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January 16, 2004
Signed free agent RHP Kelvim Escobar to a three-year contract. [11/24]
Signed free agent RHP Bartolo Colon to a four-year contract. [12/9]
Signed free agent OF-R Jose Guillen to a two-year contract with a club option for 2006. [12/19]
Non-tendered C-1B-R Shawn Wooten. [12/21]
Signed free agent OF-R Vladimir Guerrero to a five-year contract[1/11]
The fireworks in the AL East may be drawing all the headlines this offseason, but the Angels have quietly put themselves in position to win an AL West that's declining across the board. Beane is finding it harder and harder to pull fast ones on the rest of the league, Bavasi is setting all kinds of speed records for driving franchises into the ground, and the Rangers are still focusing on blaming their pitching problems on The Contract.
When Guillen was signed, the move seemed destined to add tension to the clubhouse. He's presumably on board to play the outfield, in which case either Tim Salmon moves to DH, which can't make him happy, or the front office carries through on its plans to move Darin Erstad to first, which in turn won't make him happy. You wind up with three players staking equally valid claims to playing the outfield, with Garret Anderson bouncing between left and center, depending on Erstad's fate.
Signing Vlad just complicates things. He's clearly there to play right field, which would seem to mandate pushing Salmon to DH, making him unhappy. It also gives management more incentive to move Erstad to first (so Guillen can play outfield), making him unhappy, and effectively forcing a corner outfielder to play center. Since health woes are the cited reason (and really the only rational reason) for moving Erstad to first, perhaps the solution is to move Salmon there instead. He's creaky too, and would presumably be less unhappy about being stuck there than at DH. But then you still have three outfielders for two spots, and organizational inertia driving the best defender and worst hitter to 1B. Now that's synergy.
Meanwhile, back in the rotation, Colon takes over as the staff ace, and Escobar adds some depth to a rotation generally plagued with question marks. Notice that they don't make the outfield situation any easier, as Colon's flyball tendencies have increased over that time, and Escobar skews that way as well, unless 2003's G/F jump is a permanent change. Jarrod Washburn has been somewhat disappointing, though his stats have been skewed by a strange tendency to leave him in too long despite that great bullpen; then again, he might be leaving town. John Lackey is bound to have a slot, but Scot Shields and even Aaron Sele are still hanging out. This would seem to be the optimal time to bench Ramon Ortiz and be done with it, but it's hard to imagine that actually happening, even if a starter becomes a throw-in to an outfielder trade.
Signed LHP Jesse Orosco to a minor-league contract. [11/25]
Acquired 1B-R Richie Sexson, LHP Shane Nance, and a PTBNL from the Brewers for C-R Chad Moeller, 1B-R Lyle Overbay, 2B-R Junior Spivey, 3B-L Craig Counsell, and LHPs Chris Capuano and Jorge de la Rosa. [12/01]
Re-signed 2B-B Carlos Baerga to a one-year contract. [12/05]
Signed 2B-B Roberto Alomar to a one-year contract. [1/06]
The Diamondbacks made two significant moves early, sending Curt Schilling to Boston and acquiring long-sought-after Richie Sexson from the Brewers. With the team looking to trim the payroll from $94 million down to the $80 million range, Joe Garagiola had an unpleasant job ahead. Schilling, who could make as much as $14 million with incentive clauses in 2004, was the obvious choice. Considering the market for pitchers making eight figures, the Diamondbacks could have done worse than Fossum, de La Rosa, and Lyon. Jorge de la Rosa was one of top pitching prospects in the Boston system and was demanded by the Brewers as part of the Sexson deal. Fossum has never delivered on the promise he showed as a minor leaguer, but could do something with a new start in Arizona. Brandon Lyon was part of the package Boston sent to Pittsburgh for Scott Sauerbeck last July only to be sent back to Boston in another trade after the Pirates learned he had a frayed ligament in his pitching elbow. Shane Nance, obtained in the Sexson deal, will have a chance to compete with Jesse Orosco [Insert Your Own Jesse Orosco Age Joke Here] for the lefty-out-of-the bullpen specialist position. Both Sexson and the Diamondbacks have hinted at interest in a deal that extends beyond this season.
