March 2006

ESPN Deportes: Ortiz Nearing Extension

Thanks to reader Nick for the tip.  A rough translation of this article:

David Ortiz is nearing a four-year, $50MM contract extension with the Red Sox.  The source has family ties to Ortiz.  Ortiz’s agency, SFX declined to comment.

Who Could Use Melvin Mora?

Melvin Mora is still a pretty good third baseman, tied for tenth best in baseball in 2005 according to WARP.  He enters his age 34 season with free agency looming.  Mora set a deadline for today for the Orioles to work out a contract extension with him, but Orioles VP Jim Duquette is pretty much ignoring that.  Reports say Mora wants $10MM annually, but there is no indication on a number of years.

Mora will make just $4MM in 2006, and he should be worth about twice that.  He can only hope he ages like Jeff Kent, one of his top comparables according to Baseball Prospectus.  Kent, so far, has been quite productive during his age 34-37 seasons, hitting .298/.362/.531 over 576 games.  That included 115 HRs.

I wouldn’t say the Orioles and Mora’s agent are at an impasse yet, but one can at least envision a scenario in which Mora is placed on the trading block between now and July 31st.  If the Orioles don’t want to hang on to him, they’d be wise to try to get some value before he leaves.

Here’s a rundown of teams that have questions at third base and could be looking reinforcements at some point.  While it’s true that Mora is capable of playing outfield, we’ll stick to the hot corner.

Red Sox:  They have the depth to cover a complete Mike Lowell collapse.  But if the team wants to upgrade from Youkilis/Choi at the corners, Mora would add dependability.  Of course, we all know that deals between division rivals are rare.

Twins:  Michael Cuddyer still might be ready for Opening Day despite a strained oblique.  He’s the fallback option for Tony Batista, assuming Jason Kubel and/or Lew Ford can handle right field.  Batista isn’t off to a great start this year and he’s anything but a lock.  Mora’s affordable salary would be attractive to Terry Ryan, though he’d have to part with some young pitching to him.

Braves:  Moving Chipper Jones to first and acquiring Mora for third base would be a huge net gain for the Braves’ offense and defense.  It would also help keep Chipper healthy.  I don’t see it happening, but it’s worth noting.

Phillies:  The Phils could really, really use a solid third baseman right now.  The hot corner is easily the offense’s weak spot.  There have been whispers that David Bell is mulling over retirement, according to Will Carroll.

Gotham Baseball’s Zito Rumor

Gotham Baseball’s Executive Editor, Mark Healey, had some informed speculation on Monday about a possible trade of Barry Zito to the Mets for Lastings Milledge and Brian Bannister.  I figured I’d pass it along, as these guys seem to have some good front office type sources.

Here are some highlights quoted from Healey from the thread:

"Call me nuts…but I still think something is happening here and will in the next couple of days…

Mike and I talk to scouts, front office people every week, sometimes daily….mostly to check on things, etc…

Before and after our respective trips to ST…we both did pre-work and post-work…

When people start getting tight-lipped, and strange things like Milledge and Bannister staying in Major League camp longer than they were supposed to be — my antenna goes up.

However, be that as it may, this thread was specualtion…if I had any corroboration, it’d be in the Rumor Mill.

[posted today] About five minutes after I posted the above I got a phone call from my West Coast guy saying that My speculation "might not be far off the mark" but wouldn’t elaborate…saying to check on what Oakland GM Billy Beane has been up to…

Hmmm…seems Billy traded the immortal Juan Cruz to the D’Backs for Brad Halsey (a 25 year old left-hander)…

Another starter, one less reliever for the Oaks?

The plot thickens…"

Twins Trade Brewing?

Some message boards are abuzz with the possibility of a significant Twins trade on the horizon.  I’ve tried to dig up something concrete for you, but I’ve come up empty so far.

I do know that Terry Ryan has hinted recently that a deal is possible but wouldn’t elaborate.  Speculation is that the Twins would try to shore up the left side of their infield, possibly by dealing from their starting pitching surplus.  Julio Lugo, Mike Lowell, Hank Blalock, and Melvin Mora could all be targets.  If the Twins want one of the bigger dogs out there they’ll probably have to part with Scott Baker or Glen Perkins.

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Top 50 Free Agents Review #1-10

With the season on the horizon, I figured that it’s time to take a look back at my Top 50 Free Agents list.  I published this baby on October 25, 2005, which was before any of the other lists came out.  My goal was to beat Steve Phillips and ESPN, so we’ll tally it up at the end.  The list is in the format Player – Prediction/Actual.

