February 2006

Williamson Surfaces In Trade Talks

Mike Kiley of the Sun-Times notes that "Other teams are highly interested in Scott Williamson, as they have been all winter in trade talks with general manager Jim Hendry."  In a separate article, Kiley quotes Jim Hendry saying that Matt Murton, Ronny Cedeno, and Rich Hill have been highly sought after as well.

Hill came up in talks for Barry Zito and a possible Miguel Tejada deal.  As a 26 year-old, Hill is far past prospect status.  Despite pitching college ball as late as 2002, he didn’t pitch above A ball until 2005.  Ridiculously high strikeout totals have been negated by massive walk totals.  Hill finally got the walks down to an acceptable level in the minors in 2005.  If his success continues in Iowa, it’s likely he’s dealt before the All-Star break.

Cedeno was mentioned in talks for Brad Wilkerson, but that was before the Dodgers signed Rafael Furcal.  Missing out on him has taken away one of the Cubs’ best trading chips, as they’re now forced to rely on Cedeno as their starting shortstop.  Concern has been expressed over Cedeno’s hitting prior to 2005, but he may have turned a corner at age 22.  He kept his contact rate near 90% and may be able to couple a .290 average with good defense.  At this point, trading Cedeno makes very little sense.

Murton should be fairly expendable, as he may not project to hit for enough power to play left field regularly.  He’s a 24 year-old with a sweet swing and a good eye.  The average National League left fielder hit .272/.348/.457 last year, and PECOTA projects Murton at .278/.339/.411 for 2006.  Sure, there’s room for growth, but the Cubs probably can’t wait around for it with below average production at a power position.  You might think of him as Rondell White without the health issues.  He’s better suited for a developing team like the Pirates or Royals.

Williamson does fit the win now mentality, and he’s probably the one Cubs reliever with the potential to dominate.  I would keep him around as closer insurance and not worry about having too many setup men.  At $2MM something like his 2002 season would be spectacular (2.92 ERA in 74 innings).  I can’t see how the Cubs would get a more useful player in return unless perhaps it was to bolster their bench.

What’s Up With Zack Greinke?

Strange situation going on with Royals starter Zack Greinke.  He’s left spring training camp and probably won’t start the season in the Kansas City rotation.  The team is being weirdly mum on why he left.  Here’s what we think we know:

– Not drug-related (Royals)
– Not family-related (KC Star)
– Not in trouble with the team (MLB.com)
– Didn’t lose desire to play baseball (KC Star)
– Not a legal problem (Royals)
– Not an injury (Royals)

So Greinke is out indefinitely, and we’re left to play twenty questions to figure out why.  RotoWorld suggests that he may be upset to have to compete for a starting rotation spot.  The team just calls it a "personal matter."  Even ZackGreinke.com doesn’t shed any light on the subject, though you can download some new Greinke wallpaper for your computer and join his fan club.

What’s his deal?  It could be anything from an Omaha demotion to something serious like chemical dependency.  We can only hope that it’s simply a young kid having a hard time dealing with his employer, something that’s happened to all of us. 

It’s easy to take shots at Greinke after a 17 loss, 5.80 ERA season.  But keep in mind he’s still only 22 and he dominated the minor leagues.  His excellent Major League debut was for real.  He ran into some terrible luck as a 21 year-old #1 starter.  The Royals had the worst defense in baseball and the third-worst offense.  I’m not saying he was great last year, but if Greinke was pitching for the Cardinals in 2005 he might’ve won 15 games with a 4.25 ERA.  No joke.

To put an MLBTradeRumors slant on this thing, now would be the ideal time for some team to try to pluck Greinke from the hapless Royals while his value is at rock bottom.  Perhaps Royals management still considers him their future ace…but maybe they’re fed up and would happily accept Wily Mo Pena or Austin Kearns for him. 

Would The Marlins Trade Miguel Cabrera?

The Marlins are nearing a major decision on Miguel Cabrera: build around him or trade him for an unprecedented bounty.  The budding superstar will be 23 this season and hits arbitration for the first time next winter. 

Palm Beach Post journalist Joe Capozzi writes that GM Larry Beinfest declined comment on Cabrera’s future with the team.  He points out that Cabrera may score a payday of $7-10MM in arbitration after the season.  Given that the Marlins didn’t want to pay Josh Beckett $4-5MM this winter, it stands to reason that they may consider trading Cabrera during the 2006 season. 

