Saturday, December 13, 2008

Baseball Offseason Thoughts

What else would I write about?

  • 4 of the better pitchers in baseball moved to NYC in the past week or so. The Mets chose to focus on the back end of the bullpen, signing Francisco Rodriguez away from the Angels and acquiring JJ Putz via trade 3-team trade from the Mariners. The Yankees did what they do best and threw ass-loads of money at CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett to bolster their starting rotation. K-Rod was a good pickup, even at a steep price tag. He set the single-season record for saves in a season, so obviously he had a good year. Rodriguez has electrifying stuff and can strike out anybody at any time. That being said, the better pickup is Putz, who is cheaper and actually a comparable pitcher to Rodriguez. In addition, we, the greater baseball audience, will get a chance to see if a middle reliever is actually of bigger impact than a closer (I say so, as middle relievers generally pitch more than one inning per game whereas a closer only goes one inning, if that...more innings means bigger potential impact). On the Yankee side, Sabathia was the best player other than Mark Teixeira available this offseason, so clearly this was a big pickup for the team from the Bronx. Sabathia is a true ace who can go the distance and instantly upgrades any rotation he joins. Only two concerns come with Sabathia: he has thrown more innings than anybody else by far the past few years, so it's possible that the wear and tear may catch up to him. Also, 7 years is a huge commitment for a pitcher, no matter how prolific they have been in the past. Still, if any player deserves such a contract, it would be CC. Burnett was another solid signing. The Yankees, in all likelihood, overpayed for Burnett, but they can afford to because they are the Yankees. Burnett has really, really good stuff and when he's on is one of the absolute best out there. Unfortunately, Burnett has a reputation for being kinda soft mentally and physically, often not pitching unless he feels completely healthy and he tends to let mistakes snowball and can be prone to a big inning. Still, if he pitches at least similarly to what he did last season in Toronto, he should be the best number 3 starter or one of the better number 2s in baseball.
  • So far the best signing for money of the offseason? Other than perhaps Sabathia, I'd have to vote for the Phillies signing of Raul Ibanez. Ibanez has been extremely durable, playing in at least 149 games every season except one since 2003. He's hit at least 18 homeruns in every season that he's played at least 130 games in his career and has a lifetime OPS of .818. In addition, he plays a decent leftfield and, at $10 million a year, is getting payed like a poor-man's Pat Burrell, the man he replaces in Philly. This is incredibly convenient as Ibanez is a slightly-more-impoverished man's Burrell.
  • One of the savviest moves of this offseason was the Rays acquisition of Matt Joyce. Trading away starter Edwin Jackson to the Tigers for the 24 year-old outfielder Joyce, the Rays dealt from strength to acquire a young bat with great power (Joyce had pounded out 12 homers in 242 ABs, which amounts to about half a season). Could blossom into a really good regular player, but at worst he can be part of a good platoon. In addition, by moving the mediocre Jackson (to a team that could use any sort of pitching, mediocre or otherwise) there is now an extra spot in the rotation for David Price, Jake McGee, or Wade Davis, three of the best pitching prospects in baseball.
  • Kyle Farnsworth? For $9.25 million over 2 years? Really? Actually this isn't the most terrible move in history. The Royals, perennial doormats and keeping the self-esteem of Orioles fans up for years, signed a good-not-great reliever who can strike out plenty of batters. In addition, Farnsworth, kinda known as a head-case around the league, could thrive in the low-light of Kansas City, not nearly as pressure-filled as Chicago or New York or even Detroit. Perhaps KC overpayed, but at this stage, perceived legitimacy and the intention to improve are just as important to the Royals as acquiring great players. Farnsworth probably deserves $3-3.5 million a year so the difference isn't too great. Now with Farnsworth and Robinson Tejada setting up the absolutely dominant Joakim Soria (seriously, look him up if you haven't already), the Royals have the makings of a very solid bullpen. Now all they need is a good rotation, starting lineup, and bench.
  • This just in! The Indians have signed Kerry Wood to a 2 year, $20.5 million contract with an $11 million option for 2011 that kicks in automatically if Wood finishes 55 games in either 2009 or 2010. From the time he entered the bigs (I'm sure many of us remember the 20-strike out, 1-hitter in 1998), Wood seemed destined for greatness along with Mark Prior. But then Dusty Baker happened and he overworked the two young arms. Wood has been battling arm issues the past 10 years (12 DL trips in that span) but seems to have found his niche in the bullpen where he can keep his pitch count down and use his plus stuff to strike out hitters left and right. For Cleveland, this could either be a great investment or a terrible one. If Wood stays healthy and pitches to 80% of what he's capable, he'll be a top-flight closer, combining with Rafael Betancourt (who was grossly over-used last season) to shut down the final three innings of any game. If Wood can't stay healthy, then it could be $20.5 million wasted.
