April 2006

Ready To Rumble

I love a good brawl.  And I hope these two teams really mix it up.  I heard Julio Franco is really pissed off at Ryan Zimmerman showing him up by being 30 years younger.

But the problem is that the umps are going to be so prepared when Jose Guillen steps up that no one will get any good swings in.  Bodyslams are unlikely.  We’ll see.

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Latest On Clemens

Back on February 15th, I posted about a source out of Houston close to former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker.  That same source has another update on Roger Clemens for us this morning.

Apparently, Hunsicker still feels that Clemens will sign with Houston on or shortly after May 1st.  The Yankees and Red Sox were never seriously in the running for Roger, and Texas was a long shot at best.  Clemens’s approach to his return was designed to guarantee him the most money possible.

On the off chance that Clemens retires, the Astros are expected to trade for a starting pitcher.


Rosenthal On Willis Trade Possibility

We were all a bit skeptical of the idea of the Marlins trading their best pitcher, 24 year-old southpaw Dontrelle Willis.  But I have to say, Ken Rosenthal’s article yesterday makes a Willis trade sound like a very legitimate possibility.  Read up.

Rosenthal mentions Felix Pie, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jon Lester as possible starting points for their respective teams.  An offer starting with Lester and Dustin Pedroia would have to get the Marlins listening.  An acquisition of Willis would give the team three former Marlins in the rotation. 

Then there’s always Lastings Milledge, Omar Minaya’s last bullet.  The Dodgers and Angels also have an overflow of young talent should either team decide they are one starting pitcher away from the playoffs.

Scary factoid:  Willis’s top comparable, according to Baseball Prospectus?  Steve Avery, circa 1994.  Back in ’94, Avery was a 24 year-old southpaw coming off a brilliant 18 win, 2.94 ERA season.  Avery never posted an ERA below 4 again.  On the plus side, the 2003 version of Mark Buehrle is next on the list.

Top 50 Free Agents Review #11-20

We looked at how I did predicting the destinations of the top ten free agents back in March.  I got four out of the ten correct, five if the Rocket stays in Houston.  Let’s take a look at the next group, where there weren’t as many easy picks.  My pick is first here.  My Top 50 Free Agents list from last October can be found here.

11. B.J. Ryan – Phillies/Blue Jays.  I definitely underestimated just how much cash the Jays were willing to toss around.  I figured that the Phils would have room in the budget for a closer once Wagner defected and would go after the best available one in Ryan.  They did have some interest in him as their Plan B.

12.  Johnny Damon – Red Sox/Yankees.  I said he’d stay with the Sox but didn’t like the idea as outlined here.  Turns out New York was more willing to take on huge sunk costs than Boston was.  As a result, Andy Marte is an Indian. 

13. Ramon Hernandez – Mets/Orioles.  Definitely didn’t see this one coming with Javy Lopez already on the team and the free-spending Mets showing interest.  The Mets went with Paul Lo Duca instead.  If they miss the playoffs by one game, this decision will loom large.

14.  Paul Byrd – Red Sox/Indians.  I figured David Wells would have his request accomodated, and no one saw the Beckett deal coming.  Byrd looked like he’d be a value signing at something like 2/$12MM, but that didn’t happen.

15.  Erubiel Durazo – White Sox/Rangers. One of my bigger blunders, in that I don’t think I realized Durazo had undergone Tommy John surgery in the summer of ’05.  He obviously was not considered the 15th best free agent by any team.  I really liked the fit with the Sox, but that Thome guy is doing OK so far.

16. Kenji Johjima – Mariners/Mariners.  I said the Japanese star could be a bargain, and he was at $5MM annually.

17.  Tom Gordon – Marlins/Phillies.  Oops!  Keep in mind that this was before any sign of a fire sale and Gordon is a Florida native.  I thought he’d take a two-year deal when I was trying to decide how the available closers would get shuffled around.

18.  Jeff Weaver – Blue Jays/Angels.  The Jays were thinking much bigger than Weaver, opting for the riskier, higher upside of A.J. Burnett.  Weaver for one year was a fantastic move by the Angels.

19.  Jarrod Washburn – Brewers/Mariners.  Figured Doug Melvin would make a play for the Wisconsin native.  But at that price it would not have made sense for the Brew Crew.  Not that it made sense for Seattle.

20.  Bill Mueller – Brewers/Dodgers.  I figured Bill Hall would be used in a utility role again, but the Brewers went in a different direction with Koskie.

Unfounded Rumors

Just a few tidbits that are floating around today…

All sorts of emails about the Reds recently.  Everyone thinks they’re due for a trade, and I can’t disagree.  Unfortunately I’ve come up empty on any inside rumblings of a deal.  But take a look at this depth chart!  The team has three catchers and five middle infielders, but lacks a real first baseman and could use some relief help.  Something’s gotta give.  The Jays could probably spare a corner type, and the Twins could have some use for a middle infielder who can hit.  The Mets might not mind another second base option.