Cabrera can play third base or the outfield corners.  He’s obviously the type of player teams build around, with a laundry list of HOFers on his comparables list.  Frank Robinson, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, Eddie Murray, Hank Aaron, and Johnny Bench all appear within his ten most similar players.  Cabrera would be a bargain if he was paid $15MM annually over the next five seasons.

I would expect the Yankees to pursue him aggressively if he’s available, likely offering up the one gem in their farm system, Philip Hughes.  I could see the Angels getting involved if they’d be willing to surrender Howie Kendrick or Brandon Wood.  The Dodgers and Mets could also make a play.

One more note on Cabrera.  Ron Shandler’s 2006 Baseball Forecaster had some interesting comments this year:

"He could get even better…a power spike may be on the horizon…as long as this is really all him."

I edited some stat-related stuff out of the comment, but that’s the gist of it.  It certainly makes sense to call for 40+ HR seasons from Cabrera, but to imply steroid use?  I guess someone had to throw it out there; I hadn’t seen it in print until now.  I can’t judge Shandler for it; after all, we just witnessed a tainted era in baseball history.  Plus, I’ve been known to monger many a steroid rumor in my day. 

Hopefully players start getting on board for the Player’s Promise Program to ease our concerns.  A description of this new non-profit program:

"The PBFA has asked each and every player with a MLB contract to sign a Players Promise which states that they will not use steroids or other performance enhancing drugs now or in the future. Since the program is not trying to conduct a "witch hunt" we will not be asking the players for any information regarding any previous use of these substances."

Contract Year Catchers

My latest post over at RotoAuthority involves Contract Year Catchers.  It’s worth checking out even if you’re not into fantasy baseball.

But if you do happen to be one of the couple million fantasy baseball nuts out there, how about some more customer feedback to persuade you to check out my 2006 Fantasy Guide?

"I was very pleased to find a flexible, Fantasy Baseball guide that was already setup in a similar format that I have tried to setup with modest results, in the past. The projected stats, the commentary, and the organized tab setups would’ve been enough to satisfy me, but then Tim has sent 10 updates to this point, which is the greatest shortcoming of the magazines. I will use this the entire season! The frosting is being able to speak directly with Tim with specific issues. Try that with the mags. Keep it up, Tim!"

One more thing – interesting series I just discovered over at The Hardball Times.  Ben Jacobs busts out the teams with the worst ten offseasons this time around.  The Reds get the dubious #30 ranking.

-Clay D.

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Phils Crave 5th OF

Randy Miller wrote an article yesterday quoting Phils GM Pat Gillick’s desire for a lefty outfield bat off the bench. Miller didn’t throw out any names, so I thought I’d dig around a bit to see who might be on the radar.  According to my best Phillies source:

On B.J. Surhoff:  "I got a lukewarm response from a high ranking club official when i asked about him a week ago. Not saying it won’t happen, but i didn’t like the guy’s body language."

On Bobby Higginson:  "I got a thumbs down when I asked about Higgy a month ago."

On Josh Kroeger (already a member of the team):  "They could go from within with this Kroeger kid, but I’m sure they will keep looking."

Just throwing out a name here, but how about trading for Jorge Piedra?  Young lefty stick with pop who can hit righties and is buried on the Rockies’ depth chart.  I have a feeling the Phils wouldn’t be setting their sights that high for a fifth outfielder, however.

Bowden Still Chasing Wily Mo

Tucked at the bottom of Bill Ladson’s article about the Nationals’ attempts to convince Alfonso Soriano to play left field is a new trade rumor.  Well, a new old trade rumor.  According to Ladson:

"The Nationals already have feelers out for Reds outfielder Wily Mo Pena, and a Nationals scout is expected to look at him sometime this week.

The Nationals have been after Pena since last season. He is a player who Bowden acquired from the Yankees when he was the general manager of the Reds. Last year, Pena hit .254 with 19 home runs and 54 RBIs for Cincinnati. Bowden has always believed that Pena has the potential of being a similar player to Sammy Sosa."

Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA system calls for a breakout season for Wily Mo this year; something along the lines of .280 with 33 HRs in a full season.  In my own estimation, a healthy Pena might hit .253 with 33 HRs.  No one’s disputing his power, but only PECOTA thinks Pena can make a batting average jump along the lines of his comparables, Jesse Barfield and Willie Stargell.

The Reds’ desire in any Pena trade will be pitching, pitching, and more pitching.  On the Major League level, the Nationals feature John Patterson plus a whole lot of other guys that would not bring Pena in a trade.  It would be crazy for the team to trade Patterson, so let’s see what’s in the minors.