Considering the team's history of overpaying for aging talent, one was half expecting 4 years and $28 million to follow the "Alomar Signs" headline. Alomar has been overrated defensively for a long time, but if he can regain some of his lost hitting prowess, at $1,000,000 he could be the steal of the winter. The same could be said of Rod Carew at the same price, so perhaps temperance of expectations is a worthwhile exercise here. Carlos Baerga was resigned to fill a utility role, but could see more at bats if either Alomar or Shea Hillenbrand struggle.
Don't expect Reynolds and Sparks to fill the hole left by Schilling and Miguel Batisita. On the other hand, both can eat up innings and could help fill out the rotation if Randy Johnson, Elmer Dessens, and Brandon Webb stay healthy. New backup catcher Brent Mayne will likely do the catching for Sparks to save Robby Hammock the frustration that is catching a knuckleball.
Acquired 2B-R Aaron Miles from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for SS-R Juan Uribe. [12/02]
Signed RHP Steve Reed to a one-year contract. [12/8]
Signed free agent 3B-R Vinny Castilla to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2005. [12/10]
Traded RHP Chris Buglovsky to the Mariners in exchange for RHP Allan Simpson; finalized the trade with Toronto, acquiring RHP Sandy Nin as the player to be named in the Justin Speier transaction. [12/15]
Traded INF-R Mark Bellhorn to the Red Sox for a player to be named. [12/16]
Agreed to terms with free-agent OF-L Jeremy Burnitz (34) on a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2005; non-tendered the contracts of RHP Scott Elarton and OF-R Jay Payton granting them unrestricted free agency. [12/20]
Agreed to terms with C-R Todd Greene (33) on a one-year contract; agreed to terms with RHP Jeff Tam (33), RHP Brian Tollberg (31), INF-R Benji Gil (31), and INF-L Andy Tracy (30) on minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training. [12/22]
Signed IF-S Denny Hocking (34) to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. [1/9]
Dan O'Dowd has already tried every idea under the sun to make this organization as successful on the field as they've been at the box office. Well, I guess he ran out of new ideas, because he's digging back into Rockies history for this year's solution. The signing of Vinny Castilla is a clear indicator of the imminent return of the "Blake Street Bombers." Instead of teaming with Dante Bichette, Andres Galarraga, Ellis Burks, and Larry Walker, this time Castilla will join forces with Preston Wilson, Jeremy Burnitz, Todd Helton, and the perennial Larry Walker. That fivesome hit a very respectable 138 home runs in 2003, just 15 shy of the mark put up by the BSB in 1995. However, Seņor O'Dowd's maniacal plan is predicated on much more than home run power--the real gas in this new engine is age and experience. The original five "Bombers" had a combined age of 148 years. The 2004 version has a combined opening day age of 167 years. Preston Wilson, the youngest of the bunch, turns 30 just after the All-Star break. The amazing news is that Wilson is the YOUNGEST position player in the projected starting lineup of Charles Johnson, Helton, Damian Jackson, Castilla, Royce Clayton, Burnitz, Wilson, and Walker. Apparently, in today's climate of market adjustment, "going younger" isn't as appealing as it used to be. The veterans in the field will compliment a staff of young starting pitchers and, with the exception of future closer Shawn Chacon, a bullpen full of thirty-to-forty-somethings.
The Rockies starting rotation will be stressed by both the departure of Chacon for the bullpen and the loss of Darren Oliver, who was not offered arbitration. 2002 ROY Jason Jennings (25) will have to shoulder a huge responsibility as the Ace of a staff consisting of some combination of Aaron Cook (started 16 games in 2003), Denny Stark (started 13 games), Chin-Hui Tsao (started 7 games), Joe Kennedy (22 games started for the Devil Rays), and Denny Neagle (started 7 games, had surgery on July 30th to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow). It looks like the primary intention is to keep the ball in the park and let the veterans make the outs in the field. Cook in particular has a good HR/9 ratio. None of the starters are expected to strikeout or walk a huge number of batters.
