April 2006

Thursday Morning Reading

Barry Zito makes a peculiar trade demand.

Sign a petition to put an end to the new Mets song…

23 year-old Cubs prospect Carlos Marmol has the best ERA in the Southern League (0.52 through 17 innings).  Perhaps that’s why no one discusses his past transgressions.

I think it would be awesome if an MLBTradeRumors reader could come up with the new name for Dan Haren‘s new blog.  Right now it’s called Haren’s Heat…c’mon now, that’s even lamer than "Roto Authority."  I know there a few clever readers out there.  If we can name Danny’s blog, maybe he’ll pass us some sweet Zito rumors or at least some LOST rumors.

UPDATE:  So far the best submission to rename the blog:  Haren’s Harem, by my friend Jonathan.  Danny probably has a harem, right?  I know I do.

What’s with this new trend of calling Travis Hafner Papi’s equal this year?  Any forecaster worth his salt would’ve busted out that declaration before the season.

I told you the Sox were pissed about this… 

SportsBlah makes a plea to managers.

Ugly Ex-Cubs…a history lesson.

A blog dedicated entirely to Dodgers pitcher Yhency Brazoban.  With Yhency on the shelf for the season, I’m not sure if this guy has a reason to get up in the morning.

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2007 Free Agent Market: Catchers

Updated 12-23-06

Looking for a new starting backstop after the 2006 season?  These are your free agent options.

Javy Lopez – Lopez caught just 38 games in 2006, so who knows how he’ll be behind the plate at age 36.  He’ll have to take a huge pay cut from this year’s $8.5MM.  The Rockies could sign him despite the presence of Yorvit Torrealba and Chris Iannetta on the roster.

Who Has The Goods And Need For Zito?

Billy Beane’s nondenial coupled with Jon Heyman’s rumor from a couple of days ago got me thinking some more about Barry Zito.  Said Heyman:

"If Zito makes it to free agency, a friend of Zito’s said he believes the Mets and Yankees are co-favorites to sign him."

That’s certainly logical.  Heyman also mentioned that Beane wants three younger, cheaper players for Zito if a trade is to take place.  That’s certainly been his requirement in the past.  What I’m wondering is: which contenders meet the minimum requirement of stud prospects and young guns?

I’ll use Baseball America’s Top 50 as a guide for requirement #1: stud prospect.  See Daric Barton (#32 in 2005, #28 this year) and Dan Meyer (yes, I know Meyer didn’t pan out so far but he was ranked #43 in 2005).  Which contenders even have a top 50 type guy?

Well, there’s the Angels.  They’ve got Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar in the top 50.  Aybar could be a longshot, but even that is doubtful.

Then there’s Minnesota, with Francisco Liriano.  There’s no way in hell he’s traded.

The Dodgers have Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, Joel Guzman, and Russell Martin.  They’re stacked.

The Tigers have Justin Verlander, Cameron Maybin, and Joel Zumaya.  Zumaya was in a Javier Vazquez rumor this winter along with Curtis Granderson…for Tigers fans’ sake I hope that discussion never even occurred.

The Tribe boasts Andy Marte and Adam Miller.  The Mets have Lastings Milledge and Mike Pelfrey.  The Giants have Matt Cain.  The BrewCrew has Prince Fielder, Mark Rogers, and Ryan Braun.

The Braves have Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  The Red Sox have Jon Lester and Jon Papelbon.  The White Sox have Bobby Jenks.  The Cubs have Felix Pie.  The Yanks have Philip Hughes.  The Cards have Anthony Reyes.  The Blue Jays have Dustin McGowan.

15 contenders with at least one top 50 prospect.  We can cross the Twins and Giants off the list – those pitchers aren’t getting traded.  That leaves 13 clubs.  Which of these have a need for a starting pitcher?  (I’m going to eliminate teams that don’t need Zito, though it’s not unprecedented for a club to trade for a starter they don’t need.)

The Dodger rotation is five-deep, and I think it’ll be fine.  Plus, Billingsley is the sixth man.  The Angels are also set right now.  The Tigers are the same way, with Zumaya ready to step in.  Cleveland doesn’t have the need, and the Brewers are fine.  The White Sox and Blue Jays appear to be covered as well. 

So here are the teams that need a guy like Zito and have a top 50 prospect:  Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Mets, and Cardinals.  Let’s take a closer look at these six.

Braves – They’re going with Smoltz, Hudson, Davies, Sosa, and Thomson as their front five.  They have at least two backups in Horacio Ramirez and Chuck James.  Atlanta was shopping Thomson recently, so I’d take that as a sign that they’re willing to look within if their starting pitching fails them (and I think it will).  While the team has shown a willingness to trade top prospects in the past, they seem like the least likely suitor for Zito.

Cubs – The Cubs have something resembling starting pitching depth, but have learned the folly of counting on Prior and Wood to save their season.  With Pie and young arms like Rich Hill and Angel Guzman, the Cubs have the goods and perhaps the desire to acquire Zito.

