September 2006

2007 Seattle Mariners

Next up, those Seattle Mariners.  Many thanks to the fine Mariners blogs U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing for their work.  It’s always good to consult the experts before doing a writeup on their team. 

Bill Bavasi’s contract obligations:

C – Kenji Johjima – $5.2MM
C – Guillermo Quiroz – $0.3275MM
1B – Richie Sexson – $14MM
2B – Jose Lopez – $0.335MM
SS – Yuniesky Betancourt – $0.4MM
3B – Adrian Beltre – $11.5MM
IF – Willie Bloomquist – $1MM
LF – Raul Ibanez – $5.5MM
CF – Ichiro Suzuki – $11MM
RF – Chris Snelling – $0.3285MM
OF – Jeremy Reed – $0.375MM
DH – Ben Broussard – $2.5MM, Eduardo Perez – club option, est. $2MM

SP –
SP – Felix Hernandez – $0.34MM
SP – Jarrod Washburn – $10MM (estimated)
SP – Jake Woods – $0.332MM
SP – Cha Seung Baek – $0.332MM

RP – J.J. Putz – $0.415MM
RP – Rafael Soriano – $0.5MM
RP – George Sherrill – $0.335MM
RP – Francisco Cruceta – $0.33MM
RP – Mark Lowe – $0.33MM
RP – Julio Mateo – $1MM

It seems that the club has roughly $70-75MM tied up for 2007.  The Opening Day 2006 payroll was about $88MM.  There are all sorts of ways Bavasi can prove his mettle with the ’07 club.

The catching situation is well accounted for, and that’s a feather in Bavasi’s cap.  It’s probably time to let Quiroz back up Johjima, which is not a big risk because Johjima is out there almost 85% of the time.

In perusing Lookout Landing, speculation was that the Ms could attempt to trade Sexson this winter coming off a resurgent second half.  Given his salary, age, and profile, that’s a fine idea.  In the meantime, we’ll pencil him in.

The middle infield looks OK.  Jose Lopez appeared to be breaking out this year, but pitchers adjusted and he hasn’t responded.  Next year will be his age 23 season, so there’s hope for more growth.  Betancourt’s stepped it up a little bit and will hopefully continue to do so as a 25 year-old.

Since June, Beltre’s been quite good at .284/.343/.521.  Mark Teahen is the only 3B in the league who outhit him over that time period.  Beltre could still be moved; Bavasi might get a good return given the weak free agent class. 

Ibanez is solid in left, and Ichiro’s finally moved to CF to help the club.  It looks like Snelling can hit like a league average RF (.287/.350/.472).  It would be wise to keep Jeremy Reed around as a fourth outfielder and defensive replacement rather than deal him with his value at a low.

The Brourez DH monster hasn’t worked out well in Seattle, surprisingly.  At least part of it should be back for ’07, if for nothing else than to justify the price paid for Perez and Broussard.

Skipping ahead to the bullpen – it looks like one of the game’s best and at a ridiculously low cost.  If the medical staff can keep these guys healthy Mariner games will become six inning affairs.

Obviously the big need in Seattle is starting pitching.  Woods and Baek should maybe be competing for the fifth slot, but both will probably struggle given full-season exposure.  Both pitchers might be penciled into rotation slots to begin 2007, but it won’t end that way.  In reality, the Ms need one ace and one mid-level guy to field a competitive team next year.  Ryan Feierabend looks promising, but may not be ready until 2008. 

Maybe the Japanese connection will help the Mariners snare Daisuke Matsuzaka, or perhaps Jason Schmidt or Adam Eaton will be persuaded to pitch near home.  Getting the Japanese star in addition to Schmidt/Zito could never happen given the number of teams looking to spend money on pitching.  Bavasi should do everything he can to get Matsuzaka, and then try a Miguel Batista/Byung-Hyun Kim/Jeff Weaver type as well.  Last year, the Mariners came in second in an attempt to sign Wade Miller.  They could renew interest this winter.         

2007 Philadelphia Phillies

People seem to be enjoying these 2007 outlooks I’ve been doing by team, so I’ll keep ’em coming.  Check out the new 2007 Team Outlooks link to see all of the past ones. 

Here are the current contract obligations for the Phillies.  I should also add that I utilized the terrific Beerleaguer Phillies Blog as a resource to learn some details about the team’s plans.

