December 2010

Examining Orioles, Nationals, LaRoche, Lee

The Nationals and Orioles have seemingly alternated in pursuing first basemen Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee this offseason, but the position is still vacant for both teams, and each player ranks among the top 15 remaining free agents, as detailed by Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLBTR.

The most recent development has the O's targeting Lee for a one-year deal worth $8MM, but nothing has come to fruition yet on that front. LaRoche rumors, meanwhile, have been relatively quieter since he was more strongly linked to both Baltimore and Washington earlier in December, perhaps because teams are hesitant to commit the three years and $21MM he is thought to be seeking.

Baltimore has already overhauled the left side of its infield this offseason, acquiring Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy in separate deals, and is seeking a proper first baseman to replace departed utility man Ty Wigginton, who started 98 games at first for the O's in 2010.

While the O's seem intent on landing Lee, LaRoche might better fit the team they're currently assembling. Manager Buck Showalter was lauded for getting the most out of his young players in 2010, which is presumably the plan for reinvigorating Reynolds and Hardy, and LaRoche, 31, is closer to his prime than Lee and coming off a bit of a down year (.261/.320/.468) in Arizona.

The Nationals, meanwhile, are seeking a replacement for Adam Dunn at first base, and although Lee, 35, is also coming off a tough season (.260/.347/.428), he could be a better one-year option for the Nats. With the Jayson Werth signing, Washington showed a willingness to spend on top-flight free agents, and there could be a few of them next offseason in Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez, assuming they don't sign extensions with their current teams.


The Rays & Brian Fuentes

Multiple reports have linked the Rays to Brian Fuentes since Tuesday, so their interest in the left-hander appears legitimate. Let's start to determine whether there's a fit here by analyzing the Rays' needs and Fuentes' asking price:

What Fuentes can offer the Rays

  • The Rays' 'pen features new faces like Joel Peralta and Adam Russell, but lacks a clear late inning option for Joe Maddon. Fuentes, a four-time All-Star, could be an effective closer in 2011. He posted a 2.81 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 last year, saving 24 games. 
  • He's durable enough to have appeared in over 45 games for eight consecutive seasons. 
  • Fuentes would also balance out the team's bullpen, which lacks established southpaws now that Randy Choate has signed with the Marlins.
  • He's a fly ball pitcher, but Tampa is not a bad destination for pitchers who induce lots of fly balls, since the Rays outfield ranked third in baseball in UZR/150 last year. That stat takes Carl Crawford's standout defense into consideration, but remember that the candidates to replace Crawford are capable defenders. Matt Joyce's defense was strong in limited 2010 action and Desmond Jennings has a reputation as an athletic defender, too.
  • Fuentes is quite effective against lefties, but against righties his walk rate rises (to 4.2 BB/9 in his career) and his strikeout rate dips (to 9.2 K/9 in his career).

What the Rays can offer Fuentes

  • They probably can't offer more than $5MM per season on a multiyear deal, but that's what Fuentes is looking for, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. They can offer him the chance to close games, an opportunity that only certain teams can offer.
  • Fuentes has reportedly drawn interest from 11 teams, but not all of them can offer him a role on a contender. The Rays won't be the favorites to win the AL East in 2011, but could contend for the playoffs. 

The price figures to be a point of contention for the Rays and Fuentes' representatives at Beverly Hills Sports Council. But from a baseball standpoint, the match makes sense. The Rays could balance out their righty-heavy 'pen with Fuentes, who could become the team's go-to reliever in critical late-inning situations.


Aardsma To Undergo Hip Surgery

You can strike David Aardsma off of your list of winter trade candidates. The Mariners have announced that the reliever will undergo surgery this Monday to repair a torn labrum in his left hip (Twitter link). The Mariners had been seeking an impact bat for him, but they'll presumably have to delay trade talks for now. Larry Stone of the Seattle Times reports that the M's expect Aardsma to be ready by Opening Day (Twitter link).

Aardsma will earn a raise from his 2010 salary of $2.75MM when he and the Mariners determine his upcoming salary through the arbitration process. In 49 2/3 innings last year, he posted a 3.44 ERA with 8.9 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 and 31 saves. The 29-year-old is under team control through 2012.



Rangers, Yankees, Indians Interested in Bartolo Colon

Bartolo Colon's work in the Dominican winter league has continued to draw the attention of major league teams, and the 37-year-old starter sounds eager to sign. According to an AP story out of Santo Domingo, Colon told reporters in the Domincan Republic yesterday, "Texas, Cleveland, and the Yankees are interested in me" (link in Spanish).

