Last year, one of the "in the bag" free agent signings was Frank Thomas to the Athletics. It had been long-rumored, and both sides wanted to make it happen. This year, Woody Williams and the Astros may be a similar match.
Said John P. Lopez of the Houston Chronicle on August 31st:
"And that front-line starting pitcher the Astros will try to land come the winter? He's out there, watching. His name could well be Woody Williams, the Padres starter and long-rumored Astros acquisition who's apparently keen on making it happen this time."
Williams is thought to be intent on becoming an Astro because he is a Houston native. If Williams is truly looked at as a front-line guy in this winter's market, perhaps he won't be the fourth starter for my All-Bargain Free Agent rotation after all. Woody's making about $5MM this year, and could be in line for a deal similar to the one Kenny Rogers received before this season. Rogers inked a two-year, $16MM contract with the Tigers.
Baseball Prospectus projects Williams to be worth about $5.6MM from 2007-08, but you have to overpay for starting pitching.
According to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, one of the biggest priorities for the Angels this offseason will be locking up closer Francisco Rodriguez to a long-term deal. K-Rod is due for free agency after the '08 season, and the Yankees are already said to be eyeing him up as the heir to Mariano Rivera.
This year is Rodriguez's age 24 season, and he's already accumulated 100 saves. He's showing the best command of his career, though the side effect is that he's got the worst hit rate of his career. Still, 6.5 hits per nine is pretty damn good. It's also apparent that Rodriguez is allowing more flyballs than ever. Probably not a big deal, as his home run rate remains solid.
The elephant in the room, at least in my mind, is Rodriguez's delivery. Said Will Carroll in February:
"It's incredibly hard to predict player injuries, though if you were going to put money on anyone's elbow blowing up, the safe bet would be on K-Rod. There's almost nothing mechanically right with his delivery and he showed all sorts of indicators last year with a tender elbow, a forearm strain, and an obvious difficulty throwing his fastball."
This season, Rodriguez has experienced nothing worse than a hamstring cramp. I asked Will today: will K-Rod's contract extension bomb? Do the red flags he mentioned in the preseason still portend elbow surgery? Will likened Rodriguez to a lit firecracker that doesn't go off: "You'd sit and wait, wondering if it was a dud or a long fuse. You'd go up to it slowly, ready to dive away if it went off."
Will did point out that Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system likes him - it suggests K-Rod will be worth anywhere from $10-15MM annually through 2010. Obviously, only time will tell.
Ah, finally a legitimate trade rumor. The well had been running dry for a while. Doug Padilla of the L.A. Daily News tells us that center fielder/utility man Chone Figgins could be traded this offseason, possibly to the White Sox for Joe Crede.
Crede, who is represented by Scott Boras, has continually inked one-year deals with the Sox. This is his fourth full season, and he's making a little less than $3MM. Crede's breakout .298/.331/.535 campaign should bring another hefty raise. Crede should cross or near the 30 HR, 100 RBI plateaus for the first time in his career. He'll be a very valuable trade commodity if the Sox wish to turn third base over to Josh Fields eventually. This is Crede's age 28 season. The market for free agent third basemen is bleak unless Aramis Ramirez opts out of his contract.
Figgins, on the other hand, has taken a step backward in his age 28 season. He's earning $2.25MM in '06, $3.5MM in '07, and $4.75MM in '08. Figgins has been reliant upon a .295 batting average to keep his OBP in an acceptable range, and this year his average dropped to .254. His contact rate is the lowest of his career, though his walk rate is the highest it's been. 96% of Figgins's ABs have come from the leadoff spot, which isn't a great idea when you're below average at getting on base.
Figgins is very similar to Scott Podsednik, only more versatile. They have almost identical numbers this year. It would be peculiar for the Sox to cut Pods and then trade their star third baseman for Figgins. I really can't see Kenny Williams doing this, though he did reportedly express interest in late June.
It's a common refrain among impending free agents: "I'll give my current team every chance to re-sign me before hitting the open market." Recently, it's been Vernon Wells and Gil Meche singing that particular tune.
Here's the thing about Wells: he's not an impending free agent. He'll be a free agent after 2007; he'll earn $5.6MM next year. The standard superstar practice is to start the contract negotiations a year early. Almost as if the Blue Jays owe Wells something because he's playing at a below-market price in 2007. Which is silly, because it was the Jays taking on the risk of giving Wells a five-year, $14.7MM contract after one full season in the bigs.
