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Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Wild, Wild West: A quick look at the Dodgers’ rapidly-evolving free-agent situation:

    Coming VORP ’04 Salary Status
    Wilson Alvarez 21.0 $1.5MM re-signed 2 yr/$4MM
    Elmer Dessens 5.8 $4.0MM re-signed 1 yr/$1.3MM
    Jeff Kent 55.2 $9.5MM signed 2 yr/$17.0MM
    Ricky Ledee 6.0 $1.2MM signed 2 yr/$2.5MM
    Jose Valentin 14.9 $5.0MM signed 1 yr/$3.5MM

    Going VORP ’04 Salary Status
    Adrian Beltre 94.8 $5.0MM signed SEA 5 yr/$64.0MM
    Steve Finley 38.0 $7.0MM signed ANA 2 yr/$14.0MM
    Jose Hernandez 24.3 $1.0MM signed CLE 1 yr/$1.8MM
    Todd Hundley DNP $7.0MM not offered arbitration
    Jose Lima 28.0 $1.3MM not offered arbitration
    Hideo Nomo -23.2 $9.0MM not offered arbitration
    Paul Shuey DNP $3.9MM not offered arbitration
    Robin Ventura 3.1 $1.2MM retired

    Who knows? VORP ’04 Salary Status
    Odalis Perez 49.7 $5.0MM rejected arbitration
    Brent Mayne -4.4 $0.8MM rejected arbitration

    It’s been a topsy-turvy couple of weeks for the Dodgers, who began the winter meetings with a splash by signing Jeff Kent and a day later, watched Steve Finley sign with the Los Angeles, er, Anaheim Angels. The meetings were abuzz with gossip about the potential acquisition of Tim Hudson from the Oakland A’s and the re-signing of Adrian Beltre, but within the space of a couple of hours last Thursday, both players slipped out of their grasp, Hudson traded to the Atlanta Braves and Beltre signing a lucrative pact with the Seattle Mariners. Amid all that, Jose Hernandez signed with the Cleveland Indians.

    A few quick points before leaving the done deals:

    • Kent, who turns 37 in March, leaves Houston to sign with his hometown team: “I grew up with my dad taking me to Dodger games,” he stated at the press conference to announce the signing. In his second season in Houston, Kent finished second among all second basemen in VORP. His .289/.348/.531/ line was good for a .288 EQA, and thanks to a good season with the leather (11 runs above average according to the Davenport Fielding Runs Above Average) he was worth eight wins above replacement, up from 6.0 a year before (playing in an extra 15 games helped). His signing initially gave the Dodgers some flexibility as to which infield position he would play depending on other deals, but it now looks as though he’ll return to second base, with Alex Cora being non-tendered.
    • The losses of Beltre (.331 EQA in a .334/.388/.629 career year), Finley (a post-trade .272 EQA while hitting .263/.324/.491 for the Dodgers) and Hernandez (.304 EQA, .289/.370/.540) mean the departure of 74 of the Dodgers’ 203 home runs. Coupled with the midseason deals of Paul Lo Duca, Juan Encarnacion and Dave Roberts and the retirement of Robin Ventura, four players who combined for another 30 homers, more than half of the team’s 2004 longballs are gone, and that’s without even accounting for a potential Shawn Green trade (below). The Dodgers didn’t offer arbitration to Finley or Hernandez, and they were believed to be offering six years to Beltre in the neighborhood of a $9 million average annual salary, considerably less than he’ll get in Seattle.

