The Hot Stove League had barely been simmering until earlier this week when a flurry of moves was able to keep it cooking. The Matt Hollidays and John Lackeys are already off the market. So, that leaves us with the Jon Garlands and Ronnie Belliards to spark the interest of myself and fellow transaction junkies. Nonetheless, these moves deserve some notoriety and I’m here to do just that with a quick synopsis of this weeks moves:
Rich Hill LHP- The former star prospect of the Chicago Cubs has signed on with the St. Louis Cardinals with the hope that pitching coach Dave Duncan can work his magic again. Duncan has gotten solid production out of many pitchers who were facing career declines before arriving in St. Louis. His revamping projects have included Jeff Weaver, Todd Wellemeyer, Ryan Franklin, Joel Pineiro, and Kyle Lohse, just off the top of my head. Hill has a nice repetoire including a plus curveball which makes him an enticing project for Duncan and a candidate for the 5th spot in the rotation.
Jim Edmonds OF- Edmonds is a former All-Star for the Cardinals who resurrected his career once already with the Cubs after a rough start in San Diego two years ago. After not receiving much interest last winter, Edmonds took the year off. He now returns to the NL Central on a minor league deal with the Brewers in search of a part-time role in Milwaukee. It’s a great signing for the Crew given the low risk contract.
Fernando Tatis UT– Tatis finally was able to find a home in the Majors with the Mets the past couple of seasons after being away from The Show for a while. This off-season he re-signed with the Mets to primarily serve as the platoon partner for Daniel Murphy at first base. His return seemed unlikely until recently as the Mets were rumored to be interested in higher profile first basemen like Russell Branyan, Adam LaRoche and Carlos Delgado. The Mets continue to miss out on their targets this off-season but this signing is a nice fallback plan.
Jon Garland RHP- Garland has never been great and has never been bad. That means he should have a pretty steady salary of about $5M on one year deals for a while. You know what you’re going to get with Garland and it’s usually a chance to win ball games. He goes to San Diego who I believe will make some noise this season in the NL West. The Padres were an over-achieving team in the second half. Garland’s arrival gives San Diego time to mold their abundance of young starters. If they do fall out of the race, however, Garland will be dealt along with closer Heath Bell.
Randy Winn OF- Above all else, Randy Winn signing with the Yankees finally ended the nagging drama between the Evil Empire and Johnny Damon. Whether the Yankees or Damon should’ve lowered their demands is finally behind us. Now back to Mr. Winn. He will provide plus defense and is perfect for the nine spot in an already dangerous lineup. Winn displayed durability last year and was added on a relatively inexpensive contract. This was the best destination for the veteran outfielder.
Ronnie Belliard 2B– Belliard turned out to be a difference maker down the stretch and even stole the starting gig from Orlando Hudson for the month of September. After re-signing with the Dodgers, it will be tough for him to produce at the same level but I doubt that the Dodgers are expecting that. A return to form by Russell Martin and a full season of Manny Ramirez will give the Dodgers plenty of offense. Belliard will start most of the time but Jamey Carroll will also get starts at second.
Jim Thome DH– Last year Thome put up 23 home runs along with a .366 OBP in 124 games for the White Sox and Dodgers. Much of those numbers came while Thome was starting at DH for the White Sox but he got a taste of being a pinch hitter in limited time with Los Angeles. Pinch hitting will be his main role with the Twins as the DH spot is already held down by fellow lefty Jason Kubel. However, Thome is one injury to Kubel, Michael Cuddyer or Delmon Young from the starting DH job. If Cuddyer or Young were to get injured, Kubel would take over in a corner outfield spot and Thome would inherit the DH job while quietly continuing his chase for 600 career home runs.
Eric Byrnes OF– Byrnes’ time in Arizona did not go as well as he or the Diamondbacks would’ve hoped and it resulted in his release this week. Byrnes has always been known as a stand-up guy who gives everything he’s got on every play. That attitude will embraced by both the fans and players in Seattle. He will not be a starter which may help him stay away from the DL. What he will be is a pinch runner/hitter and a part-time left fielder when the club wants to give Milton Bradley a day at designated hitter. This signing fits well for the Mariners and Byrnes.
On the eve of Matt Holliday signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, I would like to take a look at the other end of the free agent spectrum. Here are three players who hope the hot stove league simmers long enough for them to cash in too.
Melvin Mora 3B: Melvin is a more interesting candidate than most people would think. Playing in Baltimore didn’t bring him a ton of publicity but he’s put up good numbers in his ten year career. Mora has hovered around a .275 AVG and .340 OBP since 2003 while driving in 104 runs twice in that span. His power dropped bigtime in 2009 but he has dedicated himself to conditioning this off-season in order to have more defensive versatility. I see him going to the Angels as a 3B/LF option as they have never seemed too keen on giving Brandon Wood a whole season at third.
