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December 23, 2008

Prospectus Today

Free Agent Dragnet

by Joe Sheehan

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Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira. Rafael Furcal. Mark Teixeira.

Good, we're all caught up. Now here are the takeaways from these stories:

  • People change their minds.

  • Agents are paid lots of money to take heat for their clients.

  • You can't take anything that's said publicly in a negotiation at face value.

That last point is critical right now. It's sweet that teams are racing to declare their lack of interest in Teixeira, like politicians racing away from a bill that polls poorly. However, it's only December 22, and saying that you're not going to pursue a player on December 22 is meaningless. Nothing happens in the last ten days of the year, especially when Christmas falls midweek as it does this year. Appearing to pull out now is just a negotiating stance designed to increase the pressure on Teixeira and potentially lower the eventual price, and it's a stance with absolutely no cost. It's not impossible that a deal could be reached between now and January 5, but the history of the industry is that nothing significant happens after winter solstice.

The Orioles want Teixeira. The Red Sox would take him. The Angels need him. The Yankees need him. The Nationals... have a lot of money to spend. Fifteen other teams would do well to kick the tires and could dip into their industry subsidies if they really wanted to make a run. He's the best position player on the market, and the best position-player free agent since Carlos Beltran (excluding Alex Rodriguez's not-really-free-agency last year). The numbers being bandied about-seven or eight years at $22-24 million per year-are not unreasonable given what CC Sabathia signed for, or what Alfonso Soriano, an inferior free agent, got two winters ago from the Cubs. Baseball can point to the national and global economies all it wants, but the industry is flush with cash and more than able to keep paying out large salaries for excellent baseball players.

Teixeira will eventually sign the longest and most lucrative contract in baseball history not inked by Rodriguez, and no amount of posturing by his suitors changes that.

---

In other news...

The Yankees are apparently interested in Manny Ramirez. I can't quite figure out what to do with this. On the one hand, I see Ramirez as one of the safest bets on the market, someone who's going to hit very well until he either doesn't want to play or can't physically make it onto the field any longer. Edgar Martinez is his comp in that regard. Like Martinez, Ramirez is pretty close to becoming a full-time DH, and an AL team makes a better fit for him than one in the NL. The Yankees need help on offense, and in this market, only Teixeira is a better positional free agent than Ramirez.

On the other hand, signing Ramirez closes off the path to Teixeira and exacerbates a roster logjam in 2009. With Ramirez, the Yankees would have five outfielder/DHs without having a single center fielder in the bunch: Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, and Nick Swisher. Damon and Swisher can passably fake center field, but putting either between two of the other players is going to bring back memories of the mid-90s Rangers' teams, or even the famed 1989 Dodgers, who started Kirk Gibson or Franklin Stubbs in center field a combined 19 times, often paired with the other of the two and Mike Marshall, Kal Daniels, or Mickey Hatcher. It's hard to conceive of a defensive alignment of those five players that wouldn't send Phil Hughes on a three-state killing spree by Flag Day. That's before dealing with the possibility, looming like a deadline, that Jorge Posada will have to get some subset of his playing time-or perhaps all of it-at DH and first base.

Signing Manny Ramirez makes baseball sense in a vacuum, but what it does to the defense and the roster may make it impossible to execute. The Yankees need offense. Adding it in a way that hurts an already shaky defense and squeezes the roster is likely counterproductive. At least adding Teixeira upgrades the defense and defines the roster in some sense-he plays first base, everyone else moves to accommodate him. Ramirez could be slotted in left field, right field, or DH depending on what other players do, but we know that playing him in a corner brings that -10/-15 glove into play. When you add it all up, it's hard to see how he fits in the short term.

---

While we're all focused on the biggest names on the market and which of them might become Yankees, let's take a second to look at an ex-Yankee who could be on the brink of some success. The Padres signed Chris Britton to a minor league deal. Taking Britton, who has the skill set of a good set-up reliever, and putting him in Petco Park, is like finding money. Two years ago the Padres picked up Heath Bell from the Mets, basically for free, and Bell has 173 strikeouts in 171 2/3 innings as their eighth-inning guy. With Bell set to become the closer, Britton could well play Bell to his Hoffman for the next two seasons. Just considering Britton's work at the highest levels...


Level      IP    ERA    K/9   K/BB   HR/9
AA       16.0   2.81  13.50    4.0   0.00
AAA      85.0   2.44   8.89    4.2   0.53
MLB      89.1   3.83   5.84    2.1   1.01

I would submit that his MLB line doesn't do him justice, as his 2008 season was spent being jerked around by the Yankees. Check out this log:

  • Britton doesn't make the team out of spring training, and is recalled April 25.

  • He's sent down April 29 without pitching, and is immediately recalled.

  • Throws 2 2/3 shutout innings on May 1, his only work in a stretch of 18 days.

  • Sent down again on May 9. Immediately recalled.

  • Throws two decent innings on May 12, his second appearance in 18 days.

  • Sent down May 20. At this point, Britton has more demotions (three) than appearances (two) dating back 27 days.

  • After pitching twice at Scranton, he is recalled on May 29.

  • He pitches on June 1 and June 3, then is DLed on June 6 with a strained ribcage, no doubt incurred while packing and unpacking.

  • After a two-game rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League, Britton spent most of July at Scranton. He made eight appearances for the Barons over the next three weeks, throwing 12 innings, striking out 11, and allowing two earned runs.

  • He was recalled on July 31, shoved into three innings of mop-up relief, and immediately sent back down.

  • He was recalled on August 6 and sent down on August 8, again without having thrown a pitch.

  • Britton was recalled on August 17 and spent the rest of the year in the majors, throwing the wettest of mop-up relief. In fact, in all 15 of Britton's major league appearances last year, there was a lead or deficit of at least four runs when he entered the game.

There's no way I'm judging the guy based on his having an ERA above 5.00 in the majors with that kind of travelogue. I love this signing, one of my five favorite moves of the winter. Britton will throw 70 above-average innings for the Padres, innings that will look stunning given the run context.

---

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year, do so wholeheartedly, surrounded by loved ones. My best wishes and my gratitude go out to all of you who make me smarter, every single day. Happy holidays.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

28 comments have been left for this article.

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