1.  Roger ClemensAstros/Undecided.  The Rocket has been holding up this entire review for quite some time.  He’ll probably come back to Houston, so this one will be a win.  But does anyone really think he’d play anywhere else?

2.  Daisuke MatsuzakaMariners/Lions.  Back before Japan’s best pitcher made a splash in the WBC, it looked like his team might post him and allow the Mariners, Yankees, Athletics, and Red Sox to compete for his services.  He would’ve probably been a more valuable commodity than A.J. Burnett if he’d come over.  Alas, Seibu’s manager said that it was obvious that his 2005 season record (2.30 ERA, 9.4 K/9) was "not convincing enough" for the team to post him. Keep an eye on this one for the 2006-07 offseason.   

3.  Paul KonerkoWhite Sox/White Sox.  I had a feeling it would be impossible for the Sox to let him walk even with the demand for a five-year deal.  The Angels and Orioles were deeply involved, with the Orioles even topping Chicago’s offer.  In the end, Paulie stayed put.  You have to respect that.

4.  A.J. BurnettNationals/Blue Jays.  I figured the team would have an owner by December and that the new regime would open up the checkbook for the best available starting pitcher.  Burnett and Washington had mutual interest, but Toronto simply outbid everyone else.   

5.  Brian GilesCardinals/Padres. We’ll probably never really know how amenable Giles was to leaving San Diego.  He certainly could’ve gotten more than three years and $30MM.  Giles has the type of skills that age well, and he was the best available outfielder by far.  Maybe the Cardinals never could’ve signed Giles even if they wanted to.  But the difference between Juan Encarnacion and Giles is probably four full wins in 2006, so keep that in mind at the end of the season.  Same goes for the Cubs, who went with Jacque Jones.

6.  Rafael FurcalCubs/Dodgers.  The Cubs really needed to overpay to get Furcal.  I like Ronny Cedeno, I really do.  But the 2006 difference in value is something close to three wins.  Those three wins might’ve pushed the Cubs over the hump for a division title.  The Dodgers swooped in with a shorter contract offer with a high annual average salary.  If L.A. eventually uses Cesar Izturis at second base, Derek Lowe will really reap the benefits of his new middle infield.

7.  Nomar GarciaparraDodgers/Dodgers.  I figured they’d employ him on the left side of the infield – Nomar doesn’t really have the bat for first base anymore.  For one year at a price of $6-10MM, it’s a low risk investment for a major market team.  Still, I’m not sure if he’ll be measurably better than Hee Seop Choi, who was waived.  But c’mon, it’s No-mah!

8.  Hideki MatsuiYankees/Yankees.  This was a gimme, he didn’t really consider signing elsewhere.  He’ll continue to rack up the RBIs.

9.  Kevin MillwoodOrioles/Rangers.  Sosa and Palmeiro off the books, and the chance to reunite Millwood with Leo Mazzone?  Peter Angelos passed, as he often does on health risks.  Baltimore instead settled for a host of lamer moves: acquiring Kris Benson, Corey Patterson, and LaTroy Hawkins, signing Ramon Hernandez despite the presence of Javy Lopez, and signing Kevin Millar and Jeff Conine for veterany goodness.  All that for fourth place?  Hell, the D-Rays are a starter or two away from making the O’s a last place club.  With Burnett off the market, Texas went with the best available starter.

10.  Billy WagnerMets/Mets.  The Phillies swung and missed, and instead signed up for three years of Tom Gordon and his creaky elbow.  Mets fans can rest easy in the ninth inning, as Braden Looper is somewhere far, far away (St. Louis).

I realized that 50 is a lot of players, so I’ll break this into a five-part series.

Ask Jim Bouton A Question

Have a burning question for Ball Four author Jim Bouton?  If yours is one of the ten best, Armchair GM will ask him in an email interview.  Click here to read more and submit a question.

If you’re a youngster like me and you weren’t around when Ball Four came out back in 1970, pick up a copy now and get acquainted with a baseball classic.

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Royal Rumblings

Today’s KC Star reports this morning that the Royals, with the first waiver wire claim, will probably snag Tony Graffanino to plug into a utility role once again.  They have a spare $4-5MM with which to do so.  Take that, Mets! 