Cardinals – They have a ton of impending free agents in their starting rotation, so a trade-and-sign could make sense here.  Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright make for an intriguing starting point.  A failure by Ponson and a strange unwillingness to turn to Reyes could mean Walt Jocketty gets involved.

Red Sox – Ah, yes.  So they want to keep Papelbon at closer and can’t get anything out of David Wells?  And they want to keep Zito off the Yankees at least until 2007?  The fit is clear.  Lester and Dustin Pedroia would spark Beane’s interest for sure.

Yankees – They’re going to trade for a starting pitcher; it’s only a matter of how soon.  I outlined the four trade candidates in my Torii Hunter post.

Mets – As you know, it’s all about Milledge.  Why would Beane do this for anything less?  He holds the cards.  If there’s no Milledge, I have to think there’s no deal.  You can only pump up Brian Bannister‘s value so much.

My prediction: Zito goes to the Yankees at the deadline.  But it’s got to be one of these six teams, right?

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GameFour Blog

I highly recommend GameFour, a sports blog written by a friend of mine, Conor.  Several other fine writers contribute over there as well.  Conor is currently beating me in our SportsBloggers fantasy league.  I have only myself to blame for having Emil Brown in my outfield.

Conor recently interviewed me, so check that out if you’re so inclined. 

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The Yankees And Torii Hunter

In my April 6th post "The Torii Hunter Situation," I didn’t mention that Yankees as a potential suitor.  I figured Johnny Damon was cemented as the team’s center fielder.  But now Damon says he’d be willing to move to right field for Hunter.  Such a switch could push Gary Sheffield to DH, not a bad thing. 

If Damon’s arm is not good enough for center field, I don’t know how it would suffice in right.  But let’s put that little problem aside for a moment and try to determine whether the Yanks have the goods on the farm to get a deal done.

I think New York most certainly has the players to make this type of trade.  They may see starting pitching as more of a concern, but some combination of these players is likely to be traded this summer.

Philip Hughes – Would the Yanks trade their one bona fide pitching prospect?  If the past is any indication, yes.  The 19 year-old righty ranks as the 12th best pitching prospect in the game, according to Baseball Prospectus. 

Hughes has drawn some Mark Prior comparisons, and that includes the injury proclivities.  PECOTA, however, considers Jake Peavy his #1 comp.  The kid has had his way with the Florida State League so far (high class A ball).  He’s got ten scoreless innings under his belt for the Tampa Yankees this year, and could find himself in the Trenton Thunder rotation in a couple of months.  If the Yanks want one of those marquee Marlins, Hughes will be a requirement.  Could they get Hunter without trading Hughes?  Maybe.

Robinson Cano – You know him, you love him.  The Rennie Stennett wannabe burst onto the Major League scene last year with a .297/.320/.458 line in 544 plate appearances.  PECOTA sees a dip to a .726 OPS this year from the 23 year-old second baseman.  That’s OK, though some would say that he defense pushes him towards the bottom half of the 2B rankings

Cano’s trade value is sky-high, and the Twins have a $5.75MM option for 2007 on Luis Castillo.  Given that a Hunter trade would be a white flag, the Twins would likely ship Castillo elsewhere as well.  Maybe even in the same package.

Jose Tabata – For a team in rebuilding mode, Tabata would be quite a prize to pluck from the Yankees’ system.  Tabata is a 17 year-old outfielder for the Charleston RiverDogs (low class A).  He’s dominated the South Atlantic League so far with a .390/.395/.537 line in 10 games.  He’s a five-tool player with a huge ceiling, though he hasn’t been nearly as difficult to strike out this year as he was in the past.  A perfect fit for the Marlins, though he could make a Hunter trade pay off in a big way for the Twins in 2008 and beyond.

Eric Duncan – He makes for an interesting prospect, and the Yankees have been aggressive in promoting him.  The 21 year-old struggled in Double A last year but begins this season at Columbus anyway.  He’ll be a corner infielder in the bigs.  Duncan has been involved in trade rumors for a while now, but so far the accelerated schedule hasn’t helped his prospect status.      

With major questions in the last two rotation spots, the Yankees are doing to need to make a major deal or two.  To fire off their best bullets to acquire Hunter doesn’t make much sense, even if Damon likes the idea.

Is Johjima Hurting Ms Pitchers?

I haven”t gotten to watch any Mariners games yet this year, so I can’t speak to this directly.  But a knowledgable friend emailed me this observation recently:

"Kenji Johjima is not framing pitches well at all, and is giving away location by setting up too early…can’t believe he’s getting with that so far–this won’t help Seattle pitching staff."

He speculated that Felix Hernandez won’t be able to post Cy Young type numbers this season because of Johjima. 

Johjima can’t be blamed for Hernandez’s shin splints or lack of command in his first two starts.  But I was wondering – have any Mariners fans noticed this behavior in Johjima?  I haven’t seen anything to this effect mentioned over at U.S.S. Mariner, but I haven’t read through the comments.

