December 2005

Cubs Tejada Trade On The Table

An emailer reports that the Cubs are awaiting word from the Orioles on this offer:

Cubs get:

Miguel Tejada, Erik Bedard

Orioles get:

Mark Prior, Rich Hill, Corey Patterson

This proposal is on the table.  The report comes from Bruce Levine on ESPN Radio 1000. 

The pros and cons of this deal have been debated endlessly on this site.  To restate my opinion: this move works as a "win now" move.  The Cubs would add something like seven wins, so they’d need some additional upgrades or players outplaying projections to be favored as the division winner.  A couple of options I like:

Platoon Jacque Jones with Matt Murton and acquire a slugging left fielder.  Cliff Floyd would only become available if the Mets acquire Manny Ramirez.  While the Cubs aren’t thrilled with Luis Gonzalez, he’s still a top ten LF and could push them over the top.

Trade for Jeff Kent.  He’s one of the five best second basemen, and I’m firmly in the camp that Ronny Cedeno will not be a Major League success.  Kent’s obviously a force in the Dodgers’ lineup, but the Cubs could come on strong and top the Mets’ weak offer.  The Dodgers may want to get some young players in return before Kent’s contract is up.  Just a thought.

Rangers Sign Millwood

The Rangers signed Kevin Millwood today to a four year deal with an option for the fifth year, the Dallas Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.  MSNBC is reporting that the deal is worth $60MM over five years and the fifth year vests based on innings pitched.  The signing is vaguely reminiscent of the five-year pact given to Chan Ho Park after his stellar age 28 season.  Upon joining Texas, Park saw his walk, home run, and hit rates shoot up dramatically.  He pitched only 380 innings for the Rangers.

The revamped Rangers rotation will include Millwood, Adam Eaton, Vicente Padilla, and a couple of holdovers.  The Rangers don’t seem to be considering right-hander Joaquin Benoit for a rotation spot, and he might make a very good pickup for a team in need of a cheap starter with upside.

According to component ERA, Millwood’s career best 2.86 ERA should’ve actually been more like 3.40.  That ranks just above Jon Garland.  Component ERA takes a pitcher’s walks, hits, and homers allowed to compute an ERA without factoring in luck or defense.

Millwood has averaged 185 innings over the last three seasons.  Health will be a major concern for Texas’s pitching staff in 2006, as Adam Eaton has averaged 170 and Vicente Padilla is at 157.  One positive note is that Millwood is above average in home run prevention.

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Jason Johnson Signs With Indians

FoxSports is confirming that Jason Johnson has indeed signed a one-year contract to pitch for the Indians.  By acquiring Johnson and Paul Byrd, the Tribe now has a group of five starters that combined to pitch over 1000 innings in 2005.  That depth makes the departure of Kevin Millwood a foregone conclusion.  Getting a couple of decent starters for one and three years is a much smarter path than committing to five risky years of a pretty good starter in Millwood.

The Indians definitely don’t have a need for starting pitching anymore, so it seems that Coco Crisp will stay put for the time being.  Cleveland is still weak at the corners, so Crisp would only depart in a deal for a powerful 1B or 3B.  Troy Glaus would’ve been nice, but the trade market is looking bare at this point.  Mike Sweeney, Shea Hillenbrand, and Hank Blalock could be had, but all represent only a small upgrade over Aaron Boone or Ben Broussard.

The Cardinals’ main trading chip in a possible Coco Crisp deal was Jason Marquis.  Now, St. Louis will look elsewhere to bring in another outfielder.  Some sources indicate that a Marquis for Kevin Mench swap could go through in spring training.  The Cardinals would like to add a solid power bat to replace Larry Walker, and the acquisitions so far may have to suffice until midseason.  The rumored Miguel Tejada for Mark Mulder and David Eckstein trade appears to be completely false.

A.J. Burnett/Curt Schilling Projections

The latest from RotoAuthority: my Curt Schilling projection.  Also on the site is my A.J. Burnett projection from a couple of days ago.  Be sure to drop by and let me know what you think.

Also, I’ll be on WGN Radio 720 tonight at 7:30pm central time.  It’ll be cool to chat baseball with David Kaplan on Sports Central.  Be sure to tune in!

The Marlins Could Surprise You

In the midst of my player projections for the 2006 Roto Authority Fantasy Baseball Guide, I realized just how stacked the Marlins are with young talent.  If fire sales didn’t leave fan bases in ruins, Florida’s strategy of trading every veteran at once for top prospects could become a blueprint for success.

Now, the Fish might still have a hard time topping .500 in 2006.  But so did the Tigers, Mariners, and Giants in 2005, and those clubs spent a big chunk of change on free agents and old guys.  As the signings get worse every year, I’m starting to question whether signing a major free agent is ever a good move.  Except for the rare superstar in his prime (Vlad), most free agent acquisitions end poorly.