I’ve also heard that some Boston radio stations are tossing around a possible Red Sox proposal for Dontrelle Willis.  Apparently their package would start with Jon Lester.  I don’t know how much foundation this one has, so I’m just tossing it out there.   The D-Train has quieted March concerns by allowing just two earned runs in his first thirteen innings.  Of course, he doesn’t have a win to show for it yet.

Carlos Pena is still floating around unemployed, and Barry Zito is starting trade rumors with cab driversTom Powers thinks Torii Hunter will be dealt by August if the Twins aren’t in contention. I think the team will at least be within spitting distance of the playoffs this summer and Hunter will stay put

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Cubs and D-Lee Close

Cubs fans are breathing a sigh of relief as the Cubs and Derrek Lee are closing in on a contract extension in the range of five years and $65MM.  Lee for Hee Seop Choi and Mike Nannini is one of the best trades in the team’s history.

Lee is a player that I think you can safely call a Baseball Prospectus miss.  In 2002, they remarked, "He’s not likely to take a big step forward and really be worth five or six wins. The Marlins should get what they can from him this season, then deal him to make room for Adrian Gonzalez."

Lee was worth 12.3 wins in 2005.  He took the step forward.  While he’s probably not going to earn $65MM through 2011, there simply aren’t any comparable players out there who can make this kind of difference right now.   

A Lee contract extension coupled with Nick Johnson‘s signing really kills the 2007 first base free agent crop.  The best option would probably be Sean Casey.

Mora Interested In Phillies

The match makes so much sense that it was only a matter of time before the rumors started up.  As I mentioned a week ago, Melvin Mora‘s the best available third baseman and the Phillies desperately need one of those.

Now that contract extension talks have broken off between Mora’s agent and the Orioles, the New Jersey Courier-Post reports:

"Mora is believed to be interested in playing with fellow Venezuelan Bobby Abreu. If Mora hopes to be traded this season to Philadelphia, two things might stand in his way. The Phillies currently have three players that can play third base and Abreu would certainly be involved in the trade."

I still don’t know why Mora just didn’t take the money.  But as to the quote above, I think two things stand in Mora’s way, and they’re neither of the two listed.

First, the idea that the Phillies have three players that can play third base is technically true, but far from a roadblock.  We are talking about David Bell (worst regular in baseball last year), Alex Gonzalez (the 33 year-old with his fifth team in three years), and Abraham Nunez (has topped a .700 OPS once in his career).  Not exactly Wright, A-Rod, and Miggy here.   

Second, the idea that the Phils could only acquire Mora if they sent Abreu the other way. Huh?  Wouldn’t the Orioles prefer someone young and affordable?  One of Cole Hamels or Gavin Floyd would seem sufficient for an impending free agent.

The first real issue here is money.  According to my Phillies source, the team is stretched at their $92MM payroll and even Mora’s $4MM for ’06 would be pushing it.  They just added a mil for David Dellucci too.  Maybe spending five mil spread among Ryan Franklin, Gonzalez, and Nunez wasn’t such a bright idea?

The other problem with a Mora-to-Philly deal is that third base, no matter how bleak, may not be the team’s most pressing need.  Pat Gillick may want to focus on finding a decent backup for Tom Gordon, as the team really doesn’t have one.  If Flash and his questionable elbow go down for any length of time, who will the Phillies turn to?  Madson?  Need him starting.  Rhodes?  Bombed in the role. 

I suppose if you want to get really crazy, you could cook up a scenario in which the Phils send Abreu and cash to Baltimore (thus freeing up payroll) and receive Mora and a decent reliever in return.  I’d say LaTroy Hawkins, but something tells me he wouldn’t thrive in Philly if forced to close games.  And would Mora still embrace a trade if he didn’t get to play alongside Abreu?   

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The Torii Hunter Situation

I noticed in the Star Tribune yesterday that Torii Hunter, the Twins’ highest paid player, "has expressed doubts the team will pick up his $12MM option for 2007."  The Twins have the option of buying the option out for $2MM. 

Hunter is, of course, only the highest-paid Twin in 2006 because the club backloaded Johan Santana‘s four-year deal.  Santana will make $9MM in ’06, $12MM in ’07, and $13.25MM in ’08.  Without doing any research whatsoever, I’m guessing the last two years of Santana’s deal will be Twins records for salaries.

Tough to say whether the Twins will keep Hunter around for $12MM or pay $2MM to be off the hook.  Will Hunter be worth that much money when he enters his age 31 season in 2007?  Baseball Prospectus says no, valuing him at just $4,575,000 for that year.  In fact, they think he’s only going to be worth $12MM for all of 2006-10. 

