Rafael Soriano finally came off the free-agent board this week, agent Scott Boras going to one of his “go-to” teams by getting the Nationals to sign the closer to a two-year, $28-million contract. However, with less than a month left until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, there are recognizable names still on the market. Let’s take a look at six of those free agents, ranking them in the order of their WARP in 2012 and having a major-league front-office type comment on each.
Michael Bourn (3.7 WARP in 2012, 8.9 WARP from 2010-12)
FOT's take: “He’s a really good player. He’s one of the few true leadoff men in the game, he has great speed, he’s a very good baserunner, and he can play the hell out of center field. So why hasn’t anyone signed him? He’s not going to sell tickets, so he’s not a $100 million player. The Braves set the market when they gave B.J. Upton five years and $75.25 million. Teams got scared off by Bourn’s asking price and looked at other alternatives, and now there isn’t much of a market for him. But he’s a Scott Boras client, and Scott is the king of January deals, so I don’t think Bourn will be starving this summer.”
Kyle Lohse (1.9, 3.5)
FOT's take: “Lohse’s situation is a testament about how a lot of teams have finally come around to the thinking that you can only put so much stock in a pitcher’s won-loss record. He’s a good pitcher, sure, but his 16-3 record was an aberration last season. He’s another Boras client. Scott might not get him $80 million, but he’ll get him something good.”
Mike Napoli (2.0, 10.5)
FOT's take: “I’ve talked to someone who knows his medicals, and I can see why the Red Sox are hesitant to go three years and $39 million guaranteed because of his hip condition. His whole game is based on power, and you need your hips to generate power. If he’s healthy, he’s definitely a good guy to have in your lineup, but I just don’t know how healthy he is.”
Shaun Marcum (0.8, 6.5)
FOT's take: “His health is a concern after he missed two months last season because of his elbow, but I think he is going to be a real bargain for someone if he lands in the right spot. He’s a fly-ball pitcher, and he would really thrive if he wound up in a big ballpark.”
Joe Saunders (1.3, 1.3)
FOT's take: “The trade to Baltimore last year rejuvenated him, and he pitched well for the Orioles down the stretch and in the postseason. If I were him, I’d stay in Baltimore. If he throws strikes, he is OK as a No. 4 starter, but his troubles against right-handed hitters scare me.”
Francisco Liriano (0.7, 5.0)
FOT's take: “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’ve given up on him ever becoming an elite starter again. In fact, I’ve given up on him even being a league-average starter again. At some point, you have to put potential aside and look at reality. I really don’t know what the Pirates were thinking when they gave him that two-year contract (that was voided because of injury and would have been worth $12.75 million).
Soriano is seemingly a good fit for the Nationals as a “proven closer.” He converted 42 of 46 save opportunities for the Yankees last season while filling in for the injured Mariano Rivera, though Soriano’s 2.26 ERA was a little more than one full run lower than his 3.37 FIP.
If nothing else, Soriano should give Nationals manager Davey Johnson a sense of security heading into the season after watching Tyler Clippard melt down in the second half of last season, then watching Drew Storen melt down in the Game Five loss to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series. Yet one NL scout who regularly follows the Nationals thinks they wasted their money by signing Soriano.
“They have a perfectly fine closer in Storen,” the scout said. “The kid pitched great when he came back last season (after missing four months because of elbow surgery). Yeah, he had a bad game with the season on the line, and that’s the last thing everybody remembers about him, but there’s no way I would let the outcome of one game force me to spend $28 million. Anyone who knows Drew Storen knows he’s a smart kid and a tough kid. I guaranteed you there will not any psychological ramifications over what happened in the NLDS. He’ll come back and pitch well.”
My biggest quibble about the book and movie versions of Moneyball was the way former Athletics manager Art Howe was denigrated. In the book, he was made out to be a spineless buffoon. In the movie, he was portrayed to be crotchety and unwilling to even listen to new ideas. Anyone who knows Howe, though, knows neither depiction is true.
Both vehicles used Howe in trying to make the point that managers don’t matter in baseball. Well, general manager Billy Beane apparently has changed his mind on the importance of managers, as the Athletics gave Bob Melvin a two-year extension this week that carries through the 2016 season. Melvin was named the American League Manager of the Year last season when he guided the Athletics to an improbable AL West title.
"From our standpoint, when you've got somebody you think who's absolutely perfect for your organization, I think you're foolish not to be proactive, and that was the case with Bob's contract," Beane told reporters during the press conference announcing the extension.
Speaking of Beane, he helped facilitate the Nationals being able to trade outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse by allowing the Athletics to be the go-between in a three-way deal with Washington and the Mariners on Wednesday. The Mariners received Morse, the Athletics got catcher John Jaso from Seattle, and the Nationals got pitching prospect A.J. Cole back from the Athletics after shipping him to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade during the 2011-12 offseason. Though Morse is the biggest name in the swap, one AL scout believes the Athletics might wind up winning this trade.
“Jaso has really become a good hitter, and I think he could be one of the best offensive catchers in the game if the A’s give him enough at-bats this year,” the AL scout said. “The knock on him is that he isn’t a good defensive catcher, but I think he’s gotten better, improved to the point where he is, at least, average. I like him, and I think the A’s bought low on him.”
As you’ve probably ascertained if you read this column with any frequency, I have a soft spot in my heart for scouts. They are often the forgotten people of the game, on the road for weeks and months at a time as they watch amateur players to potentially draft or sign, and professional players to give recommendations on for potential trades or free-agent signings.
That is why I couldn’t be happier that the National Hall of Fame and Museum will be opening a display on May 3 called “Diamond Mines,” which will be dedicated to scouts and their craft. The highlight of the display will be an interactive database that will feature at least 6,000 scouting reports, though that number is expected to grow between now and the opening.
A big tip of the size-8 hat to Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson for recognizing some of the game’s most indispensable people in Cooperstown.