Korean southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu became a hotter-than-expected commodity last week, when the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization posted him for bidding. Ryu’s rights now belong to the Dodgers, who offered Hanwha about $25.74 million for the 25-year-old billed as a possible number-three starter, and general manager Ned Colletti has 30 days to work out a deal with Ryu’s agent, Scott Boras. For more on Ryu, see R.J. Anderson’s Transaction Analysis.
In the meantime, here’s a look at what’s brewing back in the States…
Mike Napoli would like to remain a catcher
As R.J. also noted in the afore-linked Transaction Analysis, the Red Sox inked David Ross to a two-year deal on Saturday, perhaps choosing the former Brave over the former Ranger, Napoli. General manager Ben Cherington might still be interested in bringing Napoli to Boston, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, but like many other suitors, the Red Sox view the 31-year-old primarily as a first baseman.
Napoli, apparently, begs to differ. After serving as the Rangers’ catcher in 72 of his 100 games last season, Napoli believes that he has proven himself capable of handling those duties for his next team. Organizations and GMs that value offense over defense from their backstops might agree, but some analysts, such as ESPN’s Keith Law, are skeptical of Napoli’s ability to both successfully handle catching duties and maintain his performance and health while doing so.
In Mike Fast’s pitch-framing study published last September, Napoli ranked near the bottom of the league; his inability to persuade umpires to expand the corners of the strike zone cost his teams an estimated 24 runs over the timeframe of the study. He also gunned down just 20.8 percent of would-be base stealers in 2012—after hosing 36 percent of them in 2011—a mark that thoroughly impressed Rod Barajas but made Napoli a liability to the Rangers. Some of the blame likely rests with Texas’ pitching staff, because teammate Geovany Soto also threw out only 20 percent of runners after coming over from the Cubs, compared to 27 percent while with Chicago, but the poor showing reinforces concerns about Napoli’s ability to stay behind the plate full-time.
Aside from the Red Sox, the Mariners are Napoli’s only publicly known suitor, though his market should come along now that Ross has signed and the Rangers have decided not to extend him a qualifying offer.
With David Ross in tow, Red Sox shopping Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Speaking of Ross, his arrival in Boston may signal the end of Saltalamacchia’s two-plus-year stint at Fenway Park, per a report from FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi. The switch-hitter smacked 25 home runs in 2012, trailing only Wilin Rosario (28) and fellow free agent A.J. Pierzynski (27) among catchers, but his .288 on-base percentage limits his overall offensive value.
That’s especially problematic for the 27-year-old Saltalamacchia, because defense is not his strong suit, either. Opponents ran wild on the Red Sox with Salty behind the plate, as he threw out just 18 of 98 thieves (18.4 percent) last season. That’s the second-lowest caught-stealing rate and the second-highest steals allowed (80) total among catchers who started at least 95 games in 2012, rescued from the cellar only by—who else?—Barajas.
Despite his defensive shortcomings, Cherington should have little trouble finding takers for Saltalamacchia, because of the shallow free-agent pool at the position. Pierzynski and Russell Martin are the only established, reliable catchers available, and Morosi mentions at least a half-dozen teams looking for upgrades. According to Morosi, apart from addressing weaknesses in their pitching staff, the Red Sox could seek a first baseman in trade talks this winter.
Steroid suspension not hurting Melky Cabrera’s popularity
Finally, it seems as though every day, a new free-agent outfielder is reported to be drawing interest from five or more teams. The latest member of that club is Cabrera, whose midseason ban for a positive testosterone test—and the fake-website saga that followed—does not appear to be turning many general managers away.
The New York Post’s Joel Sherman found over the weekend that although the Mets and Yankees have not yet contacted Cabrera’s agents, Sam and Seth Levinson—who, incidentally, were recently cleared by the MLB Players Association of involvement in the aforementioned scheme—“at least five teams have.” Cabrera followed up his breakout 2011 campaign for the Royals by hitting .346/.390/.516 in 113 games with the Giants before his August suspension. That outburst, coupled with a possible improvement in his defense (based on a small sample size of 3.6 FRAA performance), brought San Francisco 5.1 WARP; given that Cabrera’s 2011 output of 2.1 WARP was sagged by a -17.5 FRAA total, his true value, drug-aided or not, probably lies somewhere in between.
We may never know exactly how much money the steroid ban will end up costing Cabrera in his first go-‘round on the free-agent market, but the 28-year-old’s apparent popularity is a promising sign for his financial future. Depending on the intensity of the bidding, Cabrera—who was previously thought to be in line for a short-term, make-good deal that would enable him to rebuild trust, and then push for more guaranteed money next winter—could actually find a long-term home before Opening Day.
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