Surprises with arbitration, minor exchanges, and rumors from Indy.
It used to be that free agents never accepted their club's offers of salary arbitration over staying out on the open market. However, it also used to be that clubs would open the checkbook wide for even the most average free agents. Things changed last winter when multi-year contracts were the exception rather than the norm on the free-agent market. This year, almost all 30 major-league clubs are saying that their payrolls for 2010 are going to stay the same or go down, and many players and agents are apprehensive about what the market might bear this winter.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
What free-agent relievers could offer the best deals for their new teams?
As an understanding of advanced metrics has taken hold in major-league front offices, the market for free-agent relievers has shrunk considerably, even allowing for the harsh economic climate of the past two winters. Teams that were once willing to shell out multi-year contracts for closers and top set-up men are increasingly shying away from such deals, realizing that reliever performances are fairly volatile from year to year due to sample sizes (to say nothing of injuries), that free-agent compensation rules disproportionately penalize teams for signing relievers, and that they can do just about as well by hunting for bargains or giving opportunities to their own youngsters.
Why hand out a capital 'C' when you can find better ways to rack up a few W's?
I wasn't a real big fan of Ryan Franklin making the All-Star team, because I see his microscopic ERA as a small-sample fluke out of step with the rest of his career. The number is helped along by good fortune on two numbers-batting average on balls in play, and home runs per fly ball-that tend to bounce around and reflect luck more than skill. He has a bunch of saves because a couple of pitchers, each with stronger skill sets, either pitched poorly or were never given a full chance before the job fell to him. He's certainly qualified by the established standards, but he's far from the best available option even if we just look at short relievers.
A lineup of the usual suspects, and a small-timer in the background who may be ready to make good.
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.
As the curtain rises for Act Two, "Break-a-Leg" is not a lucky option.
When I first began reading Rob Neyer, I learned quickly that everything came down to runs, runs then added up to wins, and that nothing else matters. We can make the game as granular as we want, but it's primarily all about runs and wins. I'm certainly no Rob Neyer, but those lessons have held, and we're working on turning injuries into runs and wins-or the lack thereof. Once we get past the false perceptions that I still combat every day (no, there's not more injuries now; no, pitchers didn't always throw 150 pitches a start back in the day; no, injuries aren't just part of the game), then we can get down to the work of translating sprains and strains into runs and wins. With the All-Star break behind us and not much in the way of games to talk about, I decided to take a look at ten of the most significant injuries of the first half. You might be surprised that most of these injuries didn't "cost" much, not in terms of the dollars lost-although you could buy yourself a nice infield with those lost dollars-but instead in terms of wins. Three wins don't sound like much until your team is two games back of the division leader at the end of the season.
Closers, closers everywhere, on your teams and in your hair!
Part of my recent conversation with Yahoo's Scott Pianowski centered on closers, and in particular on how, prior to the last week or two, there's seemingly been relatively little closer attrition this season. Usually we can count on 12 to 15 teams changing their closers in a given season, either due to injury or poor performance, and for many of those changes to become permanent. It's one of the ways we can justify discounting their price in our preseason dollar valuations, and at the draft table. If saves are a category that you can capture in part by being active on the waiver wire, then by all means, don't overpay for these one-trick ponies.
Furcal's still out, but now Kouzmanoff's down, while the Cubs hold their collective breath over Big Z.
Carlos Zambrano (TBD)
If nothing else, the Cubs should be happy that Geovany Soto watches his pitchers so closely, because Soto noticed something about Zambrano and didn't wait. Instead, he waved out the trainers while running out to see what was going on with Zambrano in the seventh. While Zambrano's control wasn't perfect, he's never really been the most efficient pitcher. Zambrano stated after the game that he "felt something" and is headed back to Chicago to have an MRI and an examination by team physicians. According to Gameday, Zambrano was between 91-95 on his fastball all night, and he was still in that range in the seventh. Zambrano has been very durable over his career despite that inefficiency and despite the workload. The Cubs have enough pitching depth to get by if this is just a short-term issue, but if it's not he's obviously irreplaceable. We should know more after the imaging and examination.
Jeremy Bonderman and Ryan Church recover from career-threatening injuries, the Braves try to rebuild their bullpen, and the Cardinals play it safe with their rotation.
I'd planned a big article on this and written most of it, but with everyone trying to explain why Big Brown lost, I think we've missed one important point. While the horse was put on steroids--specifically Winstrol, the same steroid that many players, including Rafael Palmeiro, have tested positive for--it wasn't to make him faster. I'm no doctor and I'm certainly no veterinarian, but I can read. Here are the important numbers:
Thank goodness for Stan Conte, the Braves deal with aches and pains, and Jorge Posada's shoulder is worse than initially thought.
Chipper Jones (3 DXL) John Smoltz (7 DXL)
The Braves understand that one of the risks involved with older, injury-prone players is that they're going to need to go to their backups. The team has them in place, but they'd hoped they wouldn't have to use them quite yet; it's one thing to have Plan B in place, and quite another to put Plan B in the rotation or in place of your hottest hitter. Smoltz is no stranger to shoulder problems, but normally they've been coming towards the end of seasons, which would make fatigue a contributing factor. With these latest problems coming so early in the season, we have to hope that fatigue isn't the issue, but at this stage, it doesn't seem like the Braves really know what's involved. Sources tell me that the soreness is in a "lower area" than what had him on the DL at the start of the year. They'll wait for the shoulder to calm down before further examination, an indication that there's an inflammatory process going on. He'll miss a start and could hit the DL after a scheduled examination on Tuesday. The Braves will also be without Jones until at least Tuesday; he described the back spasms he experienced over the weekend as a "sledgehammer in the back." That doesn't sound good, but Jones tends to heal quickly and come back at normal capacity. His small injuries-quad, back, foot-are already adding up, but Jones is hitting through all of them, so assess your level of risk tolerance. Bobby Cox is used to this.
It's never too early in the year for serious pitcher injuries. Thankfully, we balance that out with recoveries and returns.
Erik Bedard (15 DXL)
"Torn labrum." That's what I'm hearing, but it's not what you're thinking. Bedard is having significant inflammation in his hip that one source tells me has been diagnosed as a small tear of his acetabular labrum. This shouldn't be a cause for panic; knowing that the injury is a small tear doesn't change the prognosis. The Mariners will need to reduce the inflammation and figure out if pitching is going to continue to irritate the injury. If it can't be controlled, Bedard will need surgery, which is normally minor and has a solid track record for returns. It would cost him a couple months, to be sure, but players like Derek Lowe and Justin Duchscherer have come back from the injury. The bigger question is when and how this happened. The M's will be hard at work trying to figure out how to get Bedard back out there and how to keep him back out there over the next ten days. (Calls to the Mariners for comment were not returned by press time.)
Who's been really delivering high-leverage set-up work, and what does that mean for the Yankees prospect?
Wednesday's disclosure that the Yankees have decided to shift Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen to start the year didn't exactly qualify as news. Despite off-season denials of such a scenario, several pieces of data pointed to the inevitability of the decision, ranging from Chamberlain's success during last year's stretch run (pre-bug spray, at least), his age (22), his workload capacity based on the Rule of 30 (about 145 innings, based on the time he spent at four stops plus the postseason, though Will Carroll will tell you that only the major league innings count when it comes to parsing injury risk), and the current health status of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Philip Hughes, and Ian Kennedy.