However, their numbers don’t really take into account the center fielder market for the 2006-07 offseason.  Jim Edmonds will be available if Walt Jocketty chooses his $3MM buyout over his $10MM salary (doubtful, since Edmonds actually will be worth ten mil in ’07).  Mike Cameron would be available if the Padres buy out his $7MM option.  Juan Pierre, Kenny Lofton, Preston Wilson (three-year club option), Jay Payton, and Dave Roberts can all be free agents if they aren’t signed to extensions.

Edmonds and Pierre figure to be out of the Twins’ range, so if they let Hunter go they’ll probably go for a second-tier option like Payton or Roberts.  Which, in my opinion, would actually be the ideal move.

With their pitching staff and some mild offensive upgrades, the Twins are unlikely to fall out of contention before the trading deadline.  So I would imagine that Hunter stays put.  Terry Ryan does have some salary dumps to his credit: Rick Aguilera, Scott Erickson, and Kevin Tapani in 1995, Dave Hollins in 1996 (for David Ortiz!), and Roberto Kelly in 1997.  (Source: Will Young at Baseball Think Factory).

The salary dumps, however, were before the Twins started competing.  Ryan would probably be killed by Twins fans if the team is in the hunt this summer and he trades Hunter for prospects.  Still, a desperate Bill Stoneman or Jim Bowden could make Ryan an offer he can’t refuse.  It’s a longshot, but I can envision a scenario in which Darin Erstad gets hurt and the team doesn’t want to throw Chone Figgins or Juan Rivera out there.       

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Thoughts On Zito

Just read the latest Barry Zito article, wherein Zito agreed with former teammates Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi that he would thrive in New York.  He declined to pick a favorite NY team, however.  At this point, it’s pretty clear that Minaya and Cashman are going to go toe to toe for his services this winter, and it’ll be pretty entertaining.  The rumormongering will be ridiculous.

The losing team will probably end up with Jason Schmidt, Kerry Wood, Kelvim Escobar, Andy Pettitte, or Mark Mulder.  I think the first four will have fine seasons, but I’m not so sure about Mulder.

I know this has been said before, probably by many of our friends at Athletics Nation.  But now I’m on board: I do not think Zito will be dealt this season.  Don’t worry, I’ll still pass along any decent rumor that comes my way. 

The A’s were in a semi-rebuilding mode when they traded Hudson and Mulder.  They stayed in the playoff hunt, but they weren’t the team they are now.  The 2006 A’s are built to win and not rebuild at all.  Hence, the Thomas and Loaiza signings.  In my mind, the chances that Beane finds another Dan Haren available this July are slim.  It would be like the Phils trading Ryan Madson plus a top prospect, or the Twins giving up Scott Baker and a top prospect.  The White Sox giving up Brandon McCarthy.  Jocketty sending Anthony Reyes over.  None of these "young stud with Major League experience" scenarios sound feasible.  The A’s will just let Zito play out his last season as they have with many impending free agents in the past.

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Phillies Buzz Abounds

I’m still trying to piece together the latest Phillies buzz.  Phils fans and stadium employees have been emailing me the last couple of days, telling me that the local word is that the David Dellucci trade is a precursor to something bigger.  I haven’t been able to verify with any of my sources that anything is afoot.

One scenario is that Dellucci was acquired only because Phils GM Pat Gillick has concerns about Pat Burrell‘s health.  Said Will Carroll today:

"Pat Burrell is worrying the Phillies. His left foot problem is starting to cascade, leading to a left calf problem that some scouts think might be a knee injury. Given the David Dellucci trade, the Phillies now have a solid backup.

Some are speculating that this is prelude to some kind of Bobby Abreu trade, but looking back at some of Pat Gillick’s moves, you can see that he likes to hedge his bets with injuries and team depth. While my best Phillies source tells me that Burrell’s leg problems aren’t major, Gillick’s move should keep everyone on alert and watching closely."

Buster Olney, on the other hand, speculated yesterday that the Dellucci trade is part of a complicated series of moves:

"Phillies GM Pat Gillick knows Dellucci from his days as GM of the Orioles, and I don’t think he’d be picking him up knowing that David would only be pinch-hitter type. There’s more mad scientist in Gillick than any general manager I’ve covered; he always thinking two or three moves ahead, and he won’t always tell you what he’s doing. You have to think, on the face of it, that the acquisition of Dellucci is merely the first domino to fall."

Maybe you’d prefer to just listen to Gillick himself, who said today that the deal doesn’t have any mysterious implications of future moves.  I don’t know.  But I see a team that could catapult to the front of the NL East with one above average starter in place of Gavin Floyd/Ryan Franklin.  My best guess is that the Phils stand pat until both of those guys prove they can’t provide league average innings. We already know Franklin can’t, so the decision will rest on Floyd.  Randy Wolf has said he wants to make ten starts this year, so maybe he’s that guy.