April 2010

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Howard, Prince, Konerko

On this date five years ago, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux faced off in the first matchup of 300-game winners since Don Sutton and Steve Carlton in 1987. Maddux's Cubs topped Clemens' Astros by the score of 3-2.

Let's look at what's being written around the blogosphere, with a heavy dose of Ryan Howard contract reactions…

If you have a suggestion for this feature, Mike can be reached here.

Odds & Ends: Rangers, Chapman, Capps, Choo

Links for Thursday, as Kelly Johnson and Paul Konerko jockey for the MLB home run lead…

Angels Claim Kevin Frandsen

7:03pm: Dan Barbarisi of The Providence Journal reports that Frandsen has in fact been claimed by the Angels. It's believed that he's been assigned to their Triple-A affiliate.

THURSDAY, 2:49pm: It appears that the Angels claimed Frandsen off waivers, based on this tweet from outfielder Chris Pettit.

WEDNESDAY, 2:48pm: The Red Sox designated infielder Kevin Frandsen for assignment to make room for Alan Embree, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  Frandsen had been acquired from the Giants on March 26th for a player to be named later or cash.  He played 17 games at Pawtucket, tallying 71 plate appearances.

Frandsen, 28 in May, hit .295/.352/.438 at Triple A last year while playing all four infield positions.  Three years ago, Baseball America viewed Frandsen as a "solid No. 2 hitter" and potential starting second baseman.  However, he was derailed by a ruptured Achilles tendon in the spring of '08.  Back in March, Henry Schulman if the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Frandsen's frustrations and his new attitude adopted while playing winter ball.

Largest Contracts In Draft History

It's been 20 years since the Oakland A's sent shockwaves through baseball by signing high school righthander Todd Van Poppel to a Major League contract worth more than $1.2MM as the 14th overall pick in the 1990 draft. At the time, the going rate for the first overall draft pick was a minor league deal worth $350K or so, but Van Poppel and his agent leveraged his scholarship to the University of Texas into more than three times that amount.

Contracts given to draftees have since ballooned, and now rival the packages given to established big leaguers in terms of total value. Over the next several weeks, we're going to hear a lot about Scott Boras and Bryce Harper and their purported contract demands as he's expected to be the first overall pick. The 17-year-old catcher from Las Vegas is almost guaranteed to sign one of, if not the most lucrative contract in the history of the MLB draft.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the richest contracts ever given to drafted players.

Major League Contracts

  1. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (2009, 1st round, 1st pick): Four years, $15.1MM. $7.5MM of that makes up the largest signing bonus in draft history, and his salary is set through the 2012 season.
  2. Mark Prior, Cubs (2001, 1/2): Five years, $10.5MM. Prior's contract allowed him to void the final two years of the deal and instead file for salary arbitration, which he did in 2006. Instead being paid the $2MM his contract called for that season, Prior earned $3.575MM when the two sides settled before a hearing.
  3. Mark Teixeira, Rangers (2001, 1/5): Four years, $9.5MM. Teixeira's $4.5MM signing bonus was the largest ever given to a player as part of a big league deal at the time, and it stood as the record until the next player on our list was drafted.
  4. David Price, Rays (2007, 1/1): Six years, $8.5MM. Price has a clause similar to Prior in his deal, allowing him to void the $1.5MM he's scheduled to make in 2012 and instead file for arbitration. The early guess is that he will indeed go that route.
  5. Pat Burrell, Phillies (1998, 1/1): Five years, $8MM. Pat the Bat's deal marked the beginning of the big money era for draft picks.
  6. Dustin Ackley, Mariners (2009, 1/2): Five years, $7.5MM. Ackley can also earn another $2.5MM in salary based on how quickly he reaches the big leagues.
  7. Rick Porcello, Tigers (2007, 1/27): Four years, $7.285MM. Club options for the 2012 and 2013 seasons could put another $2.88MM in his pocket.
  8. J.D. Drew, Cardinals (1998, 1/5): Four years, $7MM. Drew famously refused to sign with the Phillies as the second overall pick in the 1997 draft, as he and Boras stuck to their guarantee that he would not sign for less than $10MM.
  9. Josh Beckett, Marlins (1999, 1/2): Four years, $7MM. Beckett was the first high school player to receive a Major League deal since Alex Rodriguez in 1993, and the first high school pitcher to get one since Van Poppel.
  10. Eric Munson, Tigers (1999, 1/3): Four years, $6.75MM. The $3.5MM signing bonus was a club record until Porcello showed up.

Porcello joins Beckett as the only other prep player on the list, and oddly enough, both Strasburg and Ackley went undrafted out of high school. Everyone else was drafted multiple times. It's worth noting that the Yankees gave Andrew Brackman a four year, $4.55MM Major League contract as the 30th overall pick in 2007 ($3.35MM signing bonus), but club options and escalator clauses could push the total value of the deal to $13MM, second only to Strasburg's.