    • The 35-year-old Valentin, who hit .216/.287/.473 for a .244 EQA as the shortstop for the Chicago White Sox, will play third base. Valentin is a Three True Outcomes type, with power (30 homers and a .257 ISO), strikeouts (139 last year, one for every 3.6 plate appearances) and walks (his 43 last year was a bit below his career rate of one per 10.1 PA). He has only 151 major league games at third base under his belt, most of them in 2001-2002, and was a bit below average in his time there, per Clay Davenport’s numbers. The Dodgers were believed to be in the mix for Corey Koskie, but he signed with the Blue Jays as the meetings closed.
  • Blowing in the Trade Winds: Even with those deals done, the biggest ripple is yet to come, with the Dodgers reportedly involved in a three-way deal with the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks. In exchange for acquiring Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson and Dodger enigma Kazuhisa Ishii, the Yanks would send Javier Vazquez and top prospects Eric Duncan (third base) and Dioner Navarro (catcher) to L.A. The Dodgers, in turn, would send starter Brad Penny, relievers Yhency Brazoban and Brandon Weeden (both throw-ins in the Kevin Brown/Jeff Weaver deal), and outfielder/first baseman Green to bake in the desert play for the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks would send L.A. reliever Mike Koplove.

    The ten-player deal, which has been sent to commissioner Bud Selig for approval, requires a lot of paperwork: the waiving of no-trade clauses by Green and Johnson, the negotiations of contract extensions with their new teams for both, likely including the deferral of some of Green’s 2004 money (as if the Snakes didn’t already have enough trouble with long-term debt), the passing of a physical by Penny, who missed most of the second half with a nerve injury in his pitching arm, and the inclusion of $3 million cash heading from L.A. to N.Y. to cover part of Ishii’s salary.

    But wait, there’s more: the New York Daily News has reported that the Dodgers would then spin Vazquez to the Chicago White Sox for a package consisting of first baseman Paul Konerko, starter Jon Garland and lefty reliever Damaso Marte. Sox GM Kenny Williams has denied his team’s involvement in the deal, while Dodger GM Paul DePodesta has said that his team’s role is contingent on subsequent moves being in place.

    Should it all go down as reported, the Dodgers would shed considerable salary. Green will make $16 million in 2005, the arbitration-eligible Penny made $3.725 million last year and could get $5 million, and Ishii will make $5 million. Konerko, a former Dodger prospect, will make $8 million, Garland just signed a one-year, $3.4 million deal, and Marte, who made $500,000, is due for a raise. Speculation abounds that with the savings, the lack of a marquee hitter, and a conspicuous hole in centerfield, the Dodgers might make a run at Carlos Beltran or J.D. Drew, with The New York Times reporting that they could sign the latter to a five-year deal in the $11-12 million annual range.

    A more nettlesome problem: this shakeup would leave the team with a rotation on the order of Jeff Weaver, Jon Garland, Elmer Dessens, Edwin Jackson and Wilson Alvarez. Dessens and Alvarez are more likely slated, and better suited, for the bullpen, and the remaining trio hardly brings to mind the phrase “How the West Was Won.” With Matt Clement agreeing to terms with the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees snapping up Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, and anything else that moves now but didn’t in 2002, the Dodgers appear to be out of the hunt for any big free-agent pitchers. Resigning Odalis Perez is still a possibility, as is signing second-tier free-agents such as Derek Lowe and Eric Milton. Ancient Yankee Orlando Hernandez’s name has also been floated, but there’s absolutely no truth to the rumor that 44-year-old legend Fernando Valenzuela‘s stint in the Mexican Winter League (1-1 with a 6.52 ERA) will put him anywhere but the broadcast booth when the season opens.

    Amid all this turmoil, Milton Bradley picked a good week to serve his time in the big house.

  • These Aren’t Your Father’s Dodgers: First they announced that the player names on the backs of the teams’ jerseys would be removed. Now Dodger Stadium’s famed reputation as a pitchers’ park is in jeopardy. The field is currently undergoing a radical renovation that will considerably reduce the amount of foul territory, which should dramatically alter a balance of power that has favored the pitcher for the past 40 years. Data from Baseball-Reference shows an average Batter Park Factor of 92 over the past five seasons.

    The $15 million dollar project will see the dugouts enlarged and moved 20 feet closer to the field, allowing the team to add 1,600 field-level seats. The official elimination of a like number of batters’ eye seats in center field will keep the stadium’s capacity at 56,000. This photo gives a good idea of how dramatic those changes will be.

