February 5, 2014
The New Adventures of Freeman
Signed RHP Jerome Williams to a one-year deal. [2/3]
Welcome to Houston, Jerome. Your job is to eat innings. The 32-year-old, who was non-tendered by the Angels earlier in the winter, is a blase veteran in the Erik Bedard mold. He'll throw enough strikes and coerce enough groundballs to be effective at times, but that's about as far as things go. In an ideal world, Williams saves the bullpen from throwing too many innings and allows the youngsters to bake in the minors a bit longer. When the timer goes off, the Astros can throw him in the bullpen and use him as a swingman. Hey, it beats the minors.
Signed OF-L Sam Fuld to a minor-league deal. [2/4]
A signing that could hint at what the A's design to do with their bench. Oakland seems to have enough outfielders on their projected 25-man roster to go without Fuld, yet that's with Stephen Vogt and Nate Freiman. Perhaps the A's intend to have John Jaso resume catching, or Brandon Moss play daily, in which case Fuld—a quality defender and baserunner—makes sense on the bottom of the roster. Or, more likely, the A's want the little feller around for minor-league depth purposes. We'll find out soon enough.
Reportedly agreed to an eight-year extension 1B-L Freddie Freeman worth as much as $135 million [2/4]
A few weeks ago, Ben Lindbergh wrote about the Braves and their large class of arbitration-eligible players. "It’s been almost six years since the Braves last extended a homegrown player (Brian McCann, prior to the 2007 season)," he noted. "That has to change." And now it has, thanks to a surprising deal.
Freeman is the fourth first baseman to sign an extension within the past year, joining Allen Craig, Paul Goldschmidt, and Anthony Rizzo. Those three signed deals worth guaranteed money ranging from $31 million to $41 million, which are meager sums compared to Freeman's potential cash-grab. Yet that disparity makes some sense, as Freeman entered the process with more earning potential due to his arbitration eligibility. The others all had fewer than three years of service time, with Rizzo and Goldschmidt signing before completing their second full year. Factor in the changing economic climate, and the gap makes more sense.
Then there's Freeman's breakout season, in which he tallied a .332 True Average and sparked a grassroots MVP campaign—laugh if you must, but he finished with a higher share of votes than Joey Votto. Even so, Freeman doesn't necessarily scream $125-million dollar man, does he? He's never homered more than 23 times in a big-league season, and until last season he hadn't topped an .800 OPS. Factor in the uncharacteristically high batting average, and it's easy to peg Freeman as a regression candidate.
But maybe there's more sugar left in the jar than we think. Freeman will play this season at age 24, which makes him younger than Rizzo by a month, Goldschmidt by two years, and Craig by a half-decade. He's tall and lanky and relatively new to weightlifting, yet he's shown power to all fields and he might have a few more home runs per year in his bat in the coming years. Even without elite power, Freeman has held his own against major-league pitching since he turned 21 thanks to quality bat-to-ball skills. Whether Freeman is able to hit .300-plus heading forward is anyone's guess, but the expectation has been there since 2010. That's when Kevin Goldstein wrote, "[Many scouts project] him as a consistent .300-hitter in the big leagues."
Of course those are big ifs, and it's possible that Freeman lives up to neither expectation. If he doesn't, he'll remain a solid player, just not one necessarily worth this kind of coin. The risk for the Braves, who are perhaps spending in advance of their new stadium's revenue gains, is legitimate. But by signing Freeman now—rather than in a year or two—and banking on his upside and work ethic, there's a chance—however unlikely—this deal comes to look like a bargain in three years time, right as he would've hit the open market.
Signed INF-R Jeff Baker to a two-year deal worth $3.7 million. [2/4]
Dan Jennings signs another veteran—this one to a multi-year deal. Baker is coming off a better season than most people realize, as he finished with a career-best .315 True Average. The key to his success? Ron Washington's strict micromanagement. Baker faced left-handed pitchers in a career-high 70 percent of his plate appearances. He's always tormented southpaws, of course, but he seems unlikely to replicate his 1.073 OPS from last season. Similarly, while Baker is versatile enough to play around the diamond, he could see most of his action at first base, in concert with Garrett Jones. This might seem like a pittance for a player coming off a banner season, but given his limited nature—he'll top out around 200-250 plate appearances—it's a reasonable deal for both parties.
Signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a minor-league deal. [2/3]
Sure, why not? Farnsworth appeared near his end when the Rays released him last August, but he latched on with the Pirates and appeared nine times in black and gold before the season ended. His numbers with Pittsburgh are pretty, though skepticism is encouraged. Beyond the obvious small-sample caveat, Farnsworth pitched up in the zone a lot for someone whose stuff has declined. Every season, a few relievers perceived to be past their sell-by date put together solid efforts. Perhaps Farnsworth does that in 2014, but it seems more likely that he's released by June.