Word comes today from the New York Post that free agent infielder Julio Lugo grew up a Mets fan and will "definitely" consider the club if they're interested. He's open to second base or shortstop for his new team.
Last year, Lugo's age 29 season, looked like a career year for the shortstop. He hit .295/.362/.403 and was the fifth best shortstop in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus. This season, in an injury-shortened 72 games with the Devil Rays, Lugo hit .308/.373/.498. All three marks are career bests.
At the trading deadline, the Dodgers sent promising young prosect Joel Guzman to the Devil Rays for Lugo. Lugo's been a terrible hitter for L.A. while playing 2B, 3B, and even a little OF. It was a curious trade for Los Angeles.
As the easy choice for the best shortstop on the market, Lugo should command upwards of four years and $40MM. It would be surprising to see the Mets pay that kind of money for a second baseman, so Lugo would probably have to give a hometown discount to become a Met. Several teams are going to entertain the possibility of Lugo as their next shortstop. Possibilities include the Red Sox, Blue Jays, White Sox, and Reds. The smart money is on the Red Sox or Jays.
There was some ugliness involving Lugo and his wife in 2003. The Astros instantly demoted Lugo after he reportedly assaulted his wife. He was later found innocent after Mabely Lugo changed her story.
Is it too early to be talking about this? Apparently not. Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press throws it out there: what's going to happen when Johan Santana hits free agency after the 2008 season? Walters says Santana will still be just 29. In reality, 2009 will be his age 30 season.
Let's use Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection system to forecast how much money Santana might receive on the open market. Let's start with Roy Oswalt, who will receive $14.6MM annually in his new five-year deal. PECOTA says his forecasted performance is worth about $40MM for 2007-11 as opposed to the $73MM he will receive. That's more than an 80% premium for an ace starter.
Peter Greenberg currently represents Johan Santana. Other Greenberg clients include Bobby Abreu, Kelvim Escobar, Freddy Garcia, and Jose Reyes. It seems that if Greenberg plans to maximize Santana's payday, he could ask for $120MM over six years. Who knows? Santana might be able to get $150MM over seven seasons. He's been the best pitcher in baseball for three years running and has shown no signs of slowing down.
By my calculations, Jeremy Bonderman, Mark Prior, Brad Penny, Jake Peavy, and Ben Sheets will also be in the free agent class of 2009. '09 will be Bonderman's age 26 season and Peavy's age 28 year. If all of these guys actually hit the market the spending should get insane.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Blue Jays plan to increase player payroll "perhaps to $100 million or beyond." How should they spend their money to best position themselves for 2007?
Here are J.P. Ricciardi's contract obligations:
C - Jason Phillips - $0.55MM
1B - Lyle Overbay - $3MM
2B - Aaron Hill - $0.4MM
SS - John McDonald - $0.5MM
3B - Troy Glaus - $10.75MM
IF - John McDonald - $0.5MM
LF - Reed Johnson - $2MM
CF - Vernon Wells - $5.6MM
RF - Alex Rios - $0.4MM
OF - Adam Lind - $0.38MM
SP - Roy Halladay - $12.8MM
SP - A.J. Burnett - $12MM
SP - Gustavo Chacin - 0.4MM
SP - Shaun Marcum/Casey Janssen - $0.38MM
RP - B.J. Ryan - $5MM
RP - Jeremy Accardo - $0.4MM
RP - Jason Frasor - $0.4MM
RP - Scott Downs - $0.705MM
RP - Josh Towers - $2.9MM
RP - Brandon League - $0.38MM
RP - Francisco Rosario - $0.38MM
Toronto has roughly $67MM locked up after raises. At the least, the Blue Jays need a catcher, shortstop, DH, and starting pitcher. They might have $30-35MM to play with for '07. The Jays entered 2006 with a $71.9MM payroll.
For a team with money, Julio Lugo seems like the obvious choice at short. Might require $10MM annually. There's not much else in the free agent market, unless you fancy Craig Counsell, Rich Aurilia, or Alex Gonzalez. The Jays could try to trade for Miguel Tejada, if they want to part with Lind and others.
As far as backstops go, it would probably be best to just re-sign Gregg Zaun. The alternatives are not much better.
