All the big names are off the free-agent board now that Matt Holliday has re-signed with the Cardinals, Jason Bay pulled a surprise and signed with the Mets, and John Lackey caught many off guard by switching coasts and signing with the Red Sox. Thus, most of the money has been spent. However, there are still quality players on the free-agent market. The chances are also very good that they will be signing at cut-rate prices now that the date for pitchers and catchers reporting no longer seems an eternity away.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 remaining free agents in terms of their WARP2 during the 2009 season, now that general managers have begin shopping for bargains in earnest.
Orlando Hudson, 2B (6.1): It certainly would be understandable if the O-Dog developed a complex. He had to wait until late in the offseason to sign a one-year contract with the Dodgers last season, and he certainly proved he was worth every bit of his $3.3 million salary. However, manager Joe Torre benched Hudson in favor of the pedestrian Ronnie Belliard in the postseason. Now Hudson is again having a hard time finding a deal to his liking.
The Tigers and Twins have recently been mentioned as possibilities, and the Mets would love to sign him, but they need to find a taker for second baseman Luis Castillo. The defense-obsessed Mariners are also believed to have interest; they would move Jose Lopez to third base to open up a spot for Hudson.
Miguel Tejada, INF (6.1): No team believes he can be an everyday shortstop anymore, and his best chance to get a starting job is by agreeing to play third base. The Cardinals seems to be the most logical landing spot, and the Twins and Rangers are also potential fits. Tejada reportedly would like to return to the Athletics, but they aren’t much into nostalgia after the Jason Giambi reunion went so poorly last season.
Johnny Damon, OF (4.9): It appears Damon’s hopes of getting a multi-year contract are almost nonexistent. The Braves, Giants, and Mariners all have some interest, but it is starting to look as though he is going to have to go back to the Yankees with hat in hand after turning down a two-year offer from them last month.
Felipe Lopez, INF (4.7): His best hope of landing a starting job seems to be with the Cardinals, who would use him at third base. Beyond that, he is generating almost no interest as an everyday guy.
Adam LaRoche, 1B (3.5): LaRoche supposedly turned down a two-year, $17 million offer from the Giants this past week, and maybe it is a sign that he would rather spend the rest of his time hunting deer on his Kansas ranch. The Mariners had interest until trading with the Red Sox for Casey Kotchman. That leaves the Orioles as LaRoche’s most likely landing spot.
Jose Valverde, RHP (3.1): Interest in the closer has increased in the past few days. The Tigers are in serious pursuit of Valverde, with the idea of having him replace Fernando Rodney as closer. The Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Pirates are also believed to be suitors, though he would likely have to lower his financial goals to strike a deal with one of those teams.
Jarrod Washburn, LHP (3.1): He expressed a desire late last season to return to the Mariners, who traded him to the Tigers at the July 31 non-waiver deadline. However, it seems his best option now is signing a one-year contract with either the Twins or Brewers.
Doug Davis, LHP (2.7): The Brewers seem to be the most interested after having the left-hander in their rotation from 2003-06, though the Mets are also in the picture.
Jon Garland, RHP (2.4): The Brewers also have interest here, though he seems more inclined to wind up with the Rangers or Mets.
Joel Pineiro, RHP (2.3): If he continues to hold out for a three-year contract, (as has been reported in some circles), he might be waiting a long time despite the great strides he made under Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. The Mets, Angels, and Dodgers all have interest, but for no more than two years.
Sabermetricians everywhere cringed this past week when Andre Dawson was the only player elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Dawson’s career on-base percentage was a lowly .323. However, Dawson makes no excuses for his OBP, instead pointing to the 438 home runs he hit and the 1,591 runs he drove in during his 21-year career as the reason he will be immortalized in Cooperstown in late July.
“The main thing I was concerned about when I was at the plate was getting that runner in,” Dawson said. “I wasn’t a table setter. I went up there to clean the table. I had a big strike zone. I was a fierce hitter, a free swinger who looked to hit the ball hard. My philosophy was to see the ball and hit the ball. I would swing at a lot of pitches, and that’s why I was a notorious high-ball, fastball hitter. I don’t apologize for it. That was just the type of hitter I was, and I believe I was a pretty effective hitter.”
Ironically, Dawson believes that a player who made a career out of getting on base should be joining him in the Hall of Fame. That is Tim Raines, his teammate in the Expos’ outfield for eight seasons from 1979-86. Raines received 30.4 percent of the vote in his third year on the ballot. “Rock called and left a message of congratulations, and I’m looking forward to the day when he gets a chance to call himself a Hall of Famer,” Dawson said. “Timmy definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame. It’s going to happen, and when it does happen, I plan to be on that stage. I won’t sit next to him, but I’ll enjoy and share that moment with him.”
Bert Blyleven will have to wait at least one more year before he can walk on that stage in the field behind the Clark Events Center. He fell five votes short of election-the same number of blank ballots that were turned in by some of my misguided colleagues in the BBWAA-and has two years left on the ballot.
One of the biggest knocks on Blyleven by those who don’t vote for him is that his career winning percentage was just .534, as he compiled a 287-250 record. However, Blyleven believes his cause was aided last year when the Royals‘ Zack Greinke and Giants’ Tim Lincecum won Cy Young Awards with 16 and 15 victories respectively. “You can’t always go off wins,” Blyleven said. “You have to go off of performance and if you kept your club in the game.”
