2007 MLB Free Agents Rumors

Tier 2 Starting Pitchers

Jason Jennings certainly isn’t a free agent, but he may be the best starter available through trade.  Let’s take a look at how he stacks up against some of the other "Tier 2" guys being bandied about by half the clubs in baseball.  Stats are from 2006 except for Randy Wolf, for whom I used ’05.

Strikeouts per nine innings:

Ted Lilly – 7.93
Gil Meche – 7.52
Vicente Padilla – 7.02
Randy Wolf – 6.86
Jason Jennings – 6.03
Jeff Weaver – 5.60
Jeff Suppan – 4.93
Miguel Batista – 4.80
Woody Williams – 4.46

Lilly, Meche, and Padilla are probably the three who might be considered power pitchers.

Walks per nine innings:

Woody Williams – 2.17
Jeff Weaver – 2.46
Randy Wolf – 2.93
Vicente Padilla – 3.15
Jeff Suppan – 3.27
Jason Jennings – 3.61
Miguel Batista – 3.66
Ted Lilly – 4.01
Gil Meche – 4.05

Wolf, as you can see, ranks well in both categories.  He will need to regain his pre-TJ control though.

K/BB (a measure of command):

Randy Wolf – 2.35
Jeff Weaver – 2.28
Vicente Padilla – 2.23
Woody Williams – 2.06
Ted Lilly – 1.98
Gil Meche – 1.86
Jason Jennings – 1.67
Jeff Suppan – 1.51
Miguel Batista – 1.31

This is where Jennings suffers, as he does not put the ball where he wants to.

Expected home runs per nine innings (each pitcher normalized to a 10.8% home run per flyball rate):

Miguel Batista –  0.93
Jeff Suppan – 0.99
Vicente Padilla – 1.05
Jason Jennings – 1.09
Randy Wolf – 1.13
Gil Meche – 1.15
Ted Lilly – 1.17
Jeff Weaver – 1.33
Woody Williams – 1.38

This is where the groundball pitchers rule.  So far Padilla is looking like the best overall pitcher.

Bill James ERA projections:

Woody Williams – 4.04
Vicente Padilla – 4.23
Ted Lilly – 4.35
Randy Wolf – 4.31
Miguel Batista – 4.37
Jeff Weaver – 4.40
Jeff Suppan – 4.46
Jason Jennings – 4.77
Gil Meche – 4.76

Nobody under 4, but a few guys will probably sneak in if they move to the NL.  I like how Padilla grades well across the board; I think he could really help a team like the Cubs.  Wolf is the upside play, but he may have enough suitors that he doesn’t have to take a discount despite throwing just 136 innings over the past two seasons.  Williams is a bit like Greg Maddux, in that he’s a helpful control artist who won’t require a long-term commitment.  One difference is that Maddux has fewer teams for which he’s willing to play, it appears. If only Weaver hadn’t excelled in the playoffs, I could see him being a mild bargain.

2007 Free Agent Market: Third Basemen

With the Cubs signing both Mark DeRosa and Aramis Ramirez, and the D-Rays winning the rights to Akinori Iwamura, the free agent market for third basemen is shrinking.  Check it out.

There are basically six viable candidates, and that’s if we include questionable third base defenders like Garciaparra, Huff, Hillenbrand, Rich Aurilia, and Helms.  The demand for Mike Lowell, Morgan Ensberg, and Joe Crede should be strong.

2007 MLB Free Agents: Justin Speier

After wrongly leaving Justin Speier off my Top 50 Free Agents list, I felt the need to make it up to him by giving him his very own post.

Speier was drafted by the Cubs back in ’95, buried in the 55th round.  He was a reliever from Day 1.  The Cubs made a pretty poor trade for bullpen help at the trading deadline in ’98, sending Speier, Kevin Orie, and Todd Noel to the Marlins for Felix Heredia.

Things didn’t go well for him in Florida, leading to a trade to Atlanta for a no-namer. Speier was placed on waivers at year’s end and the Indians claimed him.  He pitched well for the Tribe in 2000 but was sent to the Mets for a no-namer the next year.  The Mets designated him for assignment after ten days, but Speier was out of options and didn’t make it through waivers.  He became a Rockie.

After two solid seasons in Colorado (including some closer duty), the Blue Jays rescued him in the winter of ’03 in the Joe Kennedy/Mark Hendrickson trade.  Speier got some saves in ’04 under Carlos Tosca, though a sore elbow sidelined him in May.

He was to begin ’05 as the Jays’ closer, but Miguel Batista got the gig instead.  Ligament damage in the middle finger of his pitching hand popped up in September to end a fine season (Speier allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning).