Hank Blalock 1B: Hank Blalock was once a highly touted third baseman for Texas until a string of injuries interrupted his career for parts of the 2007-2009 seasons. His progress was stunted but his pure talent came through this year as he hammered 25 homeruns as a first baseman and DH. He lost his third base job to Michael Young but his body may be healthy enough to get some more innings over there next year. He will be signed as a first baseman primarily with Baltimore being the best fit because he could DH now and then as well.
Braden Looper SP: In the spring of 2007 Cardinals manager Tony LaRusa decided to move Braden Looper into the rotation because the club needed another starter. He started 30 games and won half of his decisions. The move worked alright for the Cardinals but it wasn’t the best move for Braden Looper. That made him think he was a starter and the Milwaukee Brewers agreed by giving him a 2 year deal. Looper’s straight fastball and pitching machine motion led to a league worst 39 homers allowed in 2009. An idea for Looper this winter: Go back to the bullpen! Out of the pen he was extremely durable (8 consecutive years with at least 60 appearances) and rather effective (only one of those years with an ERA over 3.94). He will stay in the NL and sign with the San Francisco Giants as a middle reliever.
Are there better fits for these players? Who else will be flying under the radar as the hot stove moves on?
The multi-year deals have not been flying around like off-seasons of past. Think players like Carlos Silva or Gil Meche would walk away with 4-5 year deals this winter? Now that we’ve entered 2010 teams will be looking for this year’s low-risk/high-reward one year deals. But some guys are worthy of longer commitments. Here are the top dozen players with the best chance of getting a 2+ year deal and a possible destination.
C- Bengie Molina: 2 years, New York Mets
1B- Russell Branyan: 2 years, Texas Rangers
1B- Adam LaRoche: 2 years, Seattle Mariners
2B- Orlando Hudson: 2 years, Chicago Cubs
2B- Felipe Lopez: 2 years, Los Angeles Dodgers
SS- Orlando Cabrera: 2 years, Minnesota Twins
SS/3B- Miguel Tejada: 2 years, Cincinnati Reds
3B- Adrian Beltre: 3 years, Boston Red Sox
LF- Johnny Damon: 2 years, San Francisco Giants
LF- Matt Holliday: 6 years, St. Louis Cardinals
SP- Aroldis Chapman: 5 years, Florida Marlins
SP- Joel Piniero: 3 years, New York Mets
Some remaining free agents who are on the fringe include Rick Ankiel, Vladimir Guerrero, Doug Davis, Jarrod Washburn and Jose Valverde. Marlon Byrd’s backloaded contract with the Cubs may set precedent for quite a few of these players who want that extra year guaranteed.
Though a couple big name targets are off the market, each team can still fill there voids with quality talent. Here’s the best of what’s left:
- Orlando Cabrera ss
- Orlando Hudson 2b
- Matt Holliday lf
- Russell Branyan 1b
- Adrian Beltre 3b
- Rick Ankiel rf
- Bengie Molina c
- Marlon Byrd cf
After the Yankees well-known spending spree of a year ago, the Red Sox are doing their best to keep pace. They’ve already acquired outfielders Mike Cameron and Jeremy Hermida, ace pitcher John Lackey, and shortstop Marco Scutaro. The Sox re-upped catchers Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez and knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield. They are nearing a deal to send third basemen Mike Lowell to Texas for catching prospect Max Ramirez.
There has been rumors that Boston is enamored by free agent third basemen Adrian Beltre to fill the third base spot potentially vacated by Lowell but Kevin Youkilis could also fill that spot. The Beltre rumors were moved to the backseat today as the Adrian Gonzalez rumors sped back up and a deal seems very likely, in my opinion. The Red Sox have the prospects to bring Gonzalez in, but do they want to give up that much? A deal would potentially include center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and/or starter Clay Buchholz along with more prospects. That seems like a good start to me as the Padres would get young major league ready players in return.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Red Sox have notified Jeremy Hermida that he would be traded if Jason Bay was resigned. I’ll assume the same would happen if Matt Holliday were brought in but we’ll stick with Bay for now. The Red Sox are instant AL favorites if they bring in Adrian Gonzalez, not to mention Jason Bay.
A rotation containg three aces (Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester) and a solid bullpen may potentially be supported by quite a bit of power:
- Pedroia 2b
- Youkilis 3b
- Gonzalez 1b
- Martinez c
- Ortiz dh
- Bay lf
- Drew rf
- Cameron cf
- Scutaro ss
The frequency and amount of posts should pick back up in 5-7 days as I am focusing on finals during the busiest time of the year for academics.
With the free agency period off to a frustratingly slow start, I’ve decided to post my synopsis of the top free agents in this year’s market. Also listed are some potential destinations.