C – Carlos Ruiz – $0.33MM
C – Chris Coste – $0.33MM
1B – Ryan Howard – $0.355MM
2B – Chase Utley – $0.5MM
SS – Jimmy Rollins – $7MM
3B –
1B/OF – Jeff Conine – $2MM mutual option
IF – Abraham Nunez – $2.1MM
LF – Pat Burrell – $13MM
CF – Aaron Rowand – $3.25MM player or $5MM club option
RF – Shane Victorino – $0.33MM

SP – Brett Myers – $3.3MM
SP – Cole Hamels – $0.33MM
SP – Jamie Moyer – $6MM
SP – Jon Lieber – $7.5MM
SP –

RP – Tom Gordon – $7MM
RP – Ryan Madson – $0.4MM
RP – Geoff Geary – $0.35MM
RP – Fabio Castro – $0.327MM
RP – Clay Condrey – $0.33MM
RP – Matt Smith – $0.33MM
RP – Eude Brito – $0.33MM

Current obligations, once raises come in, look to be a touch over $60MM.  The Phils began last season with an $88MM payroll, so there should be money to spend this winter.

Mike Lieberthal‘s finally off the books, and it does not seem like the Phils will bring him back in a part-time role.  Pat Gillick hasn’t fully committed to it, but he is open to the idea of going with the low-cost Ruiz/Coste tandem.  Ruiz will be 28 next season, and he hit a robust .307/.389/.505 at Triple A this year.  He’s gotten only 59 big league ABs to prove himself this year.  Coste is a minor league lifer who bombed in a Triple A stint this year but had a great July and August for the Phillies.

The Phils have a great infield core, but have lacked a league average third baseman since David Bell‘s 2004.  They’ll probably look to the free agent market for their next 3B.  Options include Pedro Feliz, Aubrey Huff, Joe Randa, Nomar Garciaparra, Shea Hillenbrand, and perhaps Aramis Ramirez.  Not all of those guys can post an .820 OPS (league average) as well as handle third base regularly.  Gillick will just have to do the best he can; I can see him ending up with Hillenbrand.  If Ramirez hits the market, it will be tough to outbid the Angels and Dodgers.  The longshot solution: trade for Alex Rodriguez.

Pat the Bat has an untradeable contract and a no-trade clause, so the Phillies will have to be happy with Burrell in left.  Maybe Gillick can get creative and make something work, but the odds are against it.  Though Burrell’s 2006 may seem disappointing, it’s been very similar to his ’05.  He’s still hitting better than the average NL LF.

Some Phils fans envision Victorino in center and Rowand moving to right, but the above arrangement seems most likely.  Gillick will have to choose between using Victorino as a subpar offensive RF or a very good fourth outfielder.  In a perfect world, he’d sign a better RF and choose the latter option.  The market does contain some useful right fielders like Jose Guillen or Gary Sheffield.  This could be a creative way to compensate for the weak 3B market.

Pitching staff: the current version of Jon Lieber isn’t a great way to spend $7.5MM, but it’s been an inflated pitching market for years.  You could do worse for your fourth starter.  A front two of Myers and Hamels is impressive.  When he traded for Moyer, Gillick worked out a mutual option for 2007 with him.  I guessed around $6MM.  Right now it’s just a possibility that Moyer returns.  Given the short-term commitment and Moyer’s success, the Phils really need him to stay.

If Moyer stays, the Phillies can get by trying Brito, Gavin Floyd, or a retread in the fifth starter slot.  Carlos Silva‘s name has also been mentioned.  If Moyer leaves, they need to hit the market and spend some money.  The market offers options aplenty, depending on what Gillick wants to spend.  Big names, medium names, former Phillies, it’s all there.  The club could opt to retain Randy Wolf, but I don’t see it.   

The bullpen looks fine to me.  Gordon, the emergence of Geary, the re-establishment of Madson – they should be OK.  Maybe one low-level signing.


Bob Wickman Stays With Braves

Finding a return to the NL to his liking, 37 year-old closer Bob Wickman has re-upped with the Braves for one year and $6.5MM.  It seems a little pricey for a guy valued at about a million bucks for 2007 by Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projection system.  Still, he was the best option in a thin market

Some teams are already thinking outside the box when looking for closers.  The Red Sox are considering trying hard-thrower Matt Clement in the role.  His stuff is nasty, so maybe a move to the ‘pen would do him good.  Other possible converts include Adam Eaton, Randy Wolf, and Kerry Wood.  Wood is the most likely to make the switch, and he could find some interested parties despite pitching only 85 innings over the past two seasons.