The Indians had been known to be watching Colon's progress, and Colon had previously mentioned that he "maintains conversations" with the Yankees, but the Rangers' interest hadn't been previously reported. Asked if he had a preference among the three clubs, Colon simply said, "I'll go with the one that signs me."

More background on Colon's return to action on the international stage can be found here. Over the ensuing month of winter ball, he has continued to look impressive, managing a 1.47 ERA over his seven starts in the Domincan League's regular season for the Aguilas Cibaeñas.

The 50-game Dominican regular season has ended and Colon's team's season is over, but the right-hander was the first player selected overall in the postseason draft, and went to the reigning champion Leones del Escogido (in the Dominican winter league, postseason teams are allowed to draft from among the eliminated teams' rosters). In his one postseason start with the Leones, Colon avoided the loss but wasn't as sharp, giving up four runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings.


Rosenthal On Fuentes, Soriano, Keppinger

The Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Twins are among the many teams interested in Brian Fuentes, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. There’s some question as to whether Fuentes is truly a closer, but his asking price suggests he views himself as one. Here’s the latest on Fuentes and more notes from around the majors:

  • Fuentes is asking for over $5MM per season on a multiyear deal, according to Rosenthal.
  • The Yankees are not after Rafael Soriano, according to Rosenthal (on Twitter). They have inquired on the Scott Boras client, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com
  • Talks between the Yankees and Jeff Keppinger went nowhere, Rosenthal reports (on Twitter). The Astros have acquired Clint Barmes and Bill Hall this offseason, making Keppinger expendable. The Yankees, however, could rely on Eduardo Nunez instead.

Red Sox, Okajima Close On One-Year Deal

The Red Sox and reliever Hideki Okajima are closing in on a one-year deal, a major league source tells Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.  The left-hander was non-tendered by the Red Sox earlier this year.

This post was originally published on December 31st.


Top 15 Remaining Free Agents

Only 15 of MLBTR's top 50 free agents remain unsigned. Here they are, with their original rankings in parentheses and their rumored suitors to this point in the winter:

1.  Adrian Beltre (3) – The Angels, A's and Rangers have been linked to Beltre, but it sounds like the A's are no longer bidding for the Scott Boras client.
2.  Rafael Soriano (7) – The market has been quiet for Soriano – at least publicly – but the Angels are a fit and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Orioles or Yankees jump in.
3.  Carl Pavano (13) – The Twins and Nationals are in; the Rangers and even the Mariners have been linked to the right-hander.
4.  Jim Thome (18) – The Twins have said they're interested in bringing Thome back. The Orioles, Rays, Blue Jays and Rangers could add a DH.
5.  Vladimir Guerrero (19) – Like Thome, Vlad could be a fit for the Orioles, Rays or Blue Jays. He's had continued dialogue with the Rangers about a return to Texas.
6.  Manny Ramirez (20) – When MLBTR's Tim Dierkes examined the market for Manny this week, he concluded that the Rays and Rangers are legitimate possible matches.
7.  Derrek Lee (23) – The Orioles and Nationals appear to be the strongest suitors for Lee.
8.  Andy Pettitte – (25) – It's Yankees or retirement for the veteran lefty.
9.  Brian Fuentes (33) – Eleven teams appear to have some interest in Fuentes.
10.  Adam LaRoche (34) - The Orioles and Nationals also appear to be the strongest suitors for LaRoche.
11.  Kevin Millwood (38) – The Rockies, Cubs and Royals have been linked to Millwood this offseason.
12.  Grant Balfour (42) – Baltimore appears to have legitimate interest in Balfour.
13.  Scott Podsednik (44) – The Angels and Reds are two of the teams in on Podsednik.
14.  Johnny Damon (47) – Damon would reportedly prefer to sign with the Rays, Angels or Yankees.
15.  Kevin Gregg (48) – The Orioles are one of the teams in the mix for Gregg.


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Examining The Mariners’ Offseason

Jack Zduriencik’s furiously busy 2009-10 offseason prompted many to pick the Mariners as a breakout candidate for 2010. The Mariners traded for Cliff Lee and Milton Bradley, signed Chone Figgins and extended Felix Hernandez last winter, but the team’s offense sputtered and the M’s won just 61 games. 

One year later, Zduriencik is in the midst of a considerably quieter winter. He signed Erik Bedard, Jack Cust and Miguel Olivo to major league deals worth a combined $10.5MM and added a number of others on minor league contracts (Chris Smith, Luis Rodriguez, Fabio Castro, Charlie Haeger, Chris Seddon, Royce Ring, Chris Gimenez, Denny Bautista and Ryan Langerhans).