I hate to think that Dan O'Dowd and Clint Hurdle may have been browsing our PECOTA Pitching Forecast comparables and DT Player Cards during the off-season. Maybe it was a quick read of Chacon's comps that played a part in his move to the bullpen? Take a look at Gagne's translated stats for the 2001 season (his last as a starter) and Chacon's for 2002. Given the difficulty of signing pitchers who can be successful starters at Coors Field, this move seems like a serious waste of talent, no matter what a cursory look at the numbers might suggest.
Re-signed 3B-L Robin Ventura to a one-year contract. [12/7]
Acquired OF-R Juan Encarnacion for a PTBNL. [12/13]
Re-signed LHP Wilson Alvarez to a one-year contract. [12/19]
Re-signed 2B-R Alex Cora to a one-year contract. [12/20]
Re-signed LF-B Bubba Trammell to a one-year contract. [1/6]
Re-signed CF-L Dave Roberts to a one-year contract. [1/9]
All these moves, and what did they get? Since late November the Dodgers have shipped their best pitcher to New York for Jeff Weaver, re-signed a bunch of fourth-outfielders, pinch-hitters, and some guy named "Yhency." Yes, they're finally putting an emphasis on economic responsibility--no longer lighting cigars with $100 bills, or worse, actively trying to sign someone like Kelvim Escobar for big money--but like everything else this organizations does, they're taking an otherwise good idea and dragging it past the logical extreme. Trying to "be smart with your money" is one thing, but doing so by not to addressing any of the current holes in your lineup is something else altogether.
The Dodgers, frankly, are operating without a clue. Yes, ownership is in limbo right now--and that can have its effects on everyone from the GM to assistant trainer--but that is no excuse for these levels of apathy and incompetence. Where were the Dodgers in the Vladimir Guerrero rumors? As a footnote, that's where. More than any other team in baseball, the Dodgers could have used a top-tier bat like Guerrero, yet they sat on the sidelines for most of the negotiations, despite clearing more than enough money earlier this offseason to make a deal happen.
Granted, when the team has made a move this offseason, it has usually been of the relatively inexpensive, one-year variety, so it's tough to get too angry about those. But consider one of the few deals that have exceeded the million-dollar mark: acquiring Juan Encarnacion, and then signing him to a two-year, $8 million deal. What's the logic behind a signing like this? Encarnacion is 28 years old, is a below-average defender, and has posted a career OBP of just .313. He does a few things well--he can run and hit for a moderate average--but there are more weaknesses than strengths in his performance record. The man was acquired for a PTBNL fer chrissakes. And yet, Dan Evans gives him $8 million like it's candy.
Like the Mets, the Dodgers have mastered the art of running in place, if not backwards at times. This offseason has been no different so far, and time for them to turn it around is quickly beginning to run out.
Signed LHP Ricardo Rincon to a two-year contract. [12/16]
Agreed to terms with LHP Mark Redman on a three-year contract with a mutual option for 2007. [12/21]
Signed LHP Arthur Rhodes to a three-year contract. [12/22]
Signed IF-R Frank Menechino to a one-year contract. Outrighted IF-R Jose Flores to Triple-A Sacramento but were kind enough to invite him to spring training anyway. Signed RHP Wayne Gomes and IF-R Ramon Castro to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training. Also invited C-B Mike Rose, RHP Joe Blanton, OF-L Brian Sellier and OF-B Nick Swisher to spring training. [1/6]
Signed RHP Lou Pote to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training; invited RHP Brad Sullivan to spring training. [1/8]
Signed RHP Britt Reames to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. [1/12]
The best news here is wrapped up in that first line. GM-R Billy Beane finally was able to get the disastrous Long contract off the books, even if it took shipping his All-Star (-Fluke?) catcher for a real center fielder. Sure, the A's took on a little salary in the deal, but even with his back injuries, Kotsay should be provide the offensive boost they thought they'd be getting from Long, with roughly equivalent defense, providing as much value as Hernandez and Long put together. If he can get past the injuries, and back to his pre-2003 form, the A's will instantly have their best center fielder since Dave Henderson's heyday.
