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November 24, 2004

Can Of Corn

More Free Agents

by Dayn Perry

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Last week, I laid some free agent predictions in analyses of some of the bigger names on the market. This time, it's on to the second tier of mercenaries.

In no particular order other than alphabetical…

Orlando Cabrera

Where? … Cardinals

Why? … They'll wisely read the market for Edgar Renteria as being inflated, and there's no one in the system ready to step in for him. As for the Sox, perhaps Hanley Ramirez gets an early promotion, or perhaps they get a little creative (see below). Besides, with higher priorities like Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek, they may opt to spend their resources elsewhere.

How much? … No clue. Since the deeply estimable Cristian Guzman hooked a four-year deal at roughly four million per, I'll say four years, $25 million.

Good idea? … Given their other options, yes. Our Fielding Runs Above Average gives Cabrera the defensive nod over Renteria in recent seasons, although both were below average in '04. Generally, I think too much is made of Renteria's platoon issues. For his career, he's hitting .291/.381/.442 against LHP and .288/.336/.389 against RHP. His numbers against RHP were certainly poor this past season, but that's likely aberrant. Overall, his numbers aren't out of line from what you'd expect from a right-handed batter of his skills. The main reason I think he's a bad play this off-season is that his defensive rep and cachet as a clutch performer will lead to his being heavily overvalued on the market. Cabrera is a suitable proxy.

Matt Clement

Where? … Phillies

Why? … This is a total hunch on my part. The Cubs don't seem to have prioritized his re-signing, although they've reportedly decided to offer him arbitration, and the Phillies will need arms to replace the innings they stand to lose this winter with the pending departures of Eric Milton and Kevin Millwood.

How much? … Why did I even include this category?

Good idea? … I think so. His slightly elevated homer rate will look a bit worse pitching half his games in Citizens Bank Park, but he's coming off the second-best season of his career. In two of the past three years, he's logged a strikeout-to-walk ratio of roughly 2.5, and he's whiffed more than a batter per frame. He may have the most lamentable facial hair in the annals of the game, but, at 30, he's on the young side as free-agent pitchers go. I think he's a reasonable investment, particularly if that 9-13 recorded is wielded against him on the market.

J.D. Drew

Where? … Braves

Why? … The Braves need the production, and the Drew appreciates the calmer shores of Atlanta.

How much? … Four- or five-year deal, I'll guess.

Good idea? … Yes. With his injury history, it's a calculated risk, but he may just be one of those players for whom pleasant atmospherics lead to better health. He's coming off a season in which he was one of the ten most productive hitters in the game, and he also notched 118 walks on the year. I can't see his winding up anywhere else.

Steve Finley

Where? … Padres

Why? … They need a genuine center fielder, and you can't dance to the song called "Jay Payton".

How much? … Two-year deal.

Good idea? … It's a mixed bag. Despite Finley's rep as a stellar defender, he's ranked comfortably below average in center for the last two seasons. Since he'll be 40 before opening day, those numbers aren't likely to get better. It's entirely possible he'll hit enough to make up for it, but given his age and the run-suppressing nature of Petco Park, it's also possible he won't. He'll be an upgrade over Payton; I just don't think he'll provide value for the dollar.

Magglio Ordonez

Where? … Tigers

Why? … Depressed market for hobbled Boras clients and a manifest need for some pop in Motown.

How much? … No clue.

Good idea? … It's impossible to say. Ordonez's knee injury, according to our own Will Carroll, is a mystery inside an enigma inside a low-carb wrap. So it's hard to say just how his hinge will hold up. Of course, that's mighty important when predicting whether he'll be a prudent signing. He's a remarkably consistent power source who's hit better than .300 in six of his eight major league seasons. If healthy, he's as much of a known quantity as anyone. But he's not healthy. I'm betting the Tigers take a chance and are rewarded for it.

Carl Pavano

Where? … Yankees

Why? … The Yanks' "Indian Removal" treatment of the rotation and Pavano's Northeastern inclinations and Mediterranean good looks.

How much? … Four-year deal.

Good idea? … I'm saying no. If there's fool's gold out there this winter, it's likely Pavano. He's had exactly one season in his career in which he's been both healthy and effective. His 3.24 R/G this past season is praiseworthy, but some of his peripheral indicators are cause for concern. First, his strikeout rate of 5.63 per nine was sub-optimal, and it's declined for three straight seasons. Second, his batting average allowed on balls in play last year, .287, was comfortably below the league mean, which implies there was quite a bit of luck involved in that comely ERA. I don't think he's disaster in waiting, but I also don't think he's legit #1, or perhaps even #2, starter.

Placido Polanco

Where? … Red Sox

Why? … They need someone else in the mix at shortstop if they're to allow Cabrera to walk and take a pass on Renteria. Polanco hasn't patrolled shortstop since 2002, but he's an excellent defensive second baseman, and his numbers 90 feet over were solid, albeit in a limited sample of games. Since being traded to the Phillies in the Scott Rolen swap, he's posted good OBPs, by middle-infield standards, and shown some gap power. He'll be 29 on opening day, so it's doubtful any drastic declines are in the immediate offing. He's seemingly below the free-agent radar, which is why it won't surprise me to see him wind up as the Red Sox' starting shortstop on opening day. He'll certainly come more cheaply than any of the brand-name availables at the position.

How much? … Two years?

Good idea? … Yep, as detailed above.

Edgar Renteria

Where? … Cubs

Why? … I expect they'll take a pass on Nomar Garciaparra's declining glove and health.

How much? … More than can be considered prudent.

Good idea? … No, but it won't be a disaster. I've detailed his limitations in the Cabrera entry above. He'll be a reasonable solution. His glove is overrated, but he provides solid production for the position (particularly by NL standards). He'll be overpaid, and likely a third baseman in shortstop's clothing, by the end of the deal. It won't be cost-effective, but his addition could help the Cubs in the near term.

Jose Valentin

Where? … Dodgers

Why? … Jose Hernandez may be elsewhere next season. More below on why that matters.

How much? … Two-year pact?

Good idea? … Yes, provided Valentin's limitations are recognized. Namely, he should barred from entering the stadium when a lefty is on the mound for the bad guys. Personally, I'd like to see Valentin, who has defensive flexibility and excellent pop against right-handers, transition to a super-sub role, a la Tony Phillips. Presumably, Valentin can handle all four infield positions. Between that adaptability and his pinch-hitting chops, he can get 400-500 plate appearances. He should probably be someone's versus-righties half of a shortstop platoon, but I like the idea of making him a jack-of-all-trades weapon whose strengths can be properly leveraged.

David Wells

Where? … Red Sox

Why? … Possible rotation holes, Wells' strong record of recent performance.

How much? … One-year guaranteed.

Good idea? … He's old, and, in terms of conditioning, he's not exactly Matt Furey. Still, here are Wells' K/BB ratios and inning totals over the past three seasons:


Season             IP       K/BB
2002            206.1       3.04
2003            213.0       5.05
2004            195.2       5.05
He's been durable and possessed of tremendous command. His strikeout rates are terribly low, which means he needs a strong defense behind him. His walk rates, however, are microscopic, which is why he's walked one guy for every five he's whiffed in back-to-back seasons. I'm aware of the "lefty in Fenway" concerns, but he's a fit. So, yeah, he's a nifty addition for a certifiable contender.
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