2007 Los Angeles Angels

So Arte Moreno has guaranteed big changes in Los Angeles this winter.  Let’s explore his current obligations and needs.

C – Mike Napoli – $0.35MM
C – Jose Molina – $1.25MM
1B – 
2B – Howie Kendrick – $0.35MM
SS – Orlando Cabrera – $7.5MM
3B –
IF – Robb Quinlan – $0.365MM
IF – Maicer Izturis – $0.35MM
LF – Juan Rivera – $2.025MM
CF – Chone Figgins – $3.5MM
RF – Vladimir Guerrero – $13.5MM
DH – Garret Anderson – $11MM

SP – Bartolo Colon – $14MM
SP – Kelvim Escobar – $8.5MM
SP – John Lackey – $5.5MM
SP – Ervin Santana – $0.35MM
SP – Joe Saunders – $0.35MM
SP – Jered Weaver – $0.35MM

RP – Francisco Rodriguez – $3.775MM
RP – Hector Carrasco – $2.75MM
RP – Scot Shields – $2.1MM
RP – Brendan Donnelly – $0.95MM
RP – Kevin Gregg – $0.36MM
RP –
RP –

This club has about $80MM committed for ’07, and we can tack on another $5MM or so for raises.  But I haven’t seen any particular payroll limit mentioned, so they may be willing to take on another $40MM for next year.

The needs are fairly obvious: big bats at the corners.  I’m sure they’re praying Aramis Ramirez opts out of his contract, because then there’d be a bona fide slugger available for third base.  Assuming he doesn’t, there’s always the Miguel Tejada option.  The Angels are stacked with enough starting pitching and position prospect depth to get a deal done.  Even if the Orioles are difficult.

Another good option at third would be Joe Crede, should the White Sox make him available.  Guys like Hank Blalock and Adrian Beltre could be had, but no one knows if they’ll bounce back.  Morgan Ensberg is a name you don’t hear a lot in connection with the Angels, but he’d be a decent fit.

First base doesn’t offer many top tier choices, though Gary Sheffield would be interesting.  And really, who can’t play first base?  The Angels could make room for Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Moises Alou, Barry Bonds, or even Jim Edmonds if they had to.  Also, given the fragility of Garret Anderson and Mike Napoli‘s abysmal second half performance, signing Mike Piazza would be a smart move.

While most free agent signings mean overpaying, it may be a better option for L.A. than trading top-tier prospects like Nick Adenhart, Brandon Wood, Erick Aybar, or Hank Conger.  The team is also stocked with lesser but still interesting talent like Kendry Morales, Reggie Willits, Jeff Mathis, Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson, Terry Evans, and Sean Rodriguez

One could practically assemble a team of "failed" Angels prospects.  I’m sure the club expected the corners to be a strength when McPherson and Kotchman were on the rise.  McPherson will be 27 next year and took a step backward at Triple A, so his star is dimming quickly.  Though Kotchman lost this season to mono, he’ll only be 24 next year and has quite a bit of promise.  And Mathis?  He had a 12 game trial before his demotion.  He’s only 23, and he posted a decent .763 OPS in Triple A this year.  Morales got less than 200 ABs to establish himself at age 23.

Moreno has pledged to shake things up, so we are going to see trades, signings, and veteran acquisitions.  Personally, I’d rather see the team try Wood at third, Kotchman/Morales at first, and Mathis behind the plate.  I’d sign Piazza in case Kotchman/Morales/Mathis doesn’t work out, and acquire a third baseman midseason if Wood proves he’s not ready.  Given the rotation depth and young talent, I don’t see the need for a huge expenditure.

If I had to spend money, I’d give Sheffield a two-year deal to play first and let Kotchman re-establish himself in Triple A.  Then I’d use him as primary trade bait to fill any midseason needs.  Trading a starter like Saunders or Santana could prove shortsighted, as Colon and Escobar are not entirely reliable.  Colon, for one, is recovering from a torn rotator cuff.  Ask Mark Prior how that worked out.  Flashback to February: "My shoulder is perfectly healthy."


Carroll: Aramis Ramirez To Stay A Cub?

Baseball Prospectus’s Will Carroll gave hope to Cubs fans everywhere in his chat today.  When posed a question about Aramis Ramirez leaving the Cubs as a free agent, he responded:

"I don’t think Ramirez will leave. In fact, I think the deal’s essentially done to keep him."