Minor League Contracts

  1. Donavan Tate, Padres (2009, 1/3): $6.25MM
  2. Buster Posey, Giants (2008, 1/5): $6.2MM
  3. Tim Beckham, Rays (2008, 1/1): $6.15MM
  4. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks (2005, 1/1): $6.1MM
  5. Matt Wieters, Orioles (2007, 1/5): $6MM
  6. Eric Hosmer, Royals (2008, 1/3): $6MM
  7. Joe Borchard, White Sox (2000, 1/12): $5.3MM
  8. Joe Mauer, Twins (2001, 1/1): $5.15MM
  9. B.J. Upton, Rays (2002, 1/2): $4.6MM

Tate, Beckham, Borchard, Mauer, and both Upton brothers had their bonuses spread out over five years under baseball's provision for two-sport athletes. You can see that Borchard's deal held the record for half a decade before the younger Upton broke it. It's hard to believe that two extremely high profile college players like Wieters and Posey were unable to secure Major League deals out of the draft, but the fringe benefit is that they received all of their money up front.

Thanks to Jim Callis of Baseball America, Keith Law of ESPN, and Cot's Baseball Contracts for providing information used in this post.

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Merkin Valdez Clears Waivers

THURSDAY, 2:39pm: Valdez cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple A Las Vegas, tweets Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star.

TUESDAY, 8:53am: The Blue Jays designated reliever Merkin Valdez for assignment last night as part of a series of moves, reports MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.  Valdez, 28, appeared in only two games for the Jays.

Valdez was designated for assignment in January by the Giants to make room for Aubrey Huff.  Six days later, the Blue Jays acquired the reliever for cash considerations.  He's out of options, a factor in the team's decision to keep him around this long.  Valdez posted a 5.66 ERA, 6.9 K/9, and 5.1 BB/9 in 49.3 innings for the Giants last year.  He throws in the mid-90s and was ranked among the top 60 prospects in baseball before October '06 Tommy John surgery.

Stark On Fielder, Howard, Sizemore, Frasor

Jayson Stark's latest Rumblings and Grumblings column is hot off the press at ESPN.com.  Let's take a look.

  • Stark explains that the potentially legendary 2012 first base free agent class may be further depleted, as Albert Pujols is expected to stay in St. Louis and Adrian Gonzalez could be traded and extended by his new team.  Even Lance Berkman might stay put, leaving Prince Fielder as the remaining big name.  There are some who rank Fielder below Ryan Howard, writes Stark.
  • Stark says the Phillies signed Howard now because they felt a Pujols extension would drive up Howard's price.  For an explanation straight from the horse's mouth, check out Todd Zolecki's MLB.com chat with Ruben Amaro Jr. and Pat Gillick. 
  • If the 2012 first base free agent class is loaded, will there be enough teams willing to shell out massive contracts?  Stark says yes, naming a dozen teams he figures could be in the mix.  Don't forget the Nationals and Orioles, two clubs that made huge bids for Mark Teixeira.
  • Jayson Werth's agent Jeff Borris named the Jason Bay and Matt Holliday deals as frames of reference for his client.  Stark takes that to mean Werth will be looking in the $16-17MM range.  My question: does he get five years?
  • One source of Stark's says the Indians have shown zero inclination to trade Grady Sizemore.  Sizemore's $10MM club option for 2012 becomes a player option upon a trade, and Stark feels Sizemore would "almost certainly" exercise it – decreasing his trade value.  That assumes, of course, that Sizemore doesn't turn things around anytime soon.
  • Stark doesn't think the Red Sox have reached a desperation point regarding acquiring a catcher who can throw.  Bringing in a Chris Snyder or a Gerald Laird might necessitate releasing David Ortiz or Mike Lowell.
  • The Orioles have interest in Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor.
  • In a table, Stark provides an interesting look at teams' guaranteed money rankings for 2011 and '12.  The Dodgers, interestingly, are very light on '12 commitments ($3.3MM).

Free Agent Stock Watch: Jorge De La Rosa

29-year-old Rockies lefty Jorge de la Rosa is one of the more interesting names among the 2011 free agent starting pitcher class.  He had a breakout season in '09, winning 16 of 32 starts and whiffing 193 batters.  De La Rosa and the Rockies agreed on a $5.6MM base salary for 2010, as the pitcher wasn't impressed by the team's three-year, $11MM offer.  According to Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, the sides were "light years apart" on an extension.

The Rockies wanted to know if De La Rosa can repeat or improve upon his 2009 season.  In his first four starts of 2010, he bumped his strikeout rate up to 10.2 per nine and his groundball rate up to 61.4%.  Carried out over a full season, those numbers would make GMs salivate.  On the other hand, De La Rosa's walk rate rose to the danger zone of 5.1 per nine.  Though he never racked up a similar groundball rate, teams might draw an Oliver Perez comparison and keep their distance.

Perez's three-year, $36MM contract did seem to be a reasonable baseline for De La Rosa.  Teams aren't giving out pitching contracts so freely anymore, though, so just to approach $30MM like Randy Wolf might've sufficed.