Minnesota Twins

  • Who’s on Third: Turning to the Twins’ free agents:

    Coming VORP ’04 Salary Status
    Brad Radke 60.1 $10.8MM re-signed 2 yr/$18MM
    Juan Castro 0.8 $1.0MM signed 2 yr/$2.05MM
    Terry Mulholland 9.6 $0.6MM signed minor league deal
    Mike Redmond 3.7 $0.8MM signed 2 yr/$1.8MM

    Going VORP ’04 Salary Status
    Henry Blanco -8.0 $0.8MM signed CHN 2 yr/$2.7MM
    Cristian Guzman 15.5 $3.7MM signed WAS 4 yr/$16.8MM
    Corey Koskie 26.7 $4.5MM signed TOR 3 yr/$17MM

    The Twins’ angle on the winter meetings was only notable for what it didn’t include: a contract for Corey Koskie. Though Koskie had said he’d be willing to take less money to return to Minnesota–a two-year deal in the vicinity of $9-10 million overall, with a no-trade clause–GM Terry Ryan was content only to offer him arbitration. When the Blue Jays swooped to offer the 31-year-old a three-year deal, Koskie’s six-year tenure as the Twins’ third baseman ended.

    Coupled with the earlier departure of Cristian Guzman, the loss of Koskie means a turnover of the left side of the Twins’ infield. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, given the generous contracts the two players received from their new teams and how fertile Minnesota’s system has been in recent years. But how the Twins will choose to fill that hole is an open question.

    Recall that in a market crawling with shortstops to fit every budget, the Twins found a way to go off-label by signing Juan Castro. A futilityman who can barely keep his performance above sea-level (4.7 WARP spread over 1742 plate appearances, with a robust EQA of .210), Castro’s signinq barely makes sense even if he’s merely the caddy for prospect Jason Bartlett. On a team where every million counts, locking up a Castro for two years is a gross misunderstanding of the replacement-level concept.

    With the Beltre and Koskie signings, the market for high-profile free-agent third basemen boils down to Joe Randa, a 35-year-old who hit .287/.343/.408 (a .263 EQA) last year, and 32-year-old Tony Batista (.241/.272/.455, .242 EQA). The most likely scenario has Michael Cuddyer, who filled in at third base when Koskie was injured, taking over the role full-time. In his first full season in the bigs, Cuddyer hit .263/.339/.440 for a .267 EQA, falling somewhere between his 25th and 40th percentile PECOTA projections–a bit of a disappointment, in other words. He’ll turn 26 in the spring. For comparison’s sake, at 26, Koskie was a rookie raking to the tune of a .310/.387/.468 line (a .288 EQA), a level that he’s more or less held since then. Cuddyer has his work cut out for him to reach that level, let alone maintain it.

    Slotting him at third may not be in the Twins’ best interests. Cuddyer’s 43 games there were a bit hairy: 17 runs below average per 100 games, according to the Davenport system. He also subbed for the injured Luis Rivas at second base, putting up slightly above average performance in 48 appearances. It’s fair to say that Cuddyer’s skill as an infielder is an open question; whether he can comfortably handle a regular role defensively will drive many of the Twins’ decisions in the spring.

    Another name from within the organization is Terry Tiffee, who was the Eastern League’s All-Star third baseman in 2003 and who hit .307/.357/.522 (a .254 MjEQA) in Rochester last year before getting a cup of coffee with the big club. Only three weeks younger than Cuddyer, Tiffee’s a solid two years behind him developmentally–a considerable gap. He’s a switch-hitter with a bit of pop, but he’s walked only once for every 17.5 plate appearances in the high minors, and the Twins can use all of the plate disciplinarians they can find.

    The Twins have owned the AL Central for the past three years, but they’ll need to find some production in the infield to insure that they stave off the pretenders to the divisional throne. Cuddyer/Castro/Rivas likely won’t cut it, and Tiffee/Bartlett/Cuddyer might still not be enough. They’re probably one man short here, so don’t be shocked if they make a move to throw another veteran into the mix.