The M’s acquired Brendan Ryan from the Cardinals for Maikel Cleto, got something (Chaz Roe) from the Rockies for non-tender candidate Jose Lopez and let Rob Johnson go. Those relatively small moves sum up Seattle's offseason so far (they also signed international prospect Esteilon Peguero to a $2.9MM deal).

The Mariners aren’t done yet. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes suggested this week that the team could still use a starting pitcher, a left fielder, a reliever and a backup infielder. Earlier in the month, Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner explained that he thinks Willy Aybar could be a utility player worth pursuing. The club could proceed with Josh Wilson and Matt Tuiasosopo rounding out its roster, or the M’s may look to build depth by adding a player such as Aybar, Nick Punto or Adam Kennedy.

Though the Mariners will likely consider adding a utility infielder and/or a left fielder, the team’s main need appears to be pitching. The club could use relief help regardless of whether David Aardsma stays put and it seems likely that the team will add a starter to compete with David Pauley at the back of Eric Wedge’s rotation.


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Hindsight Is 2010: Our Top 15 Stories Of The Year

You know it has been a busy year when the trades for Dan Uggla and Roy Oswalt aren't among the year's top stories. Uggla and Oswalt are in good company, though. Colby Rasmus, Justin Upton, Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez were all regulars on MLBTR, but none of them made our cut either. So who did? We present you with the 15 storylines that dominated MLB Trade Rumors in 2010:

  1. The Cliff Lee sweepstakes, Part 1 and 2 – Has any player monopolized trade rumors more than Cliff Lee in the past two years? He was traded twice in 2009, but didn't slow down in 2010. Once the Mariners fell out of contention it became apparent that Lee was headed elsewhere. The Yankees appeared to have acquired the left-hander, but the deal fell through and the Rangers swooped in to acquire him. In case that wasn't enough drama for the year, Lee turned down more guaranteed money from the Rangers and Yankees to return to Philadelphia. He signed a $120MM deal with the Phils that gives the team a phenomenal rotation and should provide Lee with some well-deserved stability.
  2. The Adrian Gonzalez trade – The Red Sox have long coveted Gonzalez, but Theo Epstein couldn't acquire him from the Padres until after the season, since San Diego was in contention until the season's final day. Boston obtained Gonzalez for Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes and Eric Patterson just before the Winter Meetings.
  3. The Zack Greinke trade – The Brewers acquired Greinke from the Royals, but that's far from the whole story. Despite a good-but-not-great season from the right-hander, many teams, including the Braves, Yankees, Blue Jays and Rangers, expressed interest. Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo have the potential to give the Brewers their best rotation in years.
  4. The Carl Crawford signing – Crawford was a potential trade candidate entering the season, but like the Padres, the Rays held onto their superstar and went for it in 2010. Both teams will be watching their former players suit up for the Red Sox in 2011, since Boston signed Crawford for $142MM. The Angels, considered by many the favorites to land Crawford, may be as disappointed as the Rays.
  5. Longtime Yankees hit free agency – No one really thought Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera would sign elsewhere, but the Red Sox were intrigued enough to make Rivera an offer and negotiations with Jeter became a little messier and more public than expected. Both players will be back in pinstripes for a minimum of two years, leaving Yankees fans to wonder about Andy Pettitte.
  6. Jayson Werth's massive contract - Werth entered 2010 having qualified for one batting title in his career and emerged from the year with a $126MM contract. In between, he collected 75 extra base hits, switched agents, helped the Phillies to the NLCS and was even a midsummer trade candidate.
  7. The Joe Mauer extension - Not only did Mauer sign the fourth biggest contract in baseball history ($184MM), he deprived the Yankees and Red Sox of the chance to bid on him as a free agent. The Twins' decision to lock up the perennial MVP candidate coincided with a move to Target Field and increased spending.
  8. Under-the-radar moves lead Giants to first World title in San Francisco – Brian Sabean has endured his share of criticism for signing Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito, but his moves worked tremendously in 2010. He signed Aubrey Huff, gambled on Pat Burrell and claimed Cody Ross to great effect. The team's homegrown core – Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Buster Posey – deserves credit, too.
  9. The Mets' front office changes – Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel won't be leading the Mets again in 2011. The team brought in veteran GM Sandy Alderson, who hired manager Terry Collins and former GMs J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta. The Mets have had a relatively quiet offseason, but they intend to spend more on the draft and they have money coming off the books a year from now.
  10. The Diamondbacks' front office changes and firesale – Josh Byrnes, Jerry Dipoto and Kevin Towers have all had turns running the D'Backs this year. Before Towers shopped Justin Upton, Byrnes and Dipoto shipped Conor Jackson, Edwin Jackson, Chris Snyder, Bobby Crosby, Dan Haren and Chad Qualls out of Arizona. The D'Backs also promoted Kirk Gibson and fired A.J. Hinch, who now works with Byrnes in the Padres front office. 
  11. The fate of the 2012 first base class – Ryan Howard signed a $125MM extension, Prince Fielder stayed put despite near-constant rumors and Albert Pujols is less than a year away from free agency.
  12. Top Nationals picks generate buzz – Stephen Strasburg's electrifying debut and eventual elbow injury captivated baseball fans this summer. Bryce Harper, the first overall pick in 2010, promises to bring his powerful bat to Nationals Park within a few years.
  13. Dodger Drama – The McCourts' divorce provided lots of off-field Hollywood drama. There will be no more Mannywood in L.A., though. The White Sox made a much-anticipated waiver claim this August, ending Manny Ramirez's two-year tenure with the Dodgers.
  14. The Adam Dunn saga – The Nationals discussed possible extensions with Dunn before and after he appeared in trade rumors at the 2010 deadline. He stayed put this summer, but left for Chicago after the season, signing a four-year, $56MM deal with the White Sox.
  15. Reds sign Aroldis Chapman - The Reds won the Chapman sweepstakes with a surprise $30.25MM bid. Late in the lefty's first professional season, the Reds called him up and saw him dominate big leaguers for 15 relief appearances, throwing the fastest recorded pitch in baseball history along the way.

