April 2010

Odds & Ends: Smoltz, D’Backs, Kemp, Howard

Links for Wednesday, as the Brewers wonder how to fix Trevor Hoffman

The Latest On The Unsigned Position Players

After recapping the most recent news on some remaining free agent starting pitchers yesterday, let's focus on the bats today. Here are the latest updates on a few of the notable unsigned position players:

  • Jermaine Dye: Dye had the Mariners on his wish list, but Seattle didn't have much interest in the 36-year-old. Another team out west, the Giants, also had no interest in signing Dye. Washington was in the mix for the right-handed slugger at one point, though they've since backed off. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe thinks Dye will sign somewhere soon, and an American League club where Dye could DH would make sense. Like Jarrod Washburn though, he'll likely need to reduce his asking price.
  • Gary Sheffield: Cafardo also believes Sheffield should sign soon, and tweeted that the veteran had "something on the table" a couple weeks ago. The Nationals also had discussions with Sheff, but the club seems happy with their current selection of outfielders for now. Even though he's 41, Sheffield could have value to a National League team as a pinch-hitter and part-time player, like he did for the Mets last year (.276/.372/.451 in 312 PAs).
  • Carlos Delgado: Delgado might end up being the offensive equivalent of Pedro Martinez: a hired gun that could contribute to a contending team in the second half of the season. The Mets were considered a possibility prior to their promotion of Ike Davis. Before Delgado catches on with any club, the 37-year-old will have to show that he's fully healthy following his second hip surgery in February.
  • Joe Crede: Considering Crede is a Scott Boras client, it's somewhat surprising that we've heard next to nothing regarding his status. Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reported in early March that Crede was hitting and throwing while he waited for an offer, but there has been very little news since then. Crede has homered 32 times over the past two seasons and plays an above-average third base, so it may be health questions that are keeping him on the free agent market. As MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith suggested earlier this month, a healthy Crede "could become an attractive mid-season option for risk-taking GMs."
  • Elijah Dukes: Shortly after Dukes' surprising release by the Nationals, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweeted that a few teams were interested in the 25-year-old. Since then though, we haven't heard anything concrete. Perhaps clubs are still hesitant to invest in Dukes, given his off-field history.
  • Rocco Baldelli: There was some speculation earlier in April that Baldelli could be an option for the Rays if they gave up on Pat Burrell, since Baldelli has been working out at Tropicana Field and wants to play. Burrell has played better since that point, hitting .275/.318/.500 in his last 11 games, silencing those rumors somewhat. For the time being, Baldelli will continue to serve as a special assistant for the Rays.

Check out our full list of available hitters here.

Giants Sign Angel Berroa

The Giants have signed Angel Berroa to a minor league contract, according to Baseball America's latest round of minor league transactions.

Berroa was signed to a minor league deal by the Dodgers earlier in the winter, but was released before the season began. Since hitting .287/.338/.451 and earning AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2003, the 30-year-old shortstop has posted an uninspiring slash line of .249/.291/.353 in 2033 plate appearances for the Royals, Dodgers, Yankees, and Mets.

Discussion: Jimmy Rollins

Yesterday, we took a look at how Ryan Howard's contract extension might affect the Phillies' chances of retaining Jayson Werth beyond this season. Following the 2011 campaign, the Phils will face a decision on a player even more crucial to their recent successes than Werth: shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

The Phillies have already exercised their $8.5MM 2011 option for the 2007 National League MVP, and they'll likely want to keep Rollins past next season. He is perhaps the face of the franchise, and has been one of baseball's most productive all-around shortstops since becoming an everyday player in 2001.

The good news for the Phils is that they'll have a couple of bloated contracts coming off the books after 2011. Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge are both owed $11.5MM in '11, but are probably unlikely to remain in Philadelphia beyond that, and certainly not at that price. However, as MLBTR's Howard Megdal pointed out yesterday, the Phillies already have plenty of other commitments in 2012 and beyond.