Let’s take a look at the Marlins’ 2006 lineup.

C – Josh Willingham – He’s been ready for a starting job in the Majors since 2004.  Hit an incredible .324/.455/.676 in 219 Triple A at-bats this year.  If his hitting remotely resembles that line, any defensive ability Joe Girardi can instill is gravy.

1B – Mike Jacobs – He can fill in behind the plate as well.  Hit 36 HR between Double A and the Majors in ’05.  He’s at least a 20 HR stick in the bigs.  With Jason Stokes pushing towards the big club, one of these guys might have to learn to play LF.

2B – Dan Uggla – At 25, this guy is too old to be a prospect.  But on a team with nothing to lose, he deserves a crack at the job after hitting .297/.378/.502 in Double A. 

SS – Hanley Ramirez/Josh Wilson/Alfredo Amezaga – Give ’em all a shot, see who sticks.  There’s no pressure in the 8th spot in the Marlins’ order.  Amezaga looked tolerable in 185 Triple A at-bats this year.

3B – Miguel Cabrera – A superstar at age 22.  Need I say more?

LF – Chris Aguila – Another over the hill prospect who could stick if given the chance.  Hit .355/.412/.630 in 138 Triple A at-bats after a passable showing in ’04.

CF – Eric Reed – Assuming the Fish don’t acquire Joey Gathright, Reed has drawn Juan Pierre comparisons.  Baseball America said he may be "faster and a better defender" than Pierre.  Hit .310/.335/.404 in with 17 steals 171 Triple A at-bats; could be ready to contribute by midseason.

RF – Jeremy Hermida – An early Rookie of the Year favorite.  Hermida has ridiculous power and on-base skills at age 21, and is a legitimate 20/20 candidate for ’06.

I think a lot of Major League teams will put a much worse starting nine on the field every day than this.  Sure, guys like Reed, Aguila, Ramirez, and Uggla might not be ready, but the Fish can still field a competitive lineup.

This post is getting a bit long, so I think I’ll leave the starting rotation for next time.  I think the young group of starters could be more than serviceable next year, even without Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett.

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Peter Angelos, Mark Prior, and Medical History

It’s well known that Baltimore Orioles CEO Peter Angelos is very mindful of players’ health records, moreso than any other GM.  It could have something to do with Angelos’s past as a personal injury lawyer.  Or it could be two massive free agent blunders made in the past by the Orioles: Scott Erickson and Albert Belle.  The Orioles wasted many millions as the two players deteriorated. 

The Angelos mindset is center stage at the moment, as the health of Cubs starter Mark Prior is far from spotless.  As I mentioned earlier, here’s what Buster Olney had to say on the issue:

"Executives with other teams are assuming, by the way, that Baltimore owner Peter Angelos would likely kill any proposal once club doctors review Prior’s recent medical history."

I dug around a bit and got a little more from a source close to the Orioles.  He told me that he knows of at least three free agents that the Orioles backed away from this winter after reviewing their medical records.  He wouldn’t name names, but I have to think Kevin Millwood was one.

However, the source told me Prior’s medical records would only pose a slight dilemma for the Orioles. He thinks the true obstacle is simply the Cubs meeting the Orioles’ asking price.  If that happens, the deal will get done quickly.

Buzz Around The Game

Believe it or not, there’s a ton of stuff going on today that doesn’t involve the words "Prior" or "Tejada."

A tentative Troy Glaus trade has been reached.  The Diamondbacks dumped Glaus and his contract on the Blue Jays for Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista.  Brandon Webb, far and away the most extreme groundball pitcher in baseball, benefits greatly from the addition of Hudson.  Another effect is the breakup of a highly rated defensive infield, at least in the eyes of Dayn Perry.  The Blue Jays now have a logjam of 1B/3B/DH guys, and Rosenthal speculates that Shea Hillenbrand is the most likely to go.  Should Shea stay true to his word, he’ll be a nice pickup.  It’s a homecoming for Miguel Batista; let’s hope the team correctly employs him as a starter.  Even with Glaus gone, the Diamondbacks still haven’t cleared up a corner outfield spot for #1 prospect Carlos Quentin.  The kid’s more than ready; let’s hope GM Josh Byrnes can unload Luis Gonzalez or Shawn Green as his next trick.   

Jason Johnson makes a sweet pickup for the Indians’ rotation.  Like Millwood last year, the Indians found a starting pitcher and only had to commit to one year.  In Paul Byrd, Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, and Johnson, the Tribe has built a deep rotation.  Combined, the five of them threw 1023 innings in 2005.  Seems Mark Shapiro has taken a page from Kenny Williams’s book, especially considering that he also has an excellent bullpen in place.