Honorable mentions: Adrian BeltreVictor MartinezDan Uggla, Jason Bay, Matt HollidayCarl Pavano, Heath Bell, David Ortiz, Joey VottoJose BautistaPaul KonerkoCorey Hart, Ted Lilly, James Shields, Matt GarzaRoy Oswalt, Lance BerkmanColby Rasmus, Justin Upton, Troy Tulowitzki, Johnny Damon and multiyear deals for relievers.

Thanks to Tim Dierkes, Zach Links, Steve Adams, Howard Megdal, Mark Polishuk, Luke Adams, Mike Axisa and Jason Martinez for help creating this list.


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What Changed For Orlando Hudson

Orlando Hudson has been consistently productive this decade, but he signed the first multiyear deal of his career this month. Though Hudson's stats have fluctuated from season to season, it appears that his health and free agent ranking played more significant roles in determining his value on the open market.

The 33-year-old signed a two-year, $11.5MM deal with the Padres this offseason after agreeing to one-year contracts in each of the past two winters. Hudson signed a $5MM deal with the Twins for 2010 and a $3.8MM deal with the Dodgers for 2009.

At first glance, it appears that this offseason is the outlier, but teams were willing to offer the second baseman two-year contracts a year ago. The 2008-09 offseason is really the one that stands out.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported last offseason that the Indians offered Hudson a backloaded two-year, $10MM deal that included an option for a third year (Twitter link). The Nationals also appeared willing to offer Hudson a two-year deal at the right price last winter.

But in 2008-09, no teams appeared willing to make that sort of commitment to Hudson. It's probably not a coincidence that he was coming off a significant injury and was tied to draft pick compensation at the time. Hudson, who has finished the past two seasons in relatively good health, underwent surgery on his left wrist at the end of the 2008 season and didn't play after August 9th. It seems that his wrist operation detracted from his value. 

It cost a top draft pick to sign Hudson in the 2008-09 offseason, since the D'Backs offered him arbitration and he was a Type A free agent. But Hudson was not tied to draft pick compensation this offseason or last offseason, which has made signing him easier for clubs to justify.

Though health and draft pick compensation appear to have been major factors in determining Hudson's value, they aren't the only ones. The four-time Gold Glover posted below average UZR/150 numbers at second base in 2008 and 2009, but the metric suggests his defense was much better last year (12.0 UZR/150). However, his batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage all dropped from 2008 to 2009 and again from 2009 to 2010.

Hudson didn't play in the 2008 postseason and was benched in favor of Ronnie Belliard down the stretch in 2009 and in that year's playoffs. Those postseason results were likely secondary to health and draft pick compensation, but I doubt it hurt that Hudson had four playoff hits, including a homer, in 2010.