Beyond that, the latest Beane-DePodesta experiment in exploiting market inefficiencies apparently focuses on the southpaws of the world. Three of the top four relievers on the revamped staff throw that way, but with Rhodes coming amazingly cheap at $3 million per, and the Yankees are paying most or all of Hammond's salary, it's not like the A's are burning money on relievers, unlike some teams. Thankfully, the staff is now so unbalanced that there shouldn't be too much temptation to ring up 3-4 pitching changes in the same inning, especially since Rhodes has demonstrated the ability to handle long stints against all comers.
Back in the rotation, the pattern continues with the Redman trade and signing. The contract's duration seems like a bit much for a guy who recently ventured into usage patterns so different from what A's farmhands are used to, but really it was just the one year. If he's survived that more or less intact, then worst case is he'll be effective for the life of the contract, and will always be a source of reasonable sunk costs ready to be flipped the next time Kenny Williams forgets his lessons.
As a final note, the A's made exactly the right calls as far as offering arbitration to their free agents. There was no way Foulke and Tejada were staying in town; Rincon was in no position to demand a large contract; there's no way you want Sparks accepting arbitration at this point; and Guillen wouldn't have been worth it either.
Re-signed LHP Kevin Walker to a one-year contract. [12/2]
Re-signed RHP Rod Beck to a one-year contract with a club option for 2005. [12/6]
Agreed to terms with RHP Akinori Otsuka on a two-year contract with a club option for 2006. [12/10]
Released INF-R Donaldo Mendez. [12/11]
Signed LHP Eddie Oropesa to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. [12/23]
Agreed to terms with LHP David Wells on a one-year contract. [12/31]
Acquired 3B-R Jeff Cirillo, RHP Brian Sweeney and cash considerations from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for RHP Kevin Jarvis, C-R Wiki Gonzalez, INF-L Dave Hansen and minor league OF-L Vince Faison. [1/6]
The best way to look at the Padres' 2003 campaign is that 2004 can only be better. There were a couple of Holy Grails for the Pads this off-season and Kevin Towers gallantly went in quest of them. First, Ramon Hernandez was brought in to satisfy the gnawing hunger in the stomachs of Padres fans that had been dreaming of something more satisfying than the previous Tom Lampkin/Gary Bennett fare. Towers hopes that Hernandez will surprise the naysayers that labeled the catcher's 2003 season a fluke (he performed above the 90th percentile of his 2003 forecast in every offensive category but OBP). It would be impossible for his performance to sink to the level of the five Padres catchers used in 2003, with their combined average OPS of .578, versus .844 for Hernandez in 133 games... all adjusted for park factor. And then there's that small issue of his experience with some pretty decent, young pitchers up in Oakland. Unfortunately I'm not aware of any study that has proven that type of experience elicits a long-term positive effect on a catcher's future performance, but it couldn't hurt.
The next quest was the search for a true number one starter. For the last couple of years KT has beaten the bushes for a lefty. The NL West seems to be loaded with them, the Padres being the lonely exception with an all right-handed rotation (and not a single dependable lefty in the bullpen, see next paragraph). However, thanks to the fleet-phoned Mr. Towers, the Padres managed to snag the ever faithful David Wells from the surprised Yankees. Say what you will about Wells (41), but when his 2003 performance is compared to that of the Padres' well-regarded corps of young starters:
The rest of the lefty story is iffy at best: Sterling Hitchcock (Padres' LCS MVP 1998) will try to regain his form after a humbling but very profitable stay in the Bronx, Kevin Walker (who was fabulous in relief during the 2000 season but underwent surgery in 2001 and has not bounced back as hoped) will try to remind the Padres why they had faith in him, and Eddie Oropesa will try once more (in Spring Training) to fool major league hitters as well as he has fooled minor league hitters.
