Trades are still allowed?!

November 26, 2006

With team’s lining up to throw millions at free agents, it was comforting to be reminded that trades are still allowed.  The Brewers and the D-Backs played musical chairs with six players in a deal that looks like it will help both teams.  The D-Backs get a much needed starter in Doug Davis while the Brew Crew can replace Damien Miller’s .251/.322/.390 with Johnny Estrada’s .302/.328/.444, in theory at least.  Add in a couple of pitchers for the Brewers and a couple of youngsters for the D-Backs and it looks like a decent overall package for both teams.  It’s by no means a blockbuster event, but if you haven’t got piles of cash to spend on big impact players then you need to improve your side bit by bit.

In truth, there will be plenty of teams who will need to go down the trade route this winter due to the sky-high free agent prices.  There will be plenty of players who will enjoy signing lucrative contracts this winter, but the real winners will be the teams who have players to trade.  This is a sellers market and I suspect we will start to see some big trades once the rest of the thin, quality free agent market has been snapped up.  Of course, some teams will feel compelled to spend their piles of cash regardless of whether they get value for their money, but shrewd operators may be able to find some relative bargains via the trade route.  No doubt the Winter meetings, held between December 4-7, will be a hive of activity as usual.


Astros make a splash

November 25, 2006

The Astros have made the latest plunge into the free agent market, announcing a big money deal for one of the top available hitters and adding a decent veteran starter to their rotation.

I think everyone is starting to understand that using the term “overpaid” is going to be problematic this winter. There’s always going to be a purist argument that any sportsman is overpaid compared to those of us who have to do “real” work, but ultimately the worth of a baseball player is dictated by the current market. The relatively trouble-free Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions were the ultimate indicator that the sport is swimming in money and I guess we will just have to adjust our brains to cope with the sums being dished out. That doesn’t mean teams like the Cubs and the Astros are correct, sensible or clever to be committing themselves to paying $17-18million a year to guys when they hit their mid thirties, but there’s a least some sort of perverse logic behind it.

Carlos Lee is a very good hitter, yet he doesn’t strike me as being someone you would want to hand a six-year contract to. Some pitchers can gain from carrying some extra timber (Jumbo Wells for one), but it’s not something I would want in an outfielder (especially in the NL where they can’t just shift him to DH in a couple year’s time). Like any deal, if it brings success on the field then the apparent foolishness of it will be easily forgotten. Whether it will or not is quite nicely shown by the different roster charts on MLB.com and ESPN.com.

The MLB.com Astros depth chart looks impressive, particularly that rotation. Plugging Woody Williams on to the back-end of a rotation with Oswalt, Pettite and Clemens makes a quality core of starters to rely on over the season. Add in a battle between Backe, Rodriguez and Hirsh for the fifth spot and it would arguably be the strongest in the majors.

Looking up the Astros on the ESPN Hot stove Index tells a different story though. Currently they haven’t added Williams and Lee to the projected starters list, but they have taken Pettitte and Clemens out of the equation. Both sites also still list Backe in the rotation despite the fact that he will likely be missing for the whole of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery.

Both Lee and Williams will be positives for the Astros in the near future (the two year deal for Williams looks sensible enough overall), but their 2007 still is very hard to predict. Oswalt, Pettitte, Clemens, Williams and Backe is light-years ahead of Oswalt, Williams, Rodriguez, Hirsh and Buchholz. If both Pettitte and Clemens return to Houston then they will be serious contenders. If they don’t, the Astros need to know soon so that they can spend the money on quality replacements while they are still available (and there’s not much out there anyway in truth). The Astros’ GM Tim Purpura claims that they have just made a “historic commitment to winning”, but it’s going to look pretty hollow unless the current rotation is fixed.


Keeping track of the changes

November 23, 2006

As it’s Thanksgiving day in America I’m sure there won’t be any trades to keep a check on tonight and when you wake up tomorrow.  That’s a big shame as checking the latest “how much have they paid for him?” stories will prove to be a useful distraction from the Ashes score over the next seven weeks no doubt (not so “Grievous Bodily Harmison” at the moment is he?  Stop bowling “rooobish”, as Boycott likes to say, and get some fire in your belly Steve man).