I thought that one line was definitely noteworthy, as Carroll is known to have some solid Cubs sources.  Last month, the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan indicated that Ramirez would stay, while SI’s Jon Heyman thought differently.

New York Teams Back Off On Zito

Not what Scott Boras wanted to hear: multiple newspapers are reporting that both New York teams have minimal interest in Barry Zito.  This is the complete opposite of what we were hearing in April.  Popular speculation is that the Padres and Rangers are now the biggest horses in the race.

Some other possibilities:

Orioles – Another offseason, another promise of spending money.  Doesn’t seem like Angelos would meet Zito’s price, though he probably loves the flawless medical record.  In addition, Angelos does not like to deal with Boras.  So scratch this possibility; they’ll probably acquire a lesser starter.

Blue JaysThey’ve got money to burn and need at least one starter.  I think the Jays will at least entertain Zito but will probably miss out.

Red Sox – I don’t see him fitting into Theo’s plans, especially if Papelbon is moved to the rotation. 

Mariners – Seattle will have three vacant rotation spots this offseason assuming Gil Meche departs.  Zito could be Plan B if they miss out on or can’t afford Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Phillies – Unless that whole J.D. Drew thing still lingers for some reason, the Phillies could be a player.  They will have some vacancies in the rotation.  Still, I don’t see them coming in with the best offer.

Cubs – The Cubs could try to make a statement: fire Dusty, throw down the big bucks on Zito.  Jim Hendry doesn’t mind working with Boras at all.  This team is better primed to win in 2008, though, and needs position players the most.  For that reason I see the money going towards Carlos Lee or Alfonso Soriano.

Diamondbacks – The club has no issues with Boras, dealing with him on Stephen Drew and others.  They also have a definite need for pitching if they are to compete in the near future.  Would Josh Byrnes take on a contract like that?  Guess we’ll see.

Dodgers – If Greg Maddux returns, the Dodgers don’t have an opening.  They seem more likely to spend their money on Aramis Ramirez.

Giants – San Francisco will need to replace Jason Schmidt, but Ted Lilly seems more their speed.  And he wants to play there. 

There’s no standout player aside from the Rangers and Padres.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jays, Mariners, or Cubs jump into the bidding, however. 


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Daisuke Matsuzaka Video

A little more on Japanese hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Check out this video of him throwing his various pitches.  It’s the best look I’ve had at his breaking ball.  It might be a screwball or something weird, but let’s remember that Jeff Passan has established that it’s not a gyroball.

When we last checked in, there was a 50/50 chance of Matsuzaka being posted by the Lions.  Here’s a rundown on the suitors:

This Boston Herald article informed us that the Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets are currently scouting Matsuzaka in Japan.  As of September 11th, his numbers looked like thisNewsday tells us the Mets will be aggressive in their pursuit.  The Rangers are scouting Matsuzaka as well.  The Orioles expressed interest in August.   

The Dodgers and Mariners are often linked to Matsuzaka, but I haven’t seen anything lately on those clubs.

2007 Boston Red Sox

Recently, I took a look at how the 2007 Blue Jays might spend their money this winter.  Let’s give the Red Sox the same treatment.

Under contract for 2007:

Expected 2007 payroll: $120-140MM (Olney)

C – Jason Varitek – $9MM
1B – Kevin Youkilis – $0.4MM
2B – Dustin Pedroia – 0.3MM
SS –
3B – Mike Lowell – $9MM
LF – Manny Ramirez – $18MM
CF – Coco Crisp – $3.5MM
RF – Wily Mo Pena – $2.5MM, Eric Hinske – $5.625MM
DH – David Ortiz – $12.5MM

SP – Curt Schilling – $13MM
SP – Josh Beckett – $6MM
SP – Tim Wakefield – $4MM
SP – Jonathan Papelbon – $0.35MM
SP –
SP – Matt Clement – $9.5MM
SP – Jon Lester – $0.35MM

RP –
RP – Julian Tavarez – $3.1MM
RP – Craig Hansen – $1MM
RP – Manny Delcarmen – $0.35MM
RP –
RP –
RP – Craig Breslow – $0.3MM

The Red Sox have about $100MM committed by my estimate; you can add in a few more million in case they hang on to Hee Seop Choi or Carlos Pena

The team’s decision with Jonathan Papelbon will be interesting because it will determine the area of pitching on which they need to focus.  If he goes to the rotation, the team can get by without a major free agent signing.  I’m assuming Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, and Papelbon enter spring training healthy.  The team could use spot starters like Kyle Snyder to fill the fifth spot until one of Matt Clement or Jon Lester is ready to step in.