The real bullpen story for 2004 centers on a right-hander, Akinori Otsuka. Although Otsuka has been a very successful reliever in the Japanese leagues (4/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, averaging 12.2 strikeouts per 9.0 innings in a 305 appearance career), we were still duly impressed when we gave him the BP treatment. Otsuka's PECOTA forecast a 6.5/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with an average of 10 strikeouts per 9.0 innings. His top PECOTA comps were Trevor Hoffman and John Wetteland, not bad company for a guy that will make just under $1 million/year for the next two years. Otsuka represents an upgrade to the Padres' bullpen which cannot be overstated. Together, the right-handers; Otsuka, Beck (who signed a $1.75 million contract for 2004 with an option for 2005), and Hoffman (who signed a two year contract in November for an estimated first year salary of $2.5 million plus incentives), will be a formidable obstacle for opposing teams to face in the late innings. Of special interest, to those of you out there keeping score, is that the three pitchers will make a combined total salary of just over $4 million. If you can still recall the 2003 season, you'll remember that the usually frugal Billy Beane paid $6 million to Keith Foulke alone. No further comment.
Re-signed RHP Dustin Hermanson to a one-year contract. [12/2]
Re-signed OF-R Jeffrey Hammonds to a one-year contract. [12/3]
Re-signed RHP Matt Herges to a two-year contract. [12/5]
Re-signed 1B-L J.T. Snow to a one-year contract with a vested/club option for 2005; signed OF-L Michael Tucker to a two-year deal. [12/7]
Traded a player to be named later (LHP J.T. Thomas) to the Twins for OF-R Dustan Mohr. [12/15]
Signed RHP Brett Tomko to a one-year contract with a club option for 2005. [1/9]
The interesting thing about the Michael Tucker signing was not the player, the salary, or the contract duration. It was the timing. Tucker was a type B free agent, which means that the team that signed him was obligated to give up its first round draft pick to the Royals--but only if the Royals offered Tucker arbitration, or the signing occurred before the 12/7 arbitration deadline. The Royals were highly unlikely to offer Tucker arbitration, so the Giants had a simple choice: sign Tucker before the deadline and lose the pick, or sign after the deadline and keep the pick. GM Brian Sabean chose the former--he forfeited the Giants' pick by signing Tucker hours before the deadline. A colossally stupid move, right?
Actually, no. While ditching first-round picks isn't a strategy we'd recommend for most teams, in the Giants' particular situation the loss of the pick just doesn't matter much. Sabean determined that paying the market rate for a late first round pick (#29 in the Giants' case) wasn't worth the benefit to the club, given the tight budget situation they're currently facing. And considering the first round picks the club has made in the Sabean era, that's a defensible view. You might argue that if your scouting staff is advising you to take players like Tony Torcato or Jason Grilli in the first round, then the solution is to get a new scouting staff, not dump your draft picks. Maybe, but the Giants' scouting team does have its strong points, and at any rate they're a subject for another column. In a discussion with Skip Bayless, Sabean said he'd probably take a high school pitcher at #29, and he didn't think that was worth the $1.5 million a late first round pick would probably command. He's right about that. Sure, he could keep the pick and try to play hardball with the draftee, keeping the kid from signing with anyone else and possibly jerking his future around in the process. But Sabean is to be commended for staying away from that option. Let the Royals pay $1.5 million to a high school pitcher or other long shot at #29; the Giants will get a pitcher who isn't much worse, and who's a lot less expensive, three or four rounds later.