Anyway, it can be difficult to keep up with all the comings and goings over the winter.  So in the spirit of the day I would like to give thanks to ESPN.com for their excellent Hot Stove 2006 Index.  Pick a team from the drop down list and you get all the info you need about each team; who they’ve gained, who they’ve lost, and how it all fits together in terms of their projected starting line-up. Well worth sticking in your bookmarks.


Hey Ned, check the stats!

November 21, 2006

In another move bubbling away on the hot stove, Juan Pierre is reportedly close to signing a 5 year deal worth $45 million with the Dodgers.  Pierre brings a lot of speed on the bases but no power.  What really struck me however was Ned Colletti’s comment on MLB.com:

“Pierre gets on base an awful lot, he had 200 hits, steals bases, he’s a great guy to have on the club, a great quality human being,” 

200 hits?  Check.

Steals bases? Check.

Great guy/quality human being/ all round Mr Nice?  I’ll take his word for it.

But “gets on base an awful lot”?  A .330 OBP doesn’t equate to an “awful lot” in my book.  In fact there were no fewer than 129 players in the majors last season who were better at it than him.  Pierre’s career OBP is a more respectable .350 but add in his 2005 (.326) and it’s not unreasonable to expect the drop to be terminal.

Maybe I’m just being picky but if I was giving someone $45million on the basis that he “gets on base an awful lot”, I might want to check whether it’s true or not first.  For the more stat-minded among you, subscribers to the Baseball Prospectus site can access lots of mind-boggling stats about major league players.  One of these is a “Stars and Scrubs” chart which  “represents the probability that a player will demonstrate a given level of performance over the course of his next five seasons”.  By 2010 they have Pierre down as having a 70 per cent chance of being no better than a fringe player. Thanks to the Dodgers, at least he will be a well-paid fringe player!


Soriano silly money

November 20, 2006

We all knew that Alfonso Soriano had timed his historic 40-40 season well. On last season’s form, he was the big free agent on the market and you knew somebody would overpay to get him, but the reported deal the Cubs have agreed to seems crazy at best.

In the current market place I can see why Soriano would get a deal worth $17 million a year. It seems astonishing to most of us, but there’s a valid argument that he “deserves” that level of pay right now. It’s the eight year part that I cannot understand. Soriano is 30, which is past his peak years generally seen as being 26-29. Now players do age differently and some can retain their value longer than others, but he certainly doesn’t bring much to the table defensively. His speed is a big asset on the bases and that can drop-off more quickly than someone who uses nous to grab an extra bag 20 odd times a season.

Hitting 46 homers when your home park is RFK is no mean feat and I’m not sitting here trying to make you believe he is a bad player. The stats tell you he was one of the best in the league last season. Yet I can’t help but think that this is a bit of desperation on the Cubs’ part. I’m sure lots of people will be ready to congratulate GM Jim Hendry for taking the bull by the horns and trying to turn the franchise around, not least Lou Piniella.
It seems like a great P.R. move, one that will undoubtedly help the team in the short term, but the Cubs have been in a complete mess recently and it’s akin to buying a shiny new helmet when the air raid sirens are filling the sky. It will look nice and raise a few envious glances at first, it might even save you from injury a few times, but it’s not going to stop the bomb from blowing you to bits.

The same can be said for the Ramirez deal, where the Cubs essentially paid for what they might lose rather than what they would gain. Ramirez won’t be worth his money in three year’s time and Soriano certainly won’t be worth $17 million in 2011-2013. Is this showing ambition or compounding previous mistakes? History will be the judge.

The Cubs will be a lot better next season, it just depends whether that’s worth the pay-off or not.


Money Money Money

November 12, 2006

With no baseballs to throw for a few months, teams are getting their fix by chucking money around. Baseball is booming financially, as the recent CBA talks showed, and the players and agents don’t need a second invitation to start cashing in. Never mind filling their pockets, they are backing up their trucks and hiring servants to stand by with their diamond encrusted shovels.

Does Matsuzaka mean “loads of money” in English?