Taking Papelbon out of the bullpen leaves us with Julian Tavarez and a cast of even bigger question marks.  The free agent market offers no reassurances.  The Red Sox can bring back guys like Keith Foulke, Chad Bradford, Alan Embree, or Mike Timlin, but those are expensive gambles.  They can risk millions on Danys Baez, Eric Gagne, Bob Wickman, or Joe BorowskiAs I mentioned before, a trade for Brad Lidge might make sense in this scenario.  Boston is going to have to stockpile relief pitching depth somehow.  One outside the box solution would be to go after Japanese closer Hirotoshi Ishii.

I figure the club can go with Dustin Pedroia at second base to save some cash, making shortstop the only obvious remaining hole.  Alex Gonzalez would be no worse a solution than he was last year.  Otherwise there’s Craig Counsell or maybe overpaying for Julio Lugo.  The answer here won’t be pretty.

As far as trades go, speculation has been that the Red Sox will attempt to unload some of Mike Lowell, Coco Crisp, and Matt Clement.  This is where Theo Epstein has the chance to be creative and find some relievers for cheap.  Crisp and Clement would be selling low, so the Red Sox could wait until they show something in ’07 before making a deal. 

Lowell’s had a nice bounceback season; he’s been a touch above league average for his position.  Given a weak free agent 3B class the Red Sox might get some value back by taking on a portion of his $9MM salary.  The Sox could use Kevin Youkilis at third base and then try some combo of Hinske, Choi, and Pena at first.  The Twins, Angels, Phillies, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, or Padres could match up in a Lowell trade.

If ownership really does want to expand the payroll past $120MM, they could make another attempt to bring Roger Clemens in as a midseason reinforcement.  Buster Olney, for one, sees this happening. 


Red Sox Should Trade For Lidge

Given Jonathan Papelbon‘s recent hints about starting in 2007, there’s a lot of hubbub about who might close for the Red Sox next season.

Let me preface this by saying that I agree with Baseball Prospectus’s Nate Silver: Papelbon should remain a closer.  His utter dominance in relief, the taxing nature of his splitter, the open question about his ability to throw 200 innings.  Why risk it?  As Silver says, "A great closer is as valuable as all but the very best starters, once we properly account for the effects of leverage."

But say the Red Sox do use Papelbon as a starter in 2007 (I’m not anywhere near convinced they will).  Who’s going to pitch the ninth inning in Boston?  It’s really not their style to pursue any of these guys.  Only Eric Gagne has the potential to be elite, so the Boston papers are throwing his name around.  But let’s not forget that Gagne has thrown all of 15.3 innings over the last two seasons.  He’s a very risky signing, especially if he would require an inflated offer to leave L.A.

The better solution, in my mind, is to try to trade for Brad Lidge.  Lidge is still healthy and it would be a buy low situation.  It wouldn’t be the first time the Red Sox have looked at acquiring him.  Lidge is still racking up the strikeouts, though his control has slipped to a dangerous level.  He won’t be a free agent until after the 2008 season.

Whether or not the Red Sox target Lidge, relying on one of the available free agent closers doesn’t seem like their style.  They gave Keith Foulke a big contract after 2003, but Foulke was one of the game’s dominant closers at the time.  There’s no similar free agent option this year.  How about a creative solution: give the job to a starter?  Matt Clement, Adam Eaton, Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, Kerry Wood, or Randy Wolf could surprise as a closer if one of them is willing to give it a shot. 

2007 MLB Free Agents: Luis Gonzalez

It’s been reported in multiple papers that the Diamondbacks will not be offering left fielder Luis Gonzalez a contract for 2007.  He’ll join a robust free agent left fielder market this winter.

The average left fielder posts an OPS in the .810-.825 range, while Gonzalez stands at .824 this season.  A second half doubles surge, which included a .906 OPS, has brought him up to that mark after a subpar first half in the power department.  Baseball Prospectus projects a .266/.355/.463 line from him next year (that’d be an .818 OPS in his age 39 season).  Such a performance would justify a one-year deal for $2.5MM, according to BP.

According to an Arizona Republic article, Gonzalez could play for his hometown Devil Rays but probably prefers to remain in the NL.  The Cardinals would be a pretty good fit if they chose not to rely on Chris Duncan.  The Giants might be another possibility.