However, De La Rosa's price will be further depressed because of an injury he suffered on Monday.  It was initially described as a bruised finger, but now he's going to be out "for a while" with a torn flexor tendon band.  Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll believes De La Rosa could miss at least a month with the finger injury, and even draws a scary Adam Miller comparison (while noting that Miller's "damage was much more extensive.")  Suddenly the free agent hot commodity carries an injury concern, and the pressure is on De La Rosa to come back strong in June.

Free Agent Hot Starts

Last year's free agent hot starts included Derek Lowe, Juan Cruz, and Braden Looper, so clearly we shouldn't draw conclusions on one month of the season.  Still, let's take a look at free agents off to solid starts in 2010.  It'll be interesting to look back at the end of the season and see what holds up.

  • Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks: Johnson has a .286/.393/.743 line and leads the NL with eight home runs.  We named him one of the ten best free agent signings of the offseason, and he's under team control for 2011.
  • Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers: He's at .368/.424/.513, and he even played a game in right field.
  • Marlon Byrd, Cubs: He sports a .333/.352/.548 line, plus yesterday's no-look catch.
  • Alex Gonzalez, Blue Jays: He's shown more power than expected with five home runs and a .582 SLG so far.
  • Johnny Damon, Tigers: He doesn't have a home run yet, but a .430 OBP will work.
  • Scott Podsednik, Royals: He's also homerless, but has a .429 OBP on the young season.
  • Bengie Molina, Giants: Like Podsednik, he's racking up hits and it's keeping his OBP over .400.
  • Andruw Jones, White Sox: Jones has six home runs in just 61 plate appearances.  He's logged 90 innings in the outfield, too.  He's only had 51 plate appearances, but Austin Kearns deserves a nod too.
  • Miguel Olivo, Rockies: His .314/.357/.647 makes him hard to sit, and the Rockies had enough faith to demote Chris Iannetta.
  • Ivan Rodriguez, Nationals: Pudge's .400/.422/.517 start makes his much-maligned contract easier to stomach for now.
  • Livan Hernandez, Nationals: Despite a 2.9 K/9, Livan has allowed three runs in 31 innings.
  • Brad Penny, Cardinals: He's allowed only three earned runs, three walks, and zero home runs in 28.6 innings.  His newfound 53% groundball rate is promising.
  • Andy Pettitte, Yankees: He's still rolling at age 37 with four runs allowed in 28 innings.
  • Justin Duchscherer, Athletics: He missed all of '09 but has a 1.82 ERA early on in 2010.
  • Jon Garland, Padres: Like Duchscherer, the peripherals don't quite match up, but Garland has a 2.57 ERA in his first five starts.
  • Randy Wolf, Joel Pineiro, and Colby Lewis have also gotten the job done so far.
  • Matt Capps, Nationals: The Nats have created opportunities, and Capps has taken advantage by saving all ten.  The Nationals can retain him for 2011 as an arbitration-eligible player.  Plenty of other relievers are having early success, including Rafael Soriano, Kevin Gregg, and Jose Valverde.

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If The Braves Become Sellers

A veteran sell-off of any kind of difficult to picture in Bobby Cox's final season as Braves manager.  We'll explore the possibility anyway, even though the 8-13 Braves have 87% of their season remaining.

Though it'd create a vacancy in next year's rotation, you have to think the Braves would like the flexibility of ridding part of the three years and $45MM owed to Derek Lowe.  Similarly, the Braves could free up cash by dealing Kenshin Kawakami, owed $13.33MM over 2010-11.  What about Nate McLouth?  Already forced into a platoon role, he's owed $12.25MM this season and next.

Billy Wagner would be an attractive trade candidate, though the Braves might prefer to have him around for 2011.  Wagner has a $6.5MM club option after the season, though it'll vest with 44 more games finished.  Setup man Takashi Saito would be expendable, and decent relievers are hard to come by on the trade market in July.

Other rentals include Troy Glaus, David Ross, and Eric Hinske, all eligible for free agency after the season.

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2011 Contract Issues: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates face one contractual option after the season.  For closer Octavio Dotel, they can choose a $4.5MM salary or a $500K buyout.  Dotel's strikeout and walk rates have been typical so far, but he's allowed 15 hits and three home runs in 9.3 innings.

Akinori Iwamura, Brendan Donnelly, and Bobby Crosby will also be eligible for free agency after the season.  They're earning a total of $7.2MM this year.  If Dotel's option is declined, the Pirates will have $11.2MM coming off the books.

Increases to players under contract are light, with a total of $2.8MM.  The Pirates have a big arbitration class though.  First-time candidates include Joel Hanrahan, Lastings Milledge, Andy LaRoche, Delwyn Young, and possibly Ross OhlendorfD.J. Carrasco and Jack Taschner could be second-timers.  Zach Duke and Ronny Cedeno are third-time candidates, while Ryan Church and Javier Lopez fit into the fourth-time class.  There will be non-tenders in the mix, but it appears that the Pirates will have to raise payroll to retain all their key players.  That shouldn't be a problem, since their Opening Day payroll was only $39MM. 

Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the info.