws hard and throws strikes.
As for the Twins, they’re most definitely not an organization that is going to put up with the same type of **** that Young has pulled for most of his career as a spoiled, former top pick in the draft. They have a surplus of young starting pitching and, if they deal Johan Santana, presumably there’s going to be more young, blue-chip pitching on the way. The acquisition of Young also raises the question as to what the Twins are going to ask for in that deal for Santana. Young has played center field before (I don’t know whether or not he was any good at it), but perhaps they see him in center. They already have a relatively young pair of corner outfielders in Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer; if they put Young in center, what are they going to now be asking for in regards to Santana? Harris is an upgrade over Bartlett and perhaps they see Pridie as a potential DH. This looks like a good deal for both sides and a possible turning of the corner for the Rays, on and off the field.