MLB.com's Todd Zolecki notes that Rollins has said in the past that he could picture himself finishing his career for a Bay Area club, near where he grew up. These days, the 31-year-old seems more open to staying put in Philadelphia: "We weren't good then. We're good now. As long as we're good, I'm good."

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. insists that Howard's extension won't affect the team's ability to re-sign players like Werth and Rollins, though extension talks with Werth are at an impasse for now. If the Phillies are unable to bring Werth back in 2010, Rollins' chances of remaining with the club look better, since they'll be locked into one less long-term deal. If Rollins does receive a multi-year, big-money extension though, the Phillies' financial flexibility will take yet another hit. Even with a payroll that exceeds $140MM, you have to wonder how much money they can afford to tie up long-term in aging players.

Morosi On Washburn, Tigers, Vernon Wells

A few links from Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports…

Brandon Jones Clears Waivers

WEDNESDAY, 2:39pm: Jones cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple A, tweets MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch.

SUNDAY, 11:42am: The Pirates have designated Brandon Jones for assignment, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Twitter). The move was one of many for the Pirates, who also optioned Daniel McCutchen to the minors and placed Chris Jakubauskas on the 15-day DL to make room for Brian Burres and Brian Bass. Jones' DFA was necessary to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Bass.

The Pirates added Jones to their roster earlier this year, when they claimed him off waivers from the Braves. The 26-year-old outfielder had a .257/.313/.365 slash line in 166 career plate appearances for Atlanta, but has yet to appear in the majors this season. Prior to the 2008 season, Baseball America ranked Jones as baseball's 70th-best prospect, but his stock has taken a bit of a hit since then, given his inability to stick on a big league roster.

Draft Pick Compensation Can’t Be Assumed

I recently read an article in which the author considered it a near-certainty that the Phillies would've snagged two solid draft picks had Ryan Howard departed as a free agent after the 2011 season.  That seems plausible on the surface – we know the Elias rankings don't use sophisticated numbers, and Howard seems like he would be a Type A lock.

However, a check of the 2008-09 Elias rankings for National League first basemen and outfielders shows that Howard ranked 23rd in the group at 76.296 points.  He's a Type A, but the 27th-ranked player, Skip Schumaker, starts off the Type Bs at 69.394. 

Several years ago, ESPN's Keith Law revealed that each league's 1B/OF groups are ranked based on five stats: plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, and runs batted in.  Even though Howard tallied 1403 PAs, 93 HR, and 287 RBI over 2008-09, his pedestrian .265 AVG and .349 OBP knocked him well down the rankings.  If Howard's 2010-11 production slips, he could easily be a Type B.  Elias' formulas might not be the best way of ranking players, but they're part of the fabric of many multi-million dollar decisions.  Looking ahead, the current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 11th, 2011, and we don't know if the formulas will be revamped.

Even if Howard did get Type A status, would the Phillies have offered arbitration?  We've seen plenty of instances where players coming off good seasons were not offered arbitration – Johnny Damon and Randy Wolf are two recent examples.  And there's always the chance the player accepts, like Rafael Soriano, Rafael Betancourt, and Carl Pavano did recently. 

If a team makes it all the way to the point of a Type A free agent being offered arbitration and declining, there's a chance the draft picks gained aren't great.  Look at the Blue Jays, received picks #34 and 80 for Marco Scutaro this year because the Red Sox also signed John LackeyScutaro's Elias number of 83.069 was just below Lackey's 83.865 figure.  In the most extreme example, the Jays received picks #37 and 104 when Type A free agent A.J. Burnett signed with the Yankees a year prior.  You're at the mercy of which team signs your free agent.

The point of all of this: you can dream of getting picks #19 and 33 for your big-name departing free agent, like the Astros did for Jose Valverde this year, but many factors can derail the plan along the way.