Speculation: Vidro To Be Traded?

I have a feeling Jose Vidro‘s tenure with the Nationals will come to an end before summertime.  Vidro hates RFK Stadium and seems to have a rocky relationship with team president Tony Tavares.

Vidro’s stock is as high as it’s been in years.  He seems healthy and is hitting .357 with 3 HR and 10 RBIs in 42 ABs.  And the club has a left fielder who’s desperate to move back to second base.

Vidro has a no-trade clause for 6-8 teams…anyone know which?  Of course, players can be convinced to waive such things.  He makes $7MM this year, $7.5MM in ’07, and $8.5MM in ’08.  2008 will be his age 33 season, and the contract will be a massive burden at that point.  If Jim Bowden can get out from under any portion of Vidro’s terrible deal he should. 

I think any deal with Vidro would be a salary for a salary, similar to the Finley for Alfonzo trade.  I suppose a swap to the Mets for Kaz Matsui could work.  The Cards have a need at second base, but I don’t see a good fit there.  And that’s about it for Bowden’s options.  After looking at just how bad Vidro’s contract is and how few teams need a second baseman, I’m starting to waver on my inital feeling that he will be dealt by summertime.  And that was just a few paragraphs ago. 

No truth to the Kerry Wood for Vidro rumor that surfaced in late December.   

Baseball and Romance

How about a little something different?  Check out this amusing article over at Batter’s Box courtesy of Leigh Sprague. 

In my personal experience, I’ve been able to lure my fiance to baseball games with the promise of ballpark hot dogs and proximity to Michael Barrett.  Plus, thanks to me, she can slip right into a baseball conversation at the office and casually flex more knowledge than any of her coworkers.

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MLB Free Agents 2007: Greg Maddux

It’s kind of funny to see Jay Mariotti jumping on the Greg Maddux bandwagon after two starts.  The secret to Maddux’s quick start is not fitness.  In reality, he’s the exact same Professor he has been for the last three years. 

Maddux’s H/9 rate fluctuates from season to season.  I don’t think he has a lot of control over this.  Sure, in his 1992-98 insane peak he certainly allowed fewer hits for a reason.  But he gave up tons of hits in ’99 and it looks like a fluke.  He seems to have established a new general range since 2003.  That range is to allow a little more than a hit per inning, which is fine if you’re walking 30 guys a year.  The H/9 was 9.56 last year, his highest since ’99.  If regression to the mean brings that down just a little bit and he continues allowing HRs at a league average pace, he’s a sub-4 ERA innings eater.  Nothing has changed.

You can just look at the ERAs and see 3.96, 4.02, 4.24 and think well surely he’s due for a 4.40 or 4.50 this year.  It’s not that simple, as Maddux could easily post a 3.80 despite being the exact same pitcher he was in ’03.

He’s going to throw a good 220-230 innings, mixing in the occasional rough start here and there.  Maddux will have a disastrous start about 10% of the time and a dominant one about half the time (according to Ron Shandler’s PQS pitching logs).  Otherwise he keeps you in ballgames, and is easily worth his $9MM salary. 

Once he’s a free agent this offseason, he’ll probably shop around for a one-year, $7MM type deal.  This would be an excellent signing for any team looking for reliability and depth over upside.  Really, it makes sense for the Cubs to retain him.  Too much sense, almost.  Watch him go to the Padres or somewhere after no one shows interest.

If they don’t plan on re-signing him, or even if they do, the Cubs could look to trade Maddux in July.  But even if Wood and Prior are going full steam at that point it’s a needless gamble.  Unless a major injury creates a need, Maddux should stay put. 


Olney’s Scoop On Willis

As the rumors heat up about possible Dontrelle Willis trades, Buster Olney had an informative blog post today.  Here’s an excerpt of Olney quoting a team exec:

"When they traded Beckett, they basically contacted every team and then took offers.  They haven’t said anything about those guys being available, and it would make sense that if they wanted to move them, they would tell everybody, because there would be a lot of interest."

I find it interesting that every team was given the opportunity to make an offer for Beckett.  I wonder how common this practice is?  Olney finishes by saying:

"Though neither Willis nor Cabrera is believed to be on the market now, the executives also have little doubt that both will be elsewhere before Opening Day next season."

It seems that the several GMs Ken Rosenthal spoke to are not any of the same people Olney spoke to.  You’ll recall that Rosenthal’s sources said it’s "practically a given that the Marlins will trade Willis before July 31st."

I’ll side with Olney – I think Willis stays put this summer.

Who’s the favorite in the Willis derby, whether it’s this summer or this winter?  I lean towards the Red Sox, but the Yankees need him even more.  The Sox definitely have more young talent to offer, however.  A couple of dark horses are the two Texas teams.  But really, there are probably 15 teams that could be in the running.