Furthermore, a new Royals source of mine (yes, they do exist) mentions that lefties Jimmy Gobble and Jeremy Affeldt are currently on the trading block.  Mike Wood may also be available.  According to the source, a deal might happen before the end of the week.

Affeldt is probably the most intriguing of the bunch.  The 26 year-old has a 4.53 career ERA and 6.9 K/9 in 329 innings.  He’s currently slotted in as the Royals’ fourth starter after relieving exclusively in 2005.  According to RotoWire, the return of Mark Redman and Zach Greinke may push him back out of the rotation. 

Back in November, Affeldt’s name was tossed around in Kevin Mench rumors.  The Rangers could still use a starter, especially one with Affeldt’s extreme groundball tendencies.  Although they already have a host of injury-prone starters in the current rotation.  The Royals seem fairly committed to Emil Brown and his atrocious left field defense, but you have to figure they’d want Mench if at all possible.  He could hit twice as many homers as Brown.  Mench’s $2.8MM salary could probably be squeezed into the payroll for 2006.

Gobble?  Well he’s fairly young and he won nine games once.  He looked kind of promising when he was called up in 2003.  Wood?  It was nothing short of a miracle that he managed a 4.46 ERA with a 1.57 WHIP.  Maybe he can keep it under 5 this year but I doubt it. 

More Miscellaneous Rumors

Jim Bowden wants Nook Logan on his team…surprised?  I suppose fantasy leaguers should take note, as a full-time Logan could steal 35-40 bags.  And do nothing else whatsoever.

Melvin Mora is getting annoyed that the Orioles won’t give him a huge contract extension to compensate him for a string of very lucky high batting average seasons in 2003-04.  While a good third baseman, Mora is entering his age 34 season.  To be fair, he’s been underpaid for a while now, making $10.5MM over 2004-06.  If Mora settled for a mild raise to $12MM over the next three seasons, the Orioles could perhaps come out ahead.  More likely is that he’ll be traded in July.  Teams with questionable third base situations include the Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Phillies, and Giants.

The Phillies snagging David Dellucci and his $900K salary would obviously be a good thing.  He’d definitely be one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball.

Jose Guillen also wants the big money, and he at least has not turned 30 yet.  PECOTA suggests that a five-year contract for 2006-10 should value him at just $17MM, however.  How do you think Bowden feels about this?

Of course, there’s the usual Craig Wilson and John Thomson rumors floating around, including a swap for each other.  That particular deal doesn’t make much sense for Pittsburgh. Ultimately the Braves should be able to get a very useful reliever for Thomson.

Finally, I’m hearing that there’s a "pretty good chance" the Mets try to claim Tony Graffanino off waivers.


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Rumor Roundup

Let’s see what we’ve got here.

The Red Sox placed Tony Graffanino on waivers, so that tells you a lot about the trade market for second basemen right now.  Some teams that are questionable at second base:  Blue Jays, Marlins, Mets, Cardinals, Cubs.

Braves starter John Thomson is on the block, though I’m not sure Atlanta has the pitching depth to deal him.  Smoltz has to be considered a health risk and I’m not sure what they’re going to get out of Davies and Sosa.  Then again, Chuck James could step in if either falters.  Still, it’s better to be weak in the bullpen than in the rotation.  The A’s could send Juan Cruz back their way, which would give Oakland 46 starters, all better than any member of the Royals’ staff.  Thomson could also go to KC, Texas, Houston, or San Diego.

UPDATE:  The A’s weirdly sent Cruz to the D’Backs for Brad Halsey.  Just in case six starters happen to break down. 

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Jays Want Craig Wilson, Burnett To Miss A Month?

Columnist Marty York is "one of Canada’s most popular sports columnists with a track record for breaking big stories."  Works for me.  In yesterday’s column, he tells us that the Blue Jays would like to acquire Craig Wilson by Opening Day. 

York mostly disses the team’s interest in Wilson, comparing him to other "slow, white guys who can hit relatively well but who cannot run much and who are so subpar defensively that they have to be hidden at positions where they’re least likely to cause problems."  He ignores Wilson’s .363 career OBP in his comparison.  That’s the difference, Marty.

He mentions that the Braves, Padres, Mariners, and Indians are also interested in Wilson.

York goes on to report that A.J. Burnett will miss at least the first month of the 2006 season.  That’d be a pretty big hit to their staff.  This is definitely news to me, as I’d read that the injury was "not serious" and that he’d only miss a week or two.