  • The White Sox are going back to the Cuban well again. Having acquire Jose Contreras a few years back from the Yankees and then signing Alexei Ramirez straight from Cuba last year, the ChiSox have perhaps the best connection to Cuba of any big league team right now and they used that connection to sign 19-year old infielder Dayan Viciedo. I would be lying if I said I knew anything about Viciedo but he hit .296 with 32 homeruns and some slick defense in 233 games in Cuba. While the Cuban leagues are very good competition, they aren't the majors and Viciedo might have some trouble adjusting (though Ramirez had none whatsoever and would have been the runaway AL Rookie of the Year were it not for the absurd season by Evan Longoria). Still, at only 19 years old, Viciedo will have plenty of room to grow...or will be crushed by the new-found pressure and high level of competition (I do hope it's the former).
  • While the Viciedo signing could be a very good one for the White Sox, two of their other moves this offseason have been a mixed bag. The trade of Javier Vasquez wasn't particularly surprising, as Vasquez is a consistent underachiever considering his stuff who has found a comfort zone as a solid innings eater capable of having really great or really horrendous starts. He should be a good 3rd or 4th starter for the Braves if their rotation can return to health. It remains to be seen if the return for this trade will be good. The Braves surrendered pitcher Santos Rodriguez, infielders Jonathan Gilmore and Brent Lillibridge, and catcher Tyler Flowers. Rodriguez has some potential with a big 6'5" frame but at this point is a little hard to project. Gilmore and Lillibridge are nothing special. Flowers is the key here. He has a ton of power potential, especially for a catcher, and has some solid defensive tools. Flowers is very big for a catcher and a very good athlete. If he can become a star, the White Sox would have a steal. The other big trade was moving Nick Swisher to the Yankees for Wilson Betemit and minor league pitchers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez. Swisher had a bad year last year, to say the least. While his homeruns and strikeouts (often his bane) stayed steady, his walks and doubles dropped significantly and his OPS was nearly 100 points below its 2007 level. If this is a trend, then Swisher will have a hard time being employed by just about anybody considering themselves a contender. However, if this was an anomaly Swisher could bounce back and be a huge upgrade for the Yankees who could have a guy with 25 homerun power, patience at the plate, and the ability to play all outfield spots as well as first base pretty well. While nobody can be sure as to why Swisher dropped off, I contest that Swisher's super-laid back manner didn't mesh well with manager Ozzie Guillen, a notorious hot-head and super big bag of douche who is quick to pull a player who isn't performing. The more even-keeled style of Joe Girardi should be beneficial to Swisher. In return, the ChiSox got Betemit, a solid backup infielder who can give anybody a rest but is stretched as a full-time player, Nunez, a decent minor-leaguer who looks to be a career Quad-A player, and Marquez, a former supplemental first rounder who hasn't totally lived up to his potential but could still as yet become a solid big leaguer.
  • The trade I was most interested in, naturally, involves my Baltimore Orioles. The Birds traded away catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Cincinnati Reds for utility player Ryan Freel. Hernandez is a solid starting catcher who's starting to show his age. He has a solid bat with some pop for a catcher and should be helped going to Cincy, a good hitters' park. However, his OPS has fallen below .715 the past two seasons. In addition, his defense, especially his throwing arm, has declined. Still, he should be at least an average starting catcher for the Reds for two years or so. Freel is a utility player who can man all outfield spots as well as third and second base and play some short in a pinch. Freel has absolutely no power to speak of, but the man can fly. He's stolen at least 36 bases in every season that he's played at least 100 games in and he has pretty good range in the outfield. He can also work a count though he doesn't get many walks, rather looking to slap a ball in play and force the defense to make a play. Assuming that his recent injury issues haven't robbed him of his speed, Freel should, at worst, solidify the Orioles bench. But the key to this trade has nothing to do with the players directly involved. Rather, trading away Hernandez and his hefty salary that would force him to be played opens up the catching spot for uber-prospect Matt Wieters. Wieters is a freak and widely considered to be the best prospect in all of baseball. He has been compared favorably to a more athletic Jason Varitek and a more powerful Joe Mauer. In 130 games combined between A-Fredrick and AA-Bowie last season, Wieters hit for .355/.454/.600 with 27 homers and 91 RBI. He also committed only 9 errors and threw out just over 40% of baserunners.


Anonymous said...

you're a pretty awesome dude with your baseball commentary

Bearfight Jones said...

Thank you, anonymous...I do my best