The biggest surprise in the voting was that Roberto Alomar did not gain election in his first year on the ballot. He fell short at 73.7 percent despite playing in 12 All-Star Games and winning 10 Gold Gloves. “I feel disappointed, but next year hopefully I make it in,” Alomar said. “At least I was close.”
Those who saw Alomar on a daily basis, such as Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, were stunned at the voting results. “I guess you would have to say it’s a fair vote but it’s incomprehensible,” Beeston told the Toronto Star. “I don’t know if second base can be played any better than he played it.”
One of the more interesting first-timers on the ballot was Edgar Martinez, who is hoping to become the first full-time designated hitter to be elected. Paul Molitor played the majority of his games at DH, but he also logged a considerable amount of time at first base, second base, and third base. Martinez got 36.2 percent of the vote. “Obviously, I would have loved to have gotten more votes the first time around, but I don’t see it as a terrible thing,” Martinez told the Seattle Times‘ Larry Stone. “I had a pretty good idea it wasn’t going to happen the first time. We’ll see what happens the next few years if I can increase some votes. (The DH) is like anybody else that contributes to the game. The reliever does, and they get in the Hall of Fame. I think eventually the DH is going to get more credit than they get right now.”
When Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told the Contra Costa Times this past week that he would consider activating hitting coach Mark McGwire on August 31 to use as a pinch-hitter in the pennant race and be eligible for postseason play, some took it as a ploy to reignite the retired first baseman’s Hall of Fame chances.
If McGwire would play in 2010 then retire again, he would return to the Hall ballot in 2015. So far, he has gotten little support among the voters during his four years of eligibility. He was named on just 23.7 percent of the ballots this year. Rightly or wrongly, reports that McGwire used steroids and his refusal to address the situation has negated his 583 career home runs in the minds of many voters.
“Is that why La Russa is considering this move, because he wants to take McGwire out of the equation for five years and see whether a player (from the steroids era) gets voted in?” BBWAA executive secretary Jack O’Connell asked when informed of La Russa’s comments by the New York Daily News.
While La Russa would not say that his mention of McGwire possibly playing again was about giving him more time to gain Hall support, the manager does follow his former player’s progress in the voting. “At least he didn’t go backward this year,” La Russa said. “Hopefully, he’ll get back (in the voters’ good graces) now that he’s working again.”
The Cardinals announced McGwire’s hiring in early November, but he has yet to address the media. When McGwire finally comes out of seclusion, it figures to be baseball’s most-anticipated news conference of the year.
“He knows he’s got to be forthcoming sooner or later,” La Russa said. “Now that we’re past the holidays and awards, I think it’ll happen soon. I’m curious to see what he says. I know enough about him and his character. I know he’s a quality guy.”
While making an appearance at Webster University’s school of business in December, Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III noted that only one team had made it to the World Series while committing as much as 20 percent of its payroll to one player. That was the 2007 Rockies with first baseman Todd Helton.
The message seemed simple: the Cardinals could not afford to sign Holliday to a mega-deal and still have hopes of retaining first baseman Albert Pujols once he became eligible for free agency after the 2011. Yet the Cardinals landed Holliday this past week with a club-record contact of seven years and $120 million. With some of the money deferred through 2029, the Cardinals say the present-day value of the contract is $113 million, though not surprisingly, agent Scott Boras insists that figure is low.
Regardless, now that Holliday’s deal is done, the Cardinals are prepared to keep franchise icon Pujols for the long term. A good guesstimate is that Pujols will get $200 million for eight years. Pujols is due will make $16 million in both 2010 and 2011, unless the Cardinals would surprise everybody by buying out his club option for ’11 for $5 million. The chances of that happening are about that as Fredbird actually taking flight at Busch Stadium on Opening Day.
Holliday and Pujols aren’t the only high-priced players who will potentially be on the Cardinals’ roster in the early part of this decade, though. Right-hander Chris Carpenter has salaries of $14.5 million in 2010 and $15 million in 2011, and the Cardinals hold a $15 million club option for 2012 that can be bought out for $1 million. Right-hander Adam Wainwright has clubs options of $9 million in 2012 and $12 million in 2013. Thus, the Cardinals will have a very top-heavy payroll for at least the next two seasons.
“You’re talking about a slightly different model, but in our case, you’re talking about tying up two remarkable players,” DeWitt said. “If you have Albert and Matt, you feel like you have a very good chance of winning.”
Boras was critical of the Cardinals during the Holliday negotiations, claiming they were acting like a small-market/low-revenue franchise despite drawing at least 3 million fans in eight seasons of Pujols’ nine-year career. Cardinals ownership has also heard the same criticism from their fans, who have felt the payroll should be more commensurate with the attendance figures. However, the signing of Holliday has quelled that criticism.
“You have the eighth-best franchise economically in the game,” Boras said. “That gives them choice. That gives them power. They have a new ballpark. They have among the players what is known to be one of the most extraordinary fan bases in the game. Players don’t complain about living in St. Louis. There’s nothing to complain about. You’re always going to be in the hunt for the next formula of being competitive. I can’t say it’s going to be the same formula, but you’re always going to be in the hunt for the formula that’s going to do it.”
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Rangers are looking at free agent Vladimir Guerrero to fill their designated hitter role. … The Mets have interest in free agent John Smoltz for their starting rotation. … The Dodgers are considering signing left-hander Noah Lowry as a free agent. … Fremont, California, is making another bid to land the Athletics, as city officials plan to buy $62 million worth of land to build a 36,000-seat stadium in the southern part of town.