The Nats’ farm system is barren.  According to Baseball America, the club’s best young pitchers are Collin Balester, Mike Hinckley, Bill Bray, and Daryl Thompson.  I would’ve added Armando Galarraga, but the Nats traded him to Texas in the Soriano deal.  None of these guys are close to the Majors, so Bowden would probably have to rope in a third team to get one of their pitchers involved.  Even then, they don’t have much to offer. If Bowden can somehow turn Soriano, a huge mistake, into Pena, he deserves many accolades.     

Luis Gonzalez Trade Possibilities

Nick Piecoro’s article today for the Arizona Republic implied that the Diamondbacks would have a tough decision to make on Luis Gonzalez‘s 2007 option.  Now, as a reporter covering the D-Backs, Piecoro has to use a certain amount of tact when discussing Gonzo’s situation.  I like Gonzalez as much as the next guy, but there’s no chance Josh Byrnes exercises his $10MM option.

Gonzalez is 38 and is said to have his "elbow and shoulder injuries behind him."  He comes out of baseball’s home run era with a 57 HR season under his belt, though he’s never topped 31 in any other season.  He’s spent seven seasons in Arizona, hitting .302/.396/.542 over that span.  The most similar player over those seven years is definitely Jeff Bagwell, who hit .288/.404/.542 for Houston.

It’s been a hell of a late peak for Gonzalez, and he hopes to find a new home to amass 786 more hits.  Unfortunately, PECOTA projects him to be out of baseball by 2008, following a similar career path to his top comparable, Fred Lynn.  Would 3,000 hits and 400 HR do the trick for the Hall of Fame considering how lackluster his career was before he joined Arizona?  And that he’s never really been considered a dominant player?

Even at his age, Gonzo was the 9th best left fielder in the game last year according to WARP.  He had a leg up on guys like Carl Crawford and Carlos Lee.  He’ll probably shoot for a contract similar to Moises Alou‘s, something like two years at $15MM.  Which teams would be a good fit?

Blue Jays – When Reed Johnson tops your depth chart, you need a left fielder.  Though I am a Catalanotto fan. 

Twins – An outfield of Hunter, Kubel, and Gonzalez would be formidable.  Shannon Stewart‘s contract expires after this season.  Lew Ford is best served as a 4th OF, and Rondell White should be DHing full-time.  Not that I see the Twins doing this or anything.

Braves – I keep bringing up the Braves as candidates to acquire a left fielder, and Braves fans keep telling me they’re happy with Langerhans and Johnson.  Maybe I should start listening to them.

Marlins – I think playing Florida native and good guy Gonzalez in left instead of Chris Aguila or Reggie Abercrombie would be a nice gesture considering this offseason.  Then again, I support the notion of getting Josh Willingham some ABs out there to keep him in the lineup.   

Cardinals – Is this Bigbie/Taguchi/Rodriguez thing really going to work?  Maybe, but Gonzo would be a good fit in that clubhouse.

And that pretty well sums up his market as I see it.  It’s a buyer’s market for left fielders, and it should be interesting to see what Byrnes can come up with this summer.  Carlos Quentin is begging for a big league job after hitting .301/.422/.520 in Triple A last year.

Wednesday Lunchtime Reading

Looking for something to read during lunchtime today? 

Over at RotoAuthority I discuss why I find the Twins perplexing and why I expect Armando Benitez to have an ERA over 4.  I’m nearing my tenth update on my Fantasy Guide.  Said customer Gus O.:

"It is by far the most extensive and elaborate guide I’ve ever come across–and for only $9.99 you’d have to be insane not buy it."

AllCubs has an interesting take on some underrated prospects.

Looking for a print sportswriter blog that’s frank, entertaining, and funny?  Visit SportsJustice, run by Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle.  His exchange with Brad Ausmus is priceless.

And for a non-baseball aside, a friend of a friend of mine is walking from Madrid, Spain to Kiev, Ukraine on foot and making a movie about it.

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Prior’s Injury: Timeline of Events

As this Mark Prior shoulder injury thing continues to pick up steam, I thought it might make sense for me to lay out an estimated timeline for those not located in Chicago.

February 20th, 11am:  Baseball Prospectus injury analyst Will Carroll mentions a tip he’s received claiming that Mark Prior is nursing shoulder problems within a spring training injury notebook.

February 20th, 11:05am:  Major League GMs and other BP subscribers read Carroll’s report and nod knowingly.  Cubdom reactsBlogs were all over this one for the next few hours.