That said, was Tucker the right player to make this controversial stand over? Hardly. He's an aging corner outfielder whose superficially respectable numbers for the Royals were completely a product of the Coors Field Lite he played in:
Home Road 2002 .328/.408/.522 .169/.250/.270 2003 .297/.371/.518 .227/.289/.361
In short, this is not another Reggie Sanders or Jose Cruz Jr. The Giants' 2004 outfield looks like Barry and the Four Dwarves--to an even greater extent than it has in the past. A Bonds injury or decline could spell offensive catastrophe for this club. And with all five major league outfield spots already filled, Todd Linden is destined to spend another year in the minors.
As a pitcher who hasn't put up an ERA better than 4.44 since his rookie season in 1997, Brett Tomko is no rotation savior. But with the Giants' thin rotation, tight budget, and suddenly bare minor league pitching stable, he wasn't a bad acquisition. Throughout much of his career, Tomko was a fly ball pitcher--the kind who you could expect to get a boost from What Used To Be Called Pac Bell Park. But the past two seasons, Tomko has transformed into a moderate groundball guy--11th highest G/F ratio in the NL in 2002, 18th highest in 2003--so it's a lot less clear how he's going to take to his new home.
Signed LHP Eddie Guardado to a one-year contract. [12/10]
Signed 1B-B Scott Spiezio to a three-year contract. [12/17]
Signed RF-L Ichiro Suzuki to a four-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/19]
Signed RHP Freddy Garcia to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/21]
No great disaster comes out of nowhere, without a long chain of causes acting together to spark a war, trigger a heart attack, or snuff an aging but viable team. Every historian can look back and find their own tipping points: the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the double bacon cheeseburger eaten the night of March 10th, or the Carlos Guillen trade. But as fascinating as it may be to debate whether you can actually blame the Great War on Friedrich Krupp, his sex scandal, and his resultant suicide which passed control of the arms manufacturing concern to Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, we can't unravel the farcical tapestry of world history, and unraveling Bavasi's tenure three years from now will be a comparably pointless task.
Arthur Rhodes had an off-season last year, struggling with Bob Melvin's reliance on the versatile Rhodes as a one-out lefty specialist, ignoring Rhodes' history of dominance against hitters on both sides of the plate. He concealed for too long an ankle injury that robbed him of effectiveness, and by the time he'd come clean, it was too late to shut him down and get him back for the hypothetical playoffs they'd never reach. The team needed to pick up left-handed help, as they have none ready on the farm, so the acquisition of Guardado to a short-term deal makes sense. It also demonstrates the team has little confidence in the ability of Kazuhiro Sasaki to pitch effectively or remain healthy. Given Sasaki's work habits, like throwing a hundred pitches repeatedly early in the season to stretch his arm out (a quirk that seems more suited to an anime pitcher then something a real person should ever consider doing), it seems likely that the team has pictures of Sasaki's shoulder that look like something you should pour hot water and a seasoning packet into, re-seal, wait five minutes, and then serve. Kids, instant noodles may be easy to prepare, cheap, and tasty, but they're also high in sodium and contain potentially addictive agents, like the nicotine in the cigarettes the cool kids smoke. Ahhh... the sweet taste of Laramie cigarettes.
Winn and Franklin are an ironic pairing. Franklin, a fly-ball pitcher, had an outstanding season despite not striking anyone out and giving up the long-ball in part due to the stellar outfield defense behind him. With Ibanez pushing Winn to center and Cameron to New York, Franklin's value is about to decline to "average fifth starter", except that on a team that's just bizarre enough to keep Rafael Soriano in the bullpen rather than the Cy Young race, that's not a good thing.
Hasegawa's contract is less defensible the Guardado's. For a team with pitching growing like zucchini, far faster than the team can find roles for it, forcing them to give it away by the bushels, it's strange to spend over three million a year. Hasegawa's been weirdly effective in both last season and before, though his peripheral stats are cause for concern. Having picked up some saves when Sasaki went down, Hasegawa's perceived value was far higher than his actual value. Hasegawa also ran a career-high ground:fly ratio of 1.47 last year, though, so we can't make the same dismissive clucking noise we might over Ryan Franklin's success. With Guardado, Hasegawa makes two proven closers-in-waiting should Sasaki fail to perform.