    Bradical: The Twins’ biggest victory this offseason has been the retention of Brad Radke, who was heavily courted by the Boston Red Sox before an 11th-hour deal kept him in… Twinstripes? Sure. Though his won-loss record was only 11-8 last year, Radke enjoyed an excellent season, with career-bests in ERA (3.48) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.5) and the most innings he’d thrown (219 2/3) since 2001.

    Radke finished tied for eighth among pitchers in VORP with 60.1 and second among all pitchers (behind staff ace Johan Santana) in… wait for it… Support-Neutral Lineup-Adjusted Value Above Replacement. Radke added 6.9 wins above a replacement level pitcher given the same support, the same ballpark, and the same quality of hitter faced. He was also fourth in Team Expected Wins in his starts with 20.6, one of only six pitchers to crack 20 last year. Not too shabby for the team’s second-best starter.

    The Twins had been offering Radke a three-year deal worth about $21 million, but the Mets’ overly generous pact with Kris Benson raised the ante. By settling for two years, Radke received a higher payday, while the Twins kept themselves flexible over the long term.

  • Tender Mercies: As Monday night’s non-tender deadline approached, the Twins had seven arbitration-eligible players whose fates rested in the balance. Just before the deadline, the team announced deals with Rivas, Jacque Jones and Matt LeCroy, and tendered contracts to Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, Kyle Lohse, J.C. Romero and Carlos Silva.

    Jones’ deal is for one year and $5 million. Second on the team in homers with 24, Jones was nonetheless a drag on the Twins’ offense, hitting just .254/.315/.427 (.244 EQA). As the season wound down, the Twins looked well-positioned to replace him thanks to the performance of Jason Kubel (.300/.358/.433 in 67 plate appearances), the team’s minor-league player of the year. But Kubel suffered an injury during Arizona Fall League play, tearing not only his anterior cruciate ligament but possibly his medial collateral ligament or his meniscus as well. He’s expected to miss all of the 2005 season. With their readymade replacement out of the picture, the Twins went with the safe bet.

    Said Ryan of the signing, “I understand people have said we have all kinds of outfield depth. But Jacque gives us offense, he hits for power and he plays a good right field. He’s unselfish, he’s durable, he’s a good teammate. He’s a lot of things that we’re about here.” Resist the temptation to take the red pen to that quote, Twins fans. After all, Luis Rivas is coming back (one year, $1.625MM), too.

San Francisco Giants

  • Mondo ‘Mando: Checking in on the Giants’ free agents:

    Coming VORP ’04 Salary Status
    Armando Benitez 33.1 $3.5MM signed 3 yr/$21.5MM
    Jason Christiansen 2.8 $2.4MM re-signed 1 yr/$1.15MM
    Deivi Cruz 17.9 $0.8MM re-signed 1 yr/$0.8MM
    Jeff Fassero -1.6 $0.5MM signed minor league deal
    Marquis Grissom 23.5 $2.1MM team option $2.75MM
    Mike Matheny -0.4 $4.0MM signed 3 yr/$10.5MM
    J.T. Snow 45.1 $1.5MM team option $2.0MM
    Brett Tomko 26.2 $1.2MM team option $2.65MM
    Omar Vizquel 33.3 $6.3MM signed 3 yr/$12.25MM

    Going VORP ’04 Salary Status
    Dave Burba 8.3 $0.4MM not offered arbitration
    Dustin Hermanson 12.7 $0.8MM signed CHA 2 yr/$5.5MM
    Ricky Ledee 6.9 $1.2MM signed LAN 2 yr/$2.5MM
    Robb Nen DNP $9.2MM not offered arbitration
    A.J. Pierzynski 15.2 $3.5MM released

    While the Giants started the winter with the questionable Omar Vizquel signing, GM Brian Sabean soon got down to the important business of rebuilding the team’s bullpen. With closer Robb Nen–the second highest-paid Giant behind you-know-who–spending the second of two straight years on the DL, the team suffered through a harrowing year out of the bullpen, capstoned by a seven-run ninth inning in the season’s pivotal game. Nominal closers Matt Herges (5.23 ERA) and Dustin Hermanson (4.53 ERA) combined to blow 11 saves, and Hermanson was hung with three losses in the season’s final ten games.