The finger injury recurred in spring of 2006, but he was fine to start the season as B.J. Ryan‘s setup man.  Forearm issues came about this August, causing Speier to post his smallest inning total in a long time.

Speier has solid command, with a career K/BB of 2.5.  Scouting report from Keith Law:

"Speier is a three-pitch reliever with good command of all three. He has a low-90s fastball with a little run but no sink; a tight slider with good tilt; and a splitter that he has improved to the point that it’s a very effective weapon against left-handed hitters. When he’s on, he keeps everything at or just above hitters’ knees, garnering strikes and some bad swings. His fastball is flat, however, and he’ll give up a lot of home runs if he has to pitch in the upper half of the zone."

According to ESPN, Speier throws about 64% fastballs, 29% sliders, and 7% other stuff.

I could see Speier commanding a deal similar to Kyle Farnsworth‘s – three years, $17MM with incentives and a signing bonus.  The closer market is terrible, and Speier is one of the better choices.

Keith Law’s Top 40 Free Agents

You may not be able to read this, as it’s behind ESPN’s Insider wall.  But Keith Law’s Top 40 Free Agents list is the kind of material that makes subscribing worth it.

Given the plug I just gave, hopefully I can slip in a few highlights of the list here.

– Law sees Aramis Ramirez as the best FA on the market.  Contrary to popular belief, Ramirez’s defense is at least average at third.  He’s also the youngest FA outside of Matsuzaka.

– He sees Matsuzaka allowing more HRs than one might think.

– Law ranked Ted Lilly 12th overall, calling him "Barry Zito without the name recognition, and with a little more stuff."  Let’s not forget a lot less durability.  I put Lilly 26th though some folks did urge me to put him higher.  The Yankees recently got in touch with Lilly’s agent about a return engagement.

– He loves Gil Meche as an upside play, calling him a "pitching coach’s dream."  He also is fond of Randy Wolf for upside.  Law is baffled as to why teams could view Mark Mulder as an upside play, and I’m definitely in the same camp there.

Justin Speier comes in at 18th overall and would make a fine closer for some team.  This omission from my list was an oversight.

– He’s not a fan of Adam Eaton at all, and doesn’t think Greg Maddux has much left.  Law can’t see Jeff Suppan surviving in the AL.

– He doesn’t see Akinori Iwamura‘s power translating well. 

– Law gives an interesting Kei Igawa scouting report: "Igawa is primarily a two-pitch pitcher, with a below-average fastball in the 84-88 mph range with a little run, and a plus 74-79 mph curveball with a late two-plane break."  Law sees Igawa as a fine LOOGY in the worst case and a decent NL starter in the best case.

– He seems very wary of Vicente Padilla‘s alcohol abuse.

– Law sees Gary Matthews Jr. as a "fourth outfielder who had an outstanding season," ranking him 35th.

USA Today On Free Agent Destinations

Six USA Today sportswriters recently weighed in with free agent destination predictions.  A quick summary:

– They favor the Halos for Alfonso Soriano.

– Very mixed feelings on Zito and Schmidt.

– The writers expect Jeff Suppan, Aramis Ramirez, and Barry Bonds to remain with their 2006 clubs.

Dayn Perry’s Top 20 Free Agents

Dayn Perry’s Top 20 Free Agents list is up at FOX Sports; it looks solid. If I had to gripe I’d say that Vicente Padilla belongs ahead of Jeff Suppan, but it’s certainly debatable.  And Mark Mulder looks a little high. 

ESPN’s Free Agent Tracker

You can’t deny that ESPN’s Free Agent Tracker is always a handy reference.  The new one is out; bookmark it. 

Though to nitpick I think they should include Japanese guys like Matsuzaka, Igawa, and Iwamura even though they’re not technically free agents.  Last year Steve Phillips left Kenji Johjima off his initial Top 50 Free Agents list and it was not cool.   

Top Defensive Free Agents

Let’s give a little love to that difficult-to-measure skill known as defense.  Using John Dewan’s Fielding Bible, here are the best available free agents at each position, defensively.  Any quote is from the book.

1B – Doug Mientkiewicz – "He has range and agility and is like a vacuum sucking up all throws, good and bad."  The problem, of course, is that it’s tough to compensate for a .410 SLG from this position.

2B – Craig Counsell – While his arm ain’t much, Counsell is quite good moving to his right as well as catching popups.  If he can get that OBP back up to .350 one more time his bat wouldn’t kill you.

SS – Alex Gonzalez – Sorry about the earlier gaffe – Neifi is comically signed through 2007.  On Gonzo: "His range and athleticism are top-notch, he has a powerful arm and can make throws from deep in the hole from his knees.  He is excellent on the double play."