The Matsuzaka lucky dip is continuing, with the highest bid winging its way to the Seibu Lions for their consideration. ESPN report that the Red Sox have “won” the battle and that the bid may be between $38million and $45million (around £20m to £23.5m), which fits neatly with my football equivalent deal I proposed last week. It’s now up to the Seibu Lions as to whether they accept it and allow the Red Sox to negotiate with Matsuzaka’s agent, Scott Boras, on a (lucrative) contract. It seems a lot of money to turn down so I would guess it will go through. No doubt the Red Sox and Boras have already discussed a general contract prior to Boston tabling their bid (whether it’s against the rules or not, it happens all the time in football of course) so we may very well see Matsuzaka in a Red Sox uniform.

The big issue is whether Matsuzaka is the real thing or not. The smart bods at Baseball Prospectus have looked at this issue and have translated the stats from his last four seasons to compare them to the Major Leagues. I have to admit to being slightly taken aback when I saw how favourably his performance compared to that of Roger Clemens over the same period. Clemens has been outstanding during this time. Of course the only true way to determine how Matsuzaka will perform when facing Major League hitters is for him to actually face them, but the stats very starkly support the hype and money that surrounds him.

Everything suggests this guy will not just be a good Major League starter, but one of the small select band of dominating pitchers such as Santana, Halliday and the aforementioned Clemens. Much as I may regret it if he carves through the A’s batting lineup on a regular basis, I’m excited at the prospect of this Japanese pitcher coming to America and really being a top-notch superstar starter. So for the good of MLB I hope the Red Sox are successful in their quest to sign him, although if it turns out that the Yankees or Angels won after all I won’t be so keen!

Rogers + Sheffield = danger in Detroit (in more ways than one)

The first big trade was sealed this week with Gary Sheffield moving to the Tigers for three pitching prospects. The Yankees made the right call in picking up his option and then moving him on, despite it drawing Sheff’s ire. I don’t pretend to know much about minor league prospects, but the initial comments I have read suggest that the Yanks have done very well out of the deal. Their farm system has taken a hammering in recent years due to their “tomorrow’s for wimps when you’ve got more money than sense” attitude. This will add a few good young arms to their system while moving an expensive piece who no longer really fits in their plans. As for the Tigers, you have to admire their determination to build on last season. Sheffield can be a big impact bat, sorely lacking in their World series defeat; however “can” is the operative word. Sheffield has been an offensive powerhouse for many years but that offers no guarantees on his future performance bearing in mind he is about to turn 38 and missed most of last season with a wrist injury. Add in his “difficult” reputation and the $41million price tag over the next three seasons looks a gamble to say the least.

Still, add Sheff’s bat to the 2006 Tigers and they would have probably been the World Champs. If he is the one piece in the puzzle that can push this talented group to the ultimate prize then he will be worth the money. It’s a big “if”, but team’s like the Tigers only have a small window of opportunity to capitalise on at any given time (and I mean no disrespect with that comment). By all accounts he has a good relationship with Jim Leyland, so it’s a gamble worth taking. Yes, it could end in tears and us lot watching on the sidelines will be able to use hindsight to ridicule the decision, but fear of failure will get you nowhere. The Tigers are taking a shot and that’s to be applauded in my book.

Liriano laid low (along with all baseball fans)

One of the things the Tigers have no doubt considered is that the strength of the AL Central leaves no room for complacency. Sadly, the team who beat them to the division crown may not be such a formidable force this time around. The loss of Francisco Liriano to Tommy John surgery for the entire 2007 season is bad news for any baseball fan, let alone for the Twins. Having seen how Mark Prior’s career has been derailed by injury, we can only hope that Liriano can return in 2008 and turn his huge talent into a long and successful career.

J(ust) D(ollars) Drew

In the last few days, a couple of veterans have re-signed with their clubs. Both Craig Biggio and Jim Edmonds will be returning to the Astros and the Cards respectively. J.D. Drew meanwhile will be changing uniforms for 2007. Drew shocked the Dodgers be taking advantage of a clause in his five year contract that allowed him to opt out of his final three years. The Dodgers made the play-offs via the NL Wild Card and Drew had previously stated how much he was enjoying his time in L.A. The reason he has ripped up his contract is essentially because $33 million over the next three years is just not enough money for him and his agent Scott Boras; who, as we say in Norfolk; “is all about, like shit in a field”. Boras has even had the cheek to publicly state that Drew would be happy to re-sign with the Dodgers, if they give him more money. Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti has rightfully told Boras to do one.