Pat Borders was offered arbitration because of his special relationship with the club, which can mean one or more of a couple things: he's been Pat Gillick's personal catcher for years, he's an organizational soldier, or the team's considering using him as Freddy Garcia's personal catcher after Borders' amazing success last September.
With John Olerud unable to hit lefties at all and the team increasingly devoid of power, the obvious priority is to get rid of any right hander who can hit the ball over the fence, and to do it quickly. And while Colbrunn would have been a useful part of the Mariners lineup, McCracken offers the Mariners little beyond a great name for pirate-themed promotions. "Avast, me hearties! Come get your eye patch and Quinton McCracken cutlass on June 6th, when the Mariners and ConglomCo sponsor..."
Scott Spiezio will make an average 3B if he can still defend the position. But at three years, $9 million, it's a lot to solve a problem they already had several solutions for. Spiezio is fortunate that the disaster of the Jeff Cirillo trade is an easy act to follow, and will make him appear both productive and cheap in comparison. But so would the desiccated remains of Jim Presley.
However, on signing his contract Spiezio mentioned that one of the reasons he wanted to come to Seattle was that it was the origin of grunge, and he's got this band, see... Spiezio and his band Sandfrog (warning: music samples require the annoying Real Player) will find the musical scene in the Emerald City has changed a lot in the last decade, and crowds accustomed to seeing great local acts like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie and the Lawnmowers are going to expect much more than Sandfrog can deliver. One of these days, wouldn't it be refreshing to have a big-name rock star announce he was going to play in MLB on his spare time? Bavasi might sign Scott Stapp, for example, and keep him busy enough to keep him away from a microphone or a stage, which would be a bigger contribution to society than most men ever make.
2001 Rookie of the Year and AL MVP Ichiro! gets a new long-term deal for $44 million over four years. Ichiro's certainly not worth that money in baseball value, but he's Seattle's marquee player, he puts butts in seats and sells jerseys, so he's certainly worth that much to the organization's bottom line. MLB, which shares the broadcast revenue the Mariners bring in from Japan, should pick up at least part of this deal in thanks. Failing that, a late season schedule break might blunt Ichiro's notorious late-season collapses.
Freddy Garcia, who also had his last really good season in 2001, is back. I was surprised at this: Garcia didn't want to come back and the Mariners used local press to prepare everyone for his departure with well-placed hints and choice quotes about what he might get in arbitration. If something about Pat Borders screws Freddy's head on straight and makes him a star, it'd be worth it to carry Borders even as a third catcher, especially given the other floatsam the team's been collecting on the bench (more on that in a minute). The difference between Good Freddy and Texas-Terrible Freddy is easily three wins over a season, and if this is an exception to the larger, demonstrated irrelevance of catcher ERA, those three wins are far greater than the possible contributions of whoever Borders would replace on the roster.
The Padres had intended to set their grab bag of crap on fire and leave it for Bavasi to stamp out, but their mark came out early and they were so flustered with guilt they took on Cirillo. The Cirillo trade, like the Garcia trade, is another example of the team tripping on its own feet. The team told anyone that would listen that they were getting rid of Cirillo, which can't have helped his already-low trade value. After an attempt to trade him for Roger Cedeno, who the Mariners couldn't have used, they shipped him to San Diego for a bunch of players they can't use. Estimates of how much money the team will save vary, but it looks like it'll work out to a hair over $1 million. For this, the team now has a catcher reputed to be the laziest player in baseball to supplement their current stable of two (and possibly three, with Borders) catchers. Gonzalez has already been earmarked for Triple-A. They also get in Jarvis a pitcher who can pitch batting practice and do quality control checks on the clubhouse whirlpool during the game. Dave Hansen can play a little corner infield and take a walk, but that's about it--and he's left-handed, like Olerud, making a platoon there infeasible. Vince Faison was awful last year repeating Double-A at 22 in Mobile (.230/.318/.298) and has never hit well at any level. Bavasi said "He's a tools guy and we want to give him an opportunity to bloom a little bit. It's really not any more complex than that." He's wrong even there--we'll finally see abiogenesis proven right or wrong when the farm system spontaneously generates living prospects from of all the high-grade fertilizer the team's shoveling into it, or fails to do so. It's an exciting moment in natural philosophy.