3B – David Bell – "He has very good range with good hands and footwork."  The Fielding Bible even thinks Bell should’ve won the Gold Glove in 2005.  Problem: he slugs .400.

LF – Carlos Lee – Surprised, aren’t you?  Dewan says: "Lee has a reputation as a poor defensive player, but that isn’t deserved."  Everyone throws in a jab at Lee’s defense and mentions how he’ll have to DH soon enough.  But the fielding experts feel otherwise.

CF – Gary Matthews Jr. – "Matthews runs well, has good range, and is versatile enough to play all three outfield spots. He combines a center fielder’s range with a right fielder’s arm."  To me, this why Matthews is still a decent buy even if his offense slips significantly.

RF – Trot Nixon – "He gets good jumps on balls and has a strong, above-average arm."  I could’ve used Richard Hidalgo here, as Hidalgo is a defensive beast.  Problem is, Hidalgo is hitting .246 in the Venezuelan Winter League right now.  Nixon saw his power plummet this year; perhaps he can bounce back a little and be a value buy. 

2007 MLB Free Agents: Ted Lilly

Today let’s take a closer look at free agent southpaw Ted Lilly.

Lilly made $4MM this year, failing to hit any of his innings pitched incentives.  He’ll turn 31 in January and should be able to snag a three-year contract without a problem.  2006 was not his best season despite the career high 15 wins; Lilly’s 2004 effort was better and included an All-Star appearance.  He’s said publicly that he’d like to return to the Bay Area to play with the Giants or again with the A’s.  The Jays have some interest in retaining him at the right price.

Performance-wise you’re getting a strikeout pitcher who’s tough to hit and battle-tested in the AL East.  He’s a flyball pitcher and is prone to worse than average HRs allowed.  His control’s a problem too, as Lilly walks about four batters per nine innings.   After his fastball, Lilly mixes in an equal number of curves, sliders, and changeups.  He’s tougher on lefties but not terribly so.

Some past history on Theodore Roosevelt Lilly:

July: Traded from Dodgers to Expos in deadline deal for Mark Grudzielanek and Carlos Perez.
Tossed 213.2 innings, including winter ball.

March: Couldn’t quite crack the Expo rotation.
May: Called up for a few weeks.
June/July: MRI on left shoulder shows no significant damage.
September: Called up again.
October: Shoulder surgery.

March: Traded to Yanks along with Jake Westbrook in Hideki Irabu deal.
Pitched mostly at Triple A as a 24 year-old.

April: Called up, whiffs 10 Red Sox. Remains in rotation.
August: Suspended for nailing Scott Spiezio with a pitch.  Sent back to minors.
September: Called up, using his last option.

April: Makes team as a reliever/spot starter.  Remains in rotation after injuries to starters.
Summer: Shuttles between starting and relief with Pettitte and El Duque injuries.
July: Traded to A’s in 3-team deal involving Jeff Weaver and Carlos Pena. Enters Oakland rotation. Hits DL later that month with inflamed left shoulder.
September: Returns from DL/rehab.

March: Reworks mechanics to take strain off shoulder.
July: With Lilly struggling in rotation, a trade rumor involving Kelvim Escobar surfaces. He stays put.
September: Misses start with back spasms.
November: Traded to Toronto for Bobby Kielty.

January: Signs two-year deal.
February: Reports to camp with sore wrist but remains healthy thereafter.

February: Misses time with left shoulder tendinitis.
April: Begins season on DL but makes April starts.
May: Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg discusses Lilly’s perceived lack of intensity.
July: Biceps tendinitis sends him to the DL again.
September: Comes off DL.  Experiences shoulder blade discomfort.

January: Signs one-year, $4MM deal.
March: Makes change in follow-through. Later in month, experiences minor right shoulder injury.
April: Makes first start despite back/shoulder issues.
June: Leaves start with shoulder tightness.
August: Misses start with stiff neck. Later in month, has heated argument with manager John Gibbons after being pulled from awful start.  Gibbons gets bloody nose.
October: Lilly files for free agency.

Well, that injury history definitely rules out Baltimore.  Whoever signs Lilly is really going to have to take a long look at that left shoulder; he’s yet to throw 200 innings in the Majors.

2007 MLB Free Agent Links

With the offseason around the corner, it’s time to check out all the available free agents.  93% of you should be interested, while the other 7% can worry about winning the World Series in 2006 first.

I’ve written quite a bit about this winter’s free agent class.  To see position breakdowns, check out the new 2007 MLB Free Agents section of the sidebar.  Just below the Recent Posts section.  I’ll try to keep the free agent lists up-to-date as players enter or exit the market.