    He’s gone, and in his place, the white-knuckled Giants have signed… Armando Benitez? Don’t scoff. Benitez enjoyed a stellar year as the Marlins closer, saving 47 out of 51 opportunities and posting a microscopic 1.29 ERA, though that rested largely on a .178 batting average on balls in play. And while Benitez’s strikeout rate fell below one batter per inning for the first time in his eleven-year career (8.0 K/9, off of a career rate of 11.4), his control was much improved: a 2.95 K/BB ratio after a 1.83 ratio the year before. Thanks to those substantially lower walk and hit rates, he struck out 23.7 percent of batters faced, essentially unchanged from the year before (24.0). He also finished among the top 10 in Reliever Expected Wins Added with 3.729.

    In a market where over-the-hill closer Troy Percival got two-years and $12 million from the Detroit Tigers, Benitez is certainly worth more, but for a team that got burned on Nen’s four-year, $32.5MM deal, the length of Benitez’s pact ought to keep the bullpen coaster rolling.

  • Catch-22: The Giants shook up their backstop situation this past week, signing former Cardinal Mike Matheny and then releasing incumbent A.J. Pierzynski. For a team struggling to find good hitters to surround Barry Bonds with and supposedly keeping an eye on the bottom line, this is another puzzler.

    Coming to the Giants last winter, Pierzynski carried a reputation as a solid hitter, with a .312/.360/.464 line in 2003. He backslid considerably in 2004, hitting just .272/.319/.410, grounding into a league-leading 27 double plays and walking unintentionally a mere 19 times. Meager as it was, that last figure actually represented an increase on his twelve unintentional passes from the year before.

    Not the most popular player during his tenure in Minnesota, Pierzynski quickly earned a scarlet letter C–for clubhouse cancer–as a Giant, with his work ethic questioned by the pitching staff several times throughout the season. Combined with the fact that the club was headed to arbitration with a player who made $3.5 million last year, the Giants had sound reasons to turn the page.

    Matheny has a reputation as a well-liked catch-and-throw backstop, having won his third Gold Glove last month (though Clay Davenport‘s evaluation of the fielding numbers put Montreal’s Brian Schneider ahead of Matheny). But he was below replacement level with the bat and has been nearly every year of his career; his .223 EqA (off of a .247/.292/.348 line) actually was higher than his .217 career mark. His contract breaks down to a $3 million signing bonus and salaries of $1 million in 2005, $2.25 million in 2006 and 2007, and a $4 million team option with a $2 million buyout in 2008. Those are tall dollars for any 34-year-old catcher, let alone one who couldn’t hit water if he were rowing a boat in McCovey Cove.

    The punchline to all of this is that in Yorvit Torrealba, the Giants appeared to have a reasonable and economical in-house solution to the catching question. The 26-year-old made just $334,000 last year and figures to get around $1 million in arbitration. He hit only .227/.302/.407 in 196 PA, but even that looks Ruthian next to Matheny. The career lines of the three catchers in question:

    Matheny .239 .293 .336 .217
    Pierzynski .294 .336 .438 .259
    Torrealba .256 .322 .402 .254

    Eight years younger than Matheny, Torrealba still has a shot at improving as a hitter. What’s more, he’s no slouch with the glove; he’s been worth 17 runs above average per 100 games over the course of his career, and was at +10 last year (Matheny, by comparison was at +13, Pierzynski dead average). The bottom line is that the Giants overpaid drastically to get something that wasn’t even as good as what they already had. No wonder the deal has Giants fans contemplating new uses for cutlery

  • Drop the Balm: After more than a year of speculation, the big one finally hit: in leaked grand-jury testimony which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Barry Bonds admitted to using “the clear” and “the cream,” the two undetectable steroids at the center of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative scandal. Bonds denied any intention of wrongdoing, claiming that personal trainer Greg Anderson told him the clear was flaxseed oil and the cream a balm for arthritis.

    Will Carroll’s in-depth look at steroids in baseball discusses the substances in question and the ramifications of the revelations by Bonds and Jason Giambi that have created such a stir.

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