February 20th, afternoon:  Carroll appears on Chicago sports talk station 670 The Score to talk about the rumor.  Various members of Chicago print media listen to the radio show and first hear about the possible Prior injury.  It is immediately branded an "Internet rumor" and is decided that the nerdy website from which it originated uses too many numbers.

February 20th, evening:  Majority of said sportswriters deem the rumor unworthy of tomorrow’s column, and instead go back to writing cutting edge essays on why they hate Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.

February 21st, morning:  Reporters in Mesa, Arizona, unwilling to give credence to the rumor but afraid to miss out on the scoop, quiz Prior and Dusty Baker on it.  Prior does not acknowledge the rumor as true, but strangely neglects to simply say, "My shoulder is perfectly healthy."

February 21st, evening:  Members of Chicago print media Google the name "Will Carroll" for tomorrow’s column.  They learn that he is neither a doctor nor in Arizona, thereby debunking the rumor.  They do not attempt to contact Carroll.

February 22nd, morning: Members of Chicago print media take baseless shots at Carroll yet take the Cubs to task for not being forthright about injuries within the same column.  The aura of unprofessionalism surrounding all Internet media is maintained and print journalists keep their jobs.

Interesting side note: An advertisement for Will Carroll’s radio show appears in the Baseball Cube listing for Prior (it has for a while, if I recall correctly).                    

The Shortstop Trade Market

By my count, five starting shortstop candidates may be on the market currently:  Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera, Cesar Izturis, Craig Counsell, and Julio Lugo.  The Red Sox, Cubs, Twins, and Mariners are all at least semi-contending teams with shortstops that have to be considered less than a sure thing.  Add in a surprise injury or two, and there’s sure to be some shortstop movement in the coming months.  Let’s break down the five most likely to be dealt.

Miguel Tejada was worth 7.6 wins in 2005 and projects to be worth 6.8 in 2006.  He’ll be 30 years old and will earn $48MM over the next four seasons.  He’s an impact player who’s been named in countless trade rumors, even involving teams that already have decent shortstops in place.  The Orioles will try to extract a young starter with top-rotation potential if Tejada is traded.  I have a feeling that Tejada will either be dealt before the season begins or not until after the season.  Just a hunch, but I think he’ll have a lousy first half and damage his trade value. 

Julio Lugo was surprisingly almost as valuable as Tejada in 2005, tallying a 7.0 WARP score.  Baseball Prospectus expects him to come down to Earth this year but still be worth 5.2 wins.  He’s also 30 years old and will become a free agent after earning $4.95MM in ’06.  Tampa Bay’s new management is looking for young pitching and nothing but.  A Jonathan Papelbon type would probably do the trick, but teams obviously aren’t quick to part with that type of pitching talent for a rental shortstop.  Lugo is pretty much a lock to be traded before the July deadline, and it could take a three-team deal for them to find the pitching prospect(s) they desire.

Craig Counsell is the elder statesman of the group at age 35.  He’s been on a couple of World Series winners, which adds a nice intangible.  He earned 6.1 wins as a 2B in 2005, and will move to shortstop for the Diamondbacks with their acquisition of Orlando Hudson.  He projects to be worth 3.2 wins in ’06 and will earn just $1.75MM.  Counsell falls under the bargain rental category for a team anxious to improve defense up the middle.  The D-Backs will probably flip him at the deadline whether or not Stephen Drew is ready.  Unless they’re in the thick of the playoff race, Alex Cintron could probably hold down the position for a half season.

Orlando Cabrera signed a big contract last offseason, and he’s still owed $23MM over the next three seasons.  Once an incredible defender, Cabrera has slipped a bit but was worth 4.1 wins in 2005.  He projects as a 3.5 win player in 2006, so teams won’t be anxious to take on the 31 year-old’s contract.  The Angels have some great shortstop candidates pushing their way up through the system, but the team hasn’t always been quick to unload overpaid vets in the past.  The Red Sox probably wouldn’t mind having him back, but only if the Angels picked up most of the tab.

Cesar Izturis is recovering from Tommy John surgery and the 26 year-old was shocked to see the Dodgers sign Rafael Furcal to a three-year contract.  The club might choose to keep him around as a second baseman after Jeff Kent leaves, creating the best defensive middle infield in the game. A summer trade would make sense too.  He earned just 2.4 wins in a partial 2005, but was a 4.4 win player the year before.  He plays good D but hasn’t been much with the stick outside of 2004.  Izturis will earn $7.25MM over the next two seasons and has a $5.45MM club option for 2008.  There’s a $300K buyout attached to the option.  Izturis would make a decent pickup in that he’s young enough to improve in coming years.

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