Of course, there are plenty of starters available. The Blue Jays have the cash, so they might as well sign a third ace to complement Halladay and Burnett. I hear some guys named Zito and Schmidt could command big bucks. If Ted Lilly will come back at a halfway decent price, Toronto should take it. However, retaining Lilly shouldn't be an excuse not to add a top-notch starter. Problem is, Zito and Schmidt really are the only two aces out there, and there are more than two teams in contention. The Blue Jays may end up with a Gil Meche even after making one of them a huge offer.
At least one player should be added at LF/DH. It makes sense to go for one big name and then give to other spot to Lind. Some options include Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, Moises Alou, Carlos Lee, and Alfonso Soriano.
With that amount of money to play with, the Blue Jays can become a serious force in 2007. Spending this cash is a smart move if it can propel them into the playoffs. Should be an exciting AL East in 2007.
Since the beginning of August, Barry Bonds has been on a tear. He's hitting .329/.459/.709 over those 27 games. The slugging ranks 4th among Major Leaguers, behind Travis Hafner, Ryan Howard, and Adam LaRoche.
Overall, Bonds's 1.001 OPS this season ranks 11th in baseball, right behind Miguel Cabrera. Any reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Bonds has appeared in 112 games this season, or about 81% of the Giants' contests. The 130 game pace beats preseason expectations. He also sports the game's best OBP at .462. The OBP leaderboard is littered with similarly slow-footed sluggers, so we shouldn't hold that against him too much. The one true flaw in the 42 year-old's game is his left field defense.
Aside from Ryan Howard, Bonds has been the game's hottest hitter over the last week. It's sparked more debate about his future. Bonds says he'd like to stay, but it's unclear whether the Giants want him back to pursue Hank Aaron's record. A lot of folks are dismissing the once-popular destination of Oakland because of Frank Thomas's resurgence. But if Thomas sticks to his desire for a two-year deal, the A's seem likely to let him walk. If they can secure Bonds as their DH for less than $10MM it could be a steal.
The Yankees are an intriguing option if they choose to let Gary Sheffield go and use Giambi or Bonds at first base. Same goes for the Red Sox, who could stick David Ortiz at first and create the most dangerous trio in baseball. Bonds could also fit with the Tigers, Mariners, or Rangers in '07. The Dodgers could be a long shot; they could use Bonds at first base for a year if Nomar Garciaparra departs.
"He may yet be considered untouchable by the Tigers. But he will become a free agent at the end of 2008. He has also shown some fourth-year inconsistency that might be troubling to the Tigers, typified by last week's loss at New York in less-than-inspiring fashion. Bonderman would, theoretically, be the kind of pitcher who could draw a heavy return. Conceivably, the Tigers could land a power first baseman, as well as an infield position prospect or two -- the kind of players they need in a minor league system where pitchers outnumber by a good margin the hitters being developed."
Bonderman, if he stays on course, is due for a massive payday after the above-mentioned 2008 season. At that point, he'll have just turned 26. It's a rarity to enter free agency at such a young age, but the Tigers brought this upon themselves. Dave Dombrowski chose to promote Bonderman in 2003 with no experience above A ball. I guess they really needed him to take part in the 119 loss season. Bonderman came over the previous year with Carlos Pena as part of the Ted Lilly deal.
Despite concerns about his "inconsistency," it's hard to view 2006 as anything but progress for Bonderman. He's on pace to set career bests in innings, strikeout rate, walk rate, and home runs allowed. He's thrown quality starts 57% of the time, on par with teammates Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson.
On the surface, though, Bonderman's more mainstream stats haven't been good enough to win over the media. His 4.01 ERA is nothing special. Then again, his component ERA comes out to 3.43. Component ERA is a Bill James invention that estimates what an ERA should be based on peripheral stats like hits, walks, and home runs allowed. It predicts next year's ERA better than the actual. Other unappreciated unlucky hurlers based on this stat include Jake Peavy, Matt Cain, and Dave Bush.
I imagine Bonderman's eleven wins are the other reason he's flown under the radar. Based on Expected Wins, he should have twelve. Teammates Kenny Rogers, currently with 15 wins, also should have twelve based on the way he's pitched. If Bonderman had a 3.43 ERA and 15 wins, he'd be looked at a bit differently right now.
It'll be interesting to see if the perception of Bonderman results in a deal this winter. He'll be 24 entering next season, and keeps getting better. He'd be a coveted commodity on the level of Josh Beckett, and perhaps even more highly regarded. The bounty could be huge...Miguel Cabrera huge if the Marlins want to go that way.