Then there's Gil Meche, whose career year should earn him the big bucks. Among free agent starters, Meche has had the 15th best overall season so far according to Baseball Prospectus. He owns the 7th best strikeout rate, 9th best ERA, and 13th best WHIP. It's the solid K rate and the fact that he just turned 28 that places Meche among the cream of the free agent starter crop. The downside is that he's yet to pitch 200 innings in a season.
In case you were curious, here are the top fifteen free agent starters ranked by 2006 VORP:
1. Jason Schmidt
2. Barry Zito
3. Mike Mussina
4. Roger Clemens
5. Tom Glavine
6. Andy Pettitte
7. Miguel Batista
8. Jamie Moyer
9. Vicente Padilla
10. Greg Maddux
11. Woody Williams
12. Ted Lilly
13. Brad Radke
14. Jeff Suppan
15. Gil Meche
Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an informative look at how the Cardinals will reshape their team this winter.
Aside from a major rotation makeover, there's also the issue of Jim Edmonds's $10MM option. According to Strauss:
"The Cardinals are increasingly unlikely to assume Edmonds' $10 million option for 2007, an issue complicated by the Gold Glove outfielder's ongoing struggle with post-concussion syndrome, according to club sources."
I have a lot of faith in Strauss's club sources, and this has definitely been the vibe lately. Edmonds himself feels that it will be declined.
I know it's been a disappointing year for Edmonds, but I have to get up on my soapbox again: exercising his option is a no-brainer for the Cardinals. They need a center fielder. Edmonds is still well above average. The decision to exercise the option is essentially the decision to give him a one year, $7MM deal (given the $3MM buyout price). What team, in need of a center fielder, wouldn't take Edmonds at that price and length?
Teams do this all the time: they pass over the best option because he's the in-house option. No other good reason. Kind of reminds me of when the Cubs let Moises Alou walk after 2004. Say Edmonds had been a Yankee all his life, put up the exact same numbers, same contract, same post-concussion problems. Brian Cashman inexplicably buys him out this winter. Instead of testing the free agent waters, Edmonds tells Walt Jocketty he wants to be a Cardinal for one year, $7MM. Is there any chance in hell Jocketty would turn that down?
The alternatives: throw Juan Encarnacion out there, or sign one of these guys. I'm a big fan of the former option, because it rights the wrong that was signing Encarnacion to a three year, $15MM deal. I wish the Cubs would do this with Jacque Jones. A .776 OPS looks a lot better coming from CF than RF. The only catch is that Jocketty would then need to sign Moises Alou, Jose Guillen, Trot Nixon, or Gary Sheffield for right field. If that's the solution, I'll stop griping about Edmonds because that's not bad at all.
Is there anyone useful left among the free agent relievers? At this point, it's a mixed bag. Take a look at the available free agents.
Mike DeJean - He had shoulder surgery in June and barely pitched in 2006. He was useful in 2005 so someone will bring him aboard.
Dustin Hermanson - The White Sox declined their $3.65MM option on him after his back limited him to less than seven innings with the big club this year. The Yankees took a look at his medical records earlier this month.
Dan Kolb - Despite two full seasons of lousy pitching, the Cardinals, Marlins, and Rockies have been on his tail this winter.
Brian Meadows - Another guy who fell into some save opps when no one else was left. He could be decent in the NL for a million bucks.
Arthur Rhodes - To his credit, Rhodes was used in high leverage situations this year. He had a poor season in Philly, which ended with a strained elbow in September. If he can come back healthy he might be worth a look.
Scott Schoeneweis - He's left-handed, and he did good work in 15 inning stint with the Reds. Maybe the Tigers will bring him aboard.
Rudy Seanez - Seanez had a rough year with the Red Sox and Padres, but his strikeout rate remained strong. He's approaching 40 but may have a little bit left.
Jorge Sosa - Under 30, won 13 games in 2005? Why hasn't Jim Hendry thrown $10 million at this man? He doesn't really have any skills to speak of.
Ron Villone - He didn't accept the Yankees' offer of arbitration. The lefty's stats look ugly but he was excellent in the first half.
A laundry list of projects. I left Kent Mercker and Eddie Guardado off the list, as the Reds plan to invite them to spring training.
A week ago, I assembled a pretty decent squad of free agent position players for about $40MM in 2007. This week I'll take a crack at putting together the All-Bargain Rotation, no easy task given the market inflation. Given the nature of free agency, this is going to be a staff of veterans past their prime.
SP1 - Andy Pettitte. The 34 year-old southpaw has righted the ship since July. He's still got good command and gets his Ks. He also keeps the ball on the ground reasonably well. Would $16MM over two years do the trick? And is he interested in any team besides Houston?