The Cards snagged Juan Encarnacion and Junior Spivey.  The reaction at Viva El Birdos to the revamped 2006 lineup:

"To be honest and blunt, i don’t see a single position where the Cardinals have meaningfully improved." 

That sentiment includes the bullpen and starting rotation as well.  Which reminds me – how can the Cardinals possibly justify blocking Anthony Reyes with Sidney Ponson?  The Ponson signing means one of three things:

1.  There are concerns about Reyes’s health that have not been revealed to the public.
2.  Jason Marquis will be traded this winter.
3.  Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan are so loathe put a rookie starter out there every fifth day that they’d prefer yet another fixer-upper.  Even if said fixer-upper had a 5.64 ERA over his last 346 innings.

Cardinals fans have got to be hoping for option #2.

Update: Prior-Tejada Trade

A couple of emailers have informed me of a radio report by Bruce Levine on ESPN Radio 1000.  Levine was the first to report the Juan Pierre trade earlier this month.

According to the emailers, the Cubs are waiting to hear back from the Orioles (Angelos will be involved) on this offer:

Cubs receive Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard for Mark Prior, Rich Hill, and Corey Patterson.

Essentially, Patterson is a non-factor in discussing 2006 value.  Hill would also not be likely to add much value to a Major League rotation next year.  As I mentioned yesterday, this trade nets the Cubs seven wins if everyone plays at their 2005 level.

While beloved by Cubs fans, Prior’s history of elbow problems coupled with two freak injuries have limited his playing time for the team.  He’s averaged 166 innings over the last three seasons.  Interesting quote in Buster Olney’s blog for ESPN this morning:

"Executives with other teams are assuming, by the way, that Baltimore owner Peter Angelos would likely kill any proposal once club doctors review Prior’s recent medical history." 

Bedard is certainly not a pitcher of Prior’s caliber, whether evaluated based on performance or durability.  He’s averaged 140 innings over the last two seasons. 

Any discussion surrounding Bedard’s potential inevitably references his first half of 2005.  He posted a 2.08 ERA in 60 innings before the break.  Most encouraging about the successful run was Bedard’s walk rate, which was around 2.1 per nine.  He’s walked 4.1 per nine on average in the Major Leagues, and 3.3 per nine in the minors.  According to Baseball Prospectus, lefty Bob Ojeda circa 1984 is the closest match to Bedard (although Bedard has better strikeout numbers).  Ojeda had a nice decade in the 80s, and reached his peak with 18 wins and a 2.57 ERA for the World Champion 1986 Mets.

Baltimore Sun journalist Jeff Zrebiec’s opinion on all of this?

"The Orioles clearly want to keep the shortstop but seem to be at least willing to deal him if the price is right. However as of now, it appears that Tejada will remain an Oriole at least through Christmas."   

Adam Eaton Rangers Projection

Adam Eaton is entering a hitter’s ballpark in a new league in his contract year.  See how I think he’ll fare over at RotoAuthority.

Eaton is just one of hundreds of pitchers projected and profiled in the 2006 RotoAuthority Fantasy Baseball Guide, available in January.

Cubs Willing To Trade Prior?

Ken Rosenthal‘s got Chicago buzzing:

"The Cubs, aggressively pursuing a blockbuster trade for Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, are willing to part with a top starting pitcher, most likely right-hander Mark Prior, sources tell"

According to Rosenthal, the talks stalled when the Cubs insisted on receiving Erik Bedard and Tejada without surrendering Felix Pie or a top pitching prospect.

A longshot three-way deal involving Manny Ramirez, Tejada, and Prior was also mentioned.

As stated here back in November, Bedard is very much available.  Bedard is more than a year older than Prior, and is even more fragile.  I’ve projected Bedard at a 3.74 ERA in 170 innings in 2006.  I originally had Prior at a 3.37 ERA in 202 innings, although the ERA could be more like 3.53 after I make some more adjustments.

Bedard is a lot further away from free agency than Prior, having only two Major League seasons under his belt.  He and Tejada would be a fair return for Prior, even if the Cubs had to include Rich Hill in the deal as the "top pitching prospect."  Using 2005 stats and assuming no contribution from any prospects sent by the Cubs, this is a trade that would net the Cubs seven wins in 2006.  Is the present team a .500 club?  If so, this trade could propel the Cubs to the playoffs.

Still, I can’t help having that ominous feeling that the Cubs could be letting a major talent slip away.  At just 25, Prior’s best seasons are probably yet to come (2003 excepted.) Miguel Tejada will turn 30 in May, and you can’t help but worry about his .276/.322/.416 line in 308 post All-Star break at-bats.  Sure, people will say he was uninspired and maybe mention the Palmeiro distraction, but the seed of doubt remains.