1. Matt Holliday OF– Great all-around hitter who rebounded well in St. Louis after his short stay in the AL. He is the premier offensive player in this year’s class and a legitimate 3-hitter for any contender. His combination of power, speed, and competitiveness will land him the biggest contract of all free agents in the coming months. Yankees, Mets, Red Sox
2. John Lackey SP– Despite a couple recent injuries, Lackey’s leadership and determination are great intangibles. He consistently puts his team in the spot to win games and will be the ace anywhere he goes, besides the Yankees… Yankees, Brewers, Angels
3. Jason Bay OF– Bay has taken some hits lately for his defense and even criticism for rejecting the Red Sox initial offer of 4 years/$60MM. Bay, however, was able to post great HR and RBI numbers and that’s what gets free agents paid. Bay is a great number two option to Holliday. Red Sox, Mets, Giants
4. Chone Figgins 3B/UT– After Chone struggled mightly in the playoffs, he is on a mission to get back in the post-season and earn another ring. Figgins will go to a winner where he can play third base, his best position. Many teams have been rumored to the speedy utility man for many different positions, though the White Sox have said they’re already out of the hunt due to the price. Angels, Phillies, Mariners
5. Aroldis Chapman LHP– Chapman is a lefty phenom who defected from Cuba who just changed his agency. He has great stuff and a fastball that approaches 100mph. Nearly every team has some level of interest in his rare skills set. He may spend some time in the minors, but will still earn a great paycheck. I could see Chapman as the Dodgers’ single big move this off-season if they’re unable to attain Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers
6. Mike Gonzalez LHP/Rafael Soriano RHP– This pair of relievers come from the same bullpen and can both setup or close. Their electrifying stuff will earn them both a huge (and probably over-priced) payday. My guess is that both will have a chance to close. Phillies, Braves, Tigers
7. Orlando Hudson 2B– This perennial gold glover is a switch hitter with pop and speed. He can work an at-bat and is a great clubhouse guy. The only thing going against Hudson is his injury plagued second-half with the Dodgers, which will keep him affordable like this time last year. Mets, Nationals, Twins
8. Joel Piniero SP– I like Piniero. Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan once again worked his magic with Piniero. Piniero always had talent and he finally turned the corner. In a relatively weak market for starting pitchers, Piniero comes in as the number two. Mets, Cardinals, Brewers
9. Mark DeRosa 3B/UT– Mark DeRosa built his great reputation off a couple solid years with the Cubs. His value diminished a bit with a wrist injury which required surgery after the season and a rough stay with the Cards where his OBP dropped significantly. DeRosa though, is a good option for most teams as he can play a very formidable second and third along with first and the corner outfield spots. Even though the Cubs fans love this guy, they will not reunite on the Northside. Phillies, Cardinals, Twins
10. Bengie Molina C– In a very thin offering of catchers this year, Molina provides a veteran presence with a solid bat. He has hit cleanup or fifth many times in the past few years with the Giants. Mets, Brewers, Mariners
11. Jason Marquis SP– Marquis’ sinker worked well for him in Colorado where he flourished for the first half, but then dropped off. He is durable and an innings eater, and provides some offense from the pitcher’s spot for what it’s worth. Keep in mind his 10 year streak of making the playoffs. Mets, Cardinals, Rockies
12. Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui OF/DH– Pros: came up huge in the post-season. Cons: age and declining overall skills. These two Yankees favorites would both love to be back in the Bronx but the Yankees are looking for more athleticism in LF and would rather commit one year too few than one year too many. White Sox, Yankees, Mariners
13. Rich Harden SP– Harden would like to be back in Chicago’s rotation but I’m not sure he proved his health enough to be warranted a raise in the windy city. He has an upper 90s fastball and a nice changeup/sinker that makes him perhaps the biggest risk/reward pitcher this year. It’s very conceivable Boston picks him up to be another reclamation project similar to Paul Byrd, John Smoltz, and Brad Penny of late. Red Sox, Cubs, Mets
14. Adrian Beltre 3B– Beltre is still a great defender and a power threat. His value is nowhere near it was the last time he hit market and cashed in, but he will still be coveted with lots of vacancies at the hot corner this year. Phillies, Orioles, Twins
15. Nick Johnson 1B– Johnson is known for his injuries and his above average OBP. He improved that OBP with his second half Marlins stint in which he posted a .477 OBP. This off-season he will earn himself a multiyear deal to provide the steady production people have grown accustomed to. Mets, Giants, White Sox
- Orlando Cabrera SS
- Russell Branyan 1B
- Miguel Tejada SS/3B
- Marlon Byrd OF
- Vladimir Guerrero DH/RF
- Adam LaRoche 1B
- Fernando Rodney RP
- Andy Pettitte SP (would be higher on the list, but the Yankees are the only destination)