SP2 - Randy Wolf. Wolf has to expect a pay cut from this year's $9 million salary. He should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery by next spring, and there's a decent chance he returns to his form from a few years ago. I'd hope to snag him for 2/$12MM, but it could take 3/$21MM.
SP3 - Greg Maddux. I've hopefully got my power lefties in tow, so now it's time to round the rotation out with some groundballing righthanded vets. I like Mad Dog for my #3. Even at 41, he can provide 200-210 innings with an ERA in the low 4s and a good groundball/flyball ratio. Perhaps not the best fit with my defensively challenged infield, but I can only do so much.
SP4 - Woody Williams. Kind of like Greg Maddux but without the grounders. I don't mind adding another 40 year-old to my ancient rotation. Woody is still better than league average. Tomo Ohka would work in this slot as well if he'd come at a better price.
SP5 - Jeff Weaver/Bruce Chen/Jason Johnson. I like the idea of taking three retreads and letting them duke it out for the fifth starter spot. The runner-up can be a long reliever and sixth starter. Though he's been consistently awful until this month, I somehow refuse to believe Weaver is toast. He threw 444 innings of very solid ball for the Dodgers from '04-05. Chen has never had much margin for error, but he was doing something right in 2005. Before this year, Johnson had proven a mid-4 ERA innings muncher with excellent groundball tendencies. Maybe he can be salvaged.
Here's the rotation, with projected salary:
Pettitte - $8MM
Wolf - $7MM
Maddux - $5MM
Williams - $4MM
Weaver/Chen/Johnson - $4MM
There's my motley crew, at around $30MM for the group. It's obviously a high-risk rotation, though that risk is spread out among everyone. For the most part the 1-4 pitchers should at least keep my team in the game.
A couple of interesting rookie southpaws have burst onto the scene in recent months. RotoAuthority has an in-depth look at Rich Hill and Chuck James.
There's been some talk in the Chicago papers that the Cubs may offer Juan Pierre three years and $24MM this offseason. Let's take a closer look at the 29 year-old speedster.
The Cubs acquired Pierre to play center field on December 7th of last year. Before then, the Cubs flirted with Milton Bradley, Brad Wilkerson, Austin Kearns, and Dave Roberts. Definitely a mixed bag there knowing what we know now. I was not a fan of the Pierre acquisition, though the price didn't seem terribly high to me. In hindsight, Cubs fans wouldn't mind having Ricky Nolasco back.
Pierre had an awful start to his Cubs career, hitting just .240/.276/.309 over the season's first two months. Something clicked in June, however, as he's hit .316/.363/.433 since. Still, Pierre is miscast as a leadoff hitter and perhaps even as a regular.
The point of a leadoff hitter is to get on base, right? Pierre ranks a woeful 24th in OBP among leadoff hitters with 300 plate appearances this season. Clunky guys like Kevin Youkilis and Jason Kendall are running circles around Pierre's OBP. Speaking of running, that's often the defense for letting a guy like Pierre lead off. But when you're getting nailed on 27% of your steal attempts, you're not adding much value there.
It's also well-known that Pierre doesn't make up for his offensive shortcomings with his center field defense. His arm is awful and his range is unimpressive. In short, Pierre would make a decent fourth outfielder. To pay him anywhere near $8MM annually is a mistake only the Cubs could make. Baseball Prospectus indicates that he should be paid about half that.
Cubs fans can only hope another, dumber team swoops in with an offer Pierre can't refuse. Matt Murton would be a better option atop the Cubs' order. Solid free agent outfielders include David Dellucci, Kenny Lofton, and Dave Roberts.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Padres will be involved in the Barry Zito sweepstakes this winter. Other interested parties include the Mets and Dodgers. The Padres will free up a significant amount of cash with Chan Ho Park and Ryan Klesko coming off the books.
Park is actually the one Padre who retains Scott Boras as his agent, so perhaps that will serve as a cautionary tale for Kevin Towers and Co. Zito has actually been fairly mediocre this year:
2006 League Averages for Pitchers:
AL: 4.53 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3.18 BB/9, 6.41 K/9, 1.13 HR/9, 9.49 H/9
NL: 4.50 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3.38 BB/9, 6.64 K/9, 1.11 HR/9, 9.27 H/9
3.79 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 3.93 BB/9, 6.20 K/9, 1.11 HR/9, 8.41 H/9
Based on those peripherals, Zito actually deserves a 4.38 ERA according to Component ERA. I'm not knocking Zito - there's something to be said for that kind of consistency. It's just that Zito's no ace. He'd actually fit quite well in San Diego, where Jake Peavy can where the ace label well if healthy. Ditto for Chicago, where Carlos Zambrano is top dog.