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February 9, 2007

Prospectus Today

A Slow Week

by Joe Sheehan

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Getting some random notes out of the way, during what feels like the longest week of the year…

  • I'm a very big fan of the Pirates' signing of Tony Armas Jr., to a one-year, $3.5-million contract. He was a perfectly fine mid-rotation starter last year until he tired badly-in his first complete season since 2003-down the stretch. Armas has credible stuff and enough markers in his performance record to make him a snag that both statheads and scouts can agree on.

    I fail to see much difference between Armas and two guys, in Adam Eaton and Jason Marquis, who got three-year deals for $20 million or more. To be worth the money, Armas just has to take the ball 30 times and keep the Pirates in 22 or so of those games. Credit Dave Littlefield for a good small move, which is just the kind of thing he hasn't done well to date.

  • I thought the Cubs' pickup of Cliff Floyd was overkill at first, a move that would relegate Matt Murton to the bench. Murton isn't a coming star, but as a low-upside guy who can hit around league average for a corner, he has value. It would normally be anathema to block a player like that, especially one coming off a decent first full season (.273 EqA).

    Looking more closely at the Cubs, though, you discover a lineup that had shifted further right than a six-term congressman from Orange County. The projected lineup before Floyd had six right-handed bats, and as much fun as that might be for Jacque Jones and his stat line, it's an imbalance that can make the ends of games a problem, particularly when teams attack that lineup with the Chad Bradfords of the world. Floyd's part-time presence (with time spent resting on bench) will help win games if it generates a bounce back in his production to even his 2004 level (.281 EqA). He may be into the Matt Stairs part of his career now, but that's a useful player.

    As far as Murton goes, he'll likely get no worse than half the playing time, given Floyd's persistent nagging injuries. We shouldn't overstate his value; he's a decent corner outfielder in the Frank Catalanotto/Raul Ibanez mode. There won't be a "Free Matt Murton" campaign.

  • I remain a bit puzzled by some of the arb cases that haven't settled. The Devil Rays and Josh Paul are separated by $315,000 ($940,000/$625,000), and that doesn't seem like enough in today's game to pick a fight over, certainly for a team. If you want to argue that the $160,000 or so between the midpoint and Paul's figure is worth it to the player, who's only become arb-eligible after eight partial seasons in the majors, consider how much of that will be eaten by taxes and agent fees.

    Kevin Gregg and the Marlins ($125,000) and Geoff Geary of the Phillies ($175,000) are separated by even less than Paul and the Devil Rays are. The winner of a case like that is essentially random, because there's not enough of a spread between the numbers for either figure to be meaningful. It's like trying to make the case that a player with a 4.6 WARP is definitively better than one with a 4.5 WARP.

  • The list of remaining free agents is fairly ugly, consisting of Roger Clemens and a bunch of guys who have either retired or who may be shortly. In this pool, the name Ronnie Belliard stands out. Belliard has been a productive starting second baseman for three years running, and was a key part of the Cardinals' title run, but he currently has nowhere to go when camps open. Instead of being in the news for signing a new deal, he's been in it as the victim of an extortion attempt. The Cardinals signed Adam Kennedy, and the Padres, one potential suitor, added Marcus Giles.

    Looking around, there are very few teams who seem likely to add a second baseman. The Braves may be the one team without an established regular, but they will also be giving Kelly Johnson a chance at the job. The Rockies, a team Belliard once played for, have committed to Jamey Carroll, for reasons passing understanding. The Mets could plug in Belliard as part of a platoon with Jose Valentin, but they appear content with Damion Easley-who is more of a utility guy-in that role.

    It's rare that a good player slips through the cracks this far, and it will be interesting to see where Belliard lands in '07. Some team might well end up with a considerable bargain.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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