Every attempt to get rid of Guillen seems to make more sense. After walking away from a Guillen-for-Vizquel trade after team doctors either found something wrong with Vizquel's knees or realized that they had more baseball sense than Bavasi and had to save their team from making an awful move, they made a tandem of moves that made only a little more sense. For an extra $1m, the team swapped in Rich Aurilia for Guillen. They get a shortstop who plays in about ten more games a year while offering essentially the same performance. And while Guillen may stay healthy and hit, perhaps Aurilia's hitting really was affected by that "dry eye" problem and his .318/.362/.443 September is a sign that like Brady Anderson, he's due to repeat this fluke season. Wait, no, he's not. Guillen was immediately shipped to Detroit for Ramon Santiago, who provides the team with a backup defensive shortstop if Guillen gets injured... except that the just signed Aurilia so that they could... I'm confused.
While each of these moves seem small and potentially defensible, the total money the team has burned this off-season could easily have bought the Mariners a star player that would have advanced, rather than impaired, the team's playoff chances.
Signed DH-L Brad Fullmer to a one-year contract. [12/11]
Signed OF-R Brian Jordan to a one-year contract. [12/27]
Signed OF-L David Dellucci to a one-year contract. [12/29]
Signed UT-R Eric Young to a one-year contract. [1/5]
Signed RHP Jeff Nelson to a one-year contract. [1/12]
Signed LHP Kenny Rogers to a two-year contract. [1/13]
It's always nice to welcome Kenny Rogers back to Arlington. As one of the most underappreciated starters of the past decade, he would be a fine addition to any club, even at age 39. But for the Rangers, where he'll likely take innings that would have otherwise gone to Ryan Drese, R.A. Dickey, and assorted fringe prospects, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Rogers could be worth an extra five wins. Will he and newly-signed righty-killer Jeff Nelson be enough to lead the Rangers pitching staff back to respectability? Not by themselves, no. Still, if the Rangers catch a couple of (big) breaks--i.e., if Chan Ho Park and Colby Lewis rediscover their past promise--contention is a possibility for this team. Not likely, but a possibility. It's worth spending a few dollars to shore up the pitching staff just in case they find themselves playing meaningful games in August.
There's nothing inspiring on the position player front. David Dellucci has been below replacement level for two years now. Eric Young has the bat to be a valuable second baseman but not the glove, and the glove to contribute as an outfielder but not the bat. His versatility is nice to have in a limited utility role, but the only significant impact he could have on the Rangers is a negative one: if he takes playing time that should go to Kevin Mench. While Brian Jordan has aged gracefully the past two seasons with the Dodgers, he's coming off knee surgery at age 37, and he's not a good candidate to keep it up. You won't see too many PECOTA projections as pessimistic as the one it generated for Jordan's 2004: 79% chance of decline, 33% chance of collapse, and a mediocre .265/.330/.422 as the most likely numbers for the year (that's for Dodger Stadium; the projected numbers for the Rangers will be a bit higher).
The one bright light among the position player signings is Brad Fullmer, who could make Ranger fans forget Rafael Palmeiro in a hurry. Fullmer quietly outhit Palmeiro last year (when he was healthy); his .304 EqA was 19th best in the AL, and 13 points better than Palmeiro's .291. Fullmer has never hit lefties--.217/.246/.325 against them in the past three years--but that just gives Herbert Perry a chance to make himself useful once in a while.