I have some sympathy for the Dodgers; however agreeing to the clause was a mistake in the first place. It’s a bit like giving a bank robber the keys to the safe. And as MLB.com reports, Drew has a proven record of shamelessly filling his pockets:

“Drew, who turns 31 later this month, is no stranger to surprising and contentious decisions. He was the second player taken in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies, but only after protesting that the draft was unfair and warning all teams it would take $10 million to sign him.

He held out the entire season and took Major League Baseball to an arbitration hearing over the legality of the draft, but finally re-entered the draft the following year, when the Cardinals made him the fifth overall pick and gave him a four-year deal worth $7 million guaranteed.”

At times like this, I’m glad the A’s don’t have large financial resources. It’s safe to say we won’t be signing J(ust) D(ollars) Drew. What a shame.

Any more for any more?

Not that it’s necessarily fair for me to single Drew out though; there’s plenty more doing exactly the same right now. Is it wrong? Would I act differently if I was in their shoes? I don’t begrudge sportsmen (and women) earning good money when they are the one’s who put bums on seats (I would sooner it goes to them than agents that’s for sure). I’m also not so naive to think that, given the chance, I would say “no thanks” to earning some of the sums that make us roll our eyes and think about the salaries of nurses, policemen, firemen et al. I think I just have an in-built tolerance level beyond which players enter “Greedy Bastard” territory. It’s the point where you feel that the player no longer loves playing the game and earning very good money for doing so, to where he simply enjoys earning as much money as possible.

Ultimately, fairly or not, that’s why I’ve picked on Drew today. By my reckoning, he has earned $40million in the last nine years and was going to make a further $33 million over the next three, yet he’s prepared to walk out of a play-off team just to earn even more.

Aramis Ramirez has essentially pulled the same contract trick, but then again you can’t blame a guy for wanting to leave the Cubs right now. Ramirez’s situation really sums everything up. His agent is trying to play the nice guy in the media, stating how much Ramirez wants to stay in Chicago(!) and promising the Cubs a “home town discount”. It’s a funny discount that costs you more money if you ask me, but I guess that’s the financial climate baseball is in.

UPDATE: 2006-11-12 9.48 pm.  It’s just been announced that the Cubs have agreed a new five year deal with Ramirez.  I suppose you have to tip your hat to his agent, who has served his client well by effectively bagging a three year extension with (presumably – as financial details have not been released yet) a healthy increase in money thrown in for good measure.


The Fremont A’s?

November 7, 2006

One of the many things that us Brits struggle with is the concept of franchises, where a team can up sticks and move somewhere else with scant regard for those they leave behind. The MK Dons are really the only football example and we all know how well that has turned out so far. The Dons have been shunned by many, not least scores of travelling supporters who refuse to buy food, drinks, programmes etc, but in America it just seems to be an accepted part of life.

I raise the issue because it is being reported that the Oakland A’s are planning to move 27 miles to Fremont. The A’s future in Oakland has been a controversial topic for several years and Fremont has been touted as a possible home for a while. I doubt that will make it any easier for Oakland locals to take though.

You would think that a team would move to a better populated area, but in this case Fremont’s population is around half the size of Oakland. As ESPN point out however, the populace is generally wealthier than that of Oakland and as with anything, money speaks loudest. And despite the population size, the A’s struggled to fill the Colliseum and played all of last season with a self-enforced reduced capacity (they averaged a crowd of 24,403 in 2006).

Twenty-seven miles doesn’t seem that much but it’s not the travel time that fans will be concerned about, it’s the fact that the team will no longer be a part of Oakland. It’s a difficult topic for me to write about really because while I’m an Oakland fan, I’m well aware that looking out for a team’s results from another country is completely different from being a dedicated, life-long supporter.

So, while I have great sympathy for Oakland based fans, my thoughts have started to turn to the new name. I believe that Fremont is pronounced “Free-mont”. “The Fremont A’s”? “The Fremont Athletics”? “Eric Chavez, Fremont’s six time gold glove winner”? It doesn’t sound right to me, in fact it doesn’t even look right. I guess we will all just have to get used to it.

Various Links

ESPN report. 

Fremont on Wikipedia

New A’s ballpark blogsite. 

San Francisco Chronicle report