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Heyman On Howard, Pujols, Adrian, Werth

The latest hot stove thoughts from SI's Jon Heyman

  • The people Heyman talked to feel that with Ryan Howard averaging $25MM a year starting in 2012, a contract discussion for Albert Pujols has to start at $30MM a year.
  • Heyman says that "the belief among skeptics of the deal that [the Howard extension] was an obvious overpay isn't reflected one bit among baseball people."  Of course, there are hundreds of baseball people, and the ones I've spoken to agree with the skeptics.
  • Adrian Gonzalez's agent John Boggs said, "We're just kind of innocent bystanders," noting that the Padres have not made contact about an extension.
  • Jayson Werth's agent Jeff Borris believes his client will be "the premier free agent outfielder" if he doesn't sign an extension.  Looking at the list, only Carl Crawford would have an argument.  Heyman says there's a "belief around baseball" that Werth will be seeking $100MM.  Previously we've heard suggestions of the four-year, $66MM Jason Bay range.
  • Heyman says Stephen Strasburg has a contract clause that "permits 100 innings at the major-league level this year."  I haven't heard of any clauses of that nature before, but Strasburg and Scott Boras is a powerful pairing.

If The Dodgers Become Sellers

Yes, it's only April 28th and the Dodgers are only four games out in the NL West.  But say they continue playing .400-type ball for the next two months…who might we see on the trading block?

Manny Ramirez is owed $20MM this year, though $15MM of it is deferred without interest.  Manny has a full no-trade clause.  Given the huge salary, any team thinking about acquiring Ramirez would probably not make further concessions to convince him to waive the clause.  He'll be 38 next month, but Ramirez still has a game-changing bat.  Imagine the White Sox, Mariners, or Athletics renting him for a few months.

You wouldn't expect the Dodgers to have a ton of pitching to offer, as their 4.92 rotation ERA is part of the reason they're in last place.  However, Hiroki Kuroda is pitching quite well and is owed a hefty $13MM this year (plus he has no-trade protection).  He can become a free agent after the season.  Vicente Padilla could also become available, but he's currently on the shelf with a forearm injury.  The most intriguing name is Chad Billingsley, the 25-year-old enigma with a 5.40 ERA and two-plus years of team control remaining.  He'd potentially have a dozen suitors.

George Sherrill will earn more than $4.5MM in 2011, but teams searching for relief help might not mind.  The 33-year-old southpaw will need to put a lid on the free passes before interest picks up, though.  The Dodgers probably would not want to create too many holes for the 2011 club, but Ramon Ortiz, Brad Ausmus, Ronnie Belliard, Reed Johnson, Jeff Weaver, and Garret Anderson are on one-year deals and would be expendable.

2011 Contract Issues: Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies face two contractual options after the season:

  • Lefty reliever J.C. Romero has a $4.5MM club option with a $250K buyout.  The 33-year-old had flexor tendon surgery in October of last year, returning to a big league mound last Friday.
  • Backup infielder Juan Castro has a $750K club option with a $50K buyout.

Four more players will be eligible for free agency: Jamie Moyer, Jayson Werth, Chad Durbin, and Jose Contreras.  Talks with Werth are currently at an impasse.  These four account for $18.625MM in 2010 salaries.  If all six players leave, and we include buyouts that will be paid this year to Adam Eaton, Pedro Feliz, and Geoff Jenkins, the Phillies have about $26MM coming off the books.

Raises to players under contract should swallow about $21MM of that freed up money.  Roy Halladay has the biggest increase, as his salary rises $4.25MM and the Blue Jays won't be sending $6MM again.  Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino also see increases north of $2MM.  Arbitration cases are light – Kyle Kendrick and Ben Francisco are first-timers, while Greg Dobbs would fit into the third-time class.

It appears that holding payroll steady and allowing all free agents to leave would give the Phillies a few million bucks to spend.  They won't have the flexibility to add top or mid-tier players in the 2010-11 offseason unless they raise payroll or dump a contract via trade.