For those of you interested in fantasy baseball and possibilities for 2007, check out the latest post at RotoAuthority: 30 Homer Surprises.
It's tough to find bargains via free agency. Players are past their peaks and are being compensated more for their past performance than their future. Still, a few deals slip through the cracks every year. Let's assemble a lineup with the best bargains at each position. I'll do the pitchers in another post.
C - Gregg Zaun. A million bucks, .360 OBP. I'll take that any time for my catcher. J.P. Ricciardi can complain about payroll, but there was no good reason to toss $5 mil at Bengie Molina this year.
1B - Craig Wilson. The first base crop is pretty thin on good players, let alone bargains. It's a tough position to fill; you need to OPS somewhere between .810-.880 just to be league average. A 30 year-old Wilson would probably fall right in the middle of that range. For four or five million bucks that's not the worst thing in the world.
2B - Mark Loretta. The power's all gone, but at least he still gets on base. Shouldn't cost more than $4MM.
SS - Craig Counsell. He's not the most exciting choice, but Julio Lugo's not going to be a bargain. Counsell can play good defense and get on base a little bit. It'd make for a powerless middle infield, but they'd be affordable and won't embarrass you.
3B - Aubrey Huff. Another lousy market. Huff will be league average for a third baseman if he picks it up to career levels next year. He'll turn 30 in December. If Huff makes $7MM next year, he definitely won't be a bargain. But this is the best I can do, and I'm not picking Pedro Feliz.
LF - David Dellucci/Eric Byrnes. This platoon assumes Byrnes isn't offered or doesn't accept arbitration, so I'm cheating a little bit. But the point is to combine the righty-mashing Dellucci with a lefty-masher. There are plenty of other possibilities to reach the same goal: swap Dellucci out for Frank Catalanotto, swap Byrnes out for Jose Cruz Jr. It would require a manager that understands and respects the platoon; I'll take Larry Dierker. If done right I think you could get a .900 OPS and a short-term commitment for less than $7MM. Sure beats breaking the bank on Carlos Lee.
CF - Jim Edmonds. If he'll take around $7MM annually for a year or two, that could be a decent bargain. Even on the decline Edmonds is a great hitter for his position. And remember, I'm using some versatile fourth outfielder types in left who can help fill in for thirty games in center.
RF - Jose Guillen. He had an ugly half-season, dealing with all sorts of injuries and culminating in elbow surgery. He adds solid defense to this group and can hold his own with the bat. I'm going to offer one year, $6MM and a chance to re-establish himself.
So here's the Opening Day lineup, with projected salary:
Dellucci - $4MM
Loretta - $4MM
Edmonds - $8MM
Guillen - $6MM
Wilson - $5MM
Huff - $5MM
Zaun - $1.5MM
Counsell - $2MM
My 1-8 hitters make less than $36MM. Throw in Byrnes and we're probably around $40MM for the starting lineup. There are problems. The lineup lacks any monster hitters. It's quite old. Defense at first and third base will be lacking. It may have health issues with Guillen and Edmonds. A few things would have to go right, but this would still be a lineup without an easy out.
There's been some chatter about Dave Roberts lately - he'll be a coveted free agent this winter. Back in July, I discussed Roberts in my center fielder free agent market review:
"Roberts, 34, is best known for his stolen base in the 2004 ALCS. He's solidly above average at hitting but is ranked just 30th on defense. He's got a weak arm but was a solid defender prior to 2005. According to the Fielding Bible, Roberts still has his speed and range so he should bounce back defensively if healthy. He's been moved to left field to make an excellent pair with Mike Cameron. If someone can snag him for $3-4 mil and get him 500 ABs, he's a fine option. It's just that he has a lengthy injury history."
It just so happens that in his contract year, Roberts looks to set career highs in at-bats, batting average, and on-base percentage. The Padres have enjoyed his .382 OBP mark (18th in the league) at the top of their order. He's also stolen bases at better than a 90% clip. His $2.25MM salary is a bargain, and he'll have plenty of suitors.
Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune recently mentioned that the White Sox and Cardinals are already showing some interest. Rockies beat writer Troy E. Renck throws Colorado's hat into the ring.
A few other possibilities: the Blue Jays could go after Roberts if they decide to trade Vernon Wells. The Rangers could get involved if Gary Matthews Jr. departs. Ditto for the Cubs if they don't retain Juan Pierre.