December 2011

Reactions To The Carlos Quentin Trade

Earlier today, the Padres bolstered their lineup by acquiring Carlos Quentin from the White Sox for pitching prospects Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez.  Here's a look at some of the fallout and reactions to the New Year's Eve swap..

  • The early word from scouts is that Castro and Hernandez don't have much upside, which indicates that this was a payroll move, tweets ESPN.com's Buster Olney.  
  • Despite the criticism of the two prospects, White Sox GM Ken Williams insists that the club has identified the keys to getting Castro back to where he was a year ago when he was considered to be a strong prospect, according to the White Sox official Twitter.  The 23-year-old right-hander was ranked as the Padres third best prospect last year by Baseball America.
  • Williams also compared Castro's build and mound mechanics to those of Jose Contreras, according to the ChiSox Twitter.  Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (via Twitter) notes compared Castro to Contreras in a piece almost two years ago.
  • Quentin said that the White Sox's sub-.500 finish in 2011 and his value led him to think he might be traded, tweets Dan Hayes of the North County Times (via Twitter).  The outfielder also says that he knew he was on Padres' radar.
  • In a piece for ESPN.com, Keith Law writes that Quentin is a mediocre fit for the Padres.  Quentin, he writes, is a poor defensive outfielder who has great secondary skills, including above-average power and solid plate discipline.  However, his history of injuries indicates that he'll have trouble playing the field 150 games a year.
  • GM Josh Byrnes and Ken Williams have swapped Quentin once before.  As Diamondbacks GM, Byrnes traded Quentin to Chicago for first baseman Chris Carter in 2007.  Byrnes said that trading away Quentin was "pretty high" on his list of regrets as Arizona GM, tweets Tom Krasovic of Inside The Padres.
  • The trade appears to signal that Kyle Blanks isn't in the team's plans going forward, Krasovic tweets.
  • Byrnes says that he and Williams have been discussing the deal for the past ten days and the pace picked up significantly over the past two days, Krasovic tweets.  Byrnes also says that he's looking to put together a team that can compete in 2012 while maintaining a long-term plan (via Twitter).
  • The two sides agreed to the deal in principle Friday morning before announcing the trade today, according to Corey Brock of MLB.com.

Quick Hits: Theriot, Aoki, Nakajima, Orioles

Links for Saturday night..


Blue Jays Sign Three To Minor League Deals

We'll keep track of today's minor moves right here..

  • In a press release, the Blue Jays announced the signings of right-handers Jerry Gil, Robert Coello, and shortstop Brian Bocock to minor league deals.  All three players will receive invitations to Major League spring training.  Bocock was involved in a minor mid-season swap this year when he was sent from the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate to the Pirates Triple-A squad.


Tigers Willing To Deal Jacob Turner

The Tigers have made it known to other teams that they are willing to trade Jacob Turner in a deal for the right pitcher, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN.com.  The Tigers have seemed willing to deal the right-hander in the past but this is the first indication that they are actively advertising Turner's availability.

Turner, 20, had a big fan in A's GM Billy Beane and was discussed as the centerpice for a deal that would have brought Gio Gonzalez to Detroit.  Ultimately, Gonzalez was shipped to the Nationals as the Tigers were unwilling to part with prospects Nick Castellanos and Drew Smyly in addition to Turner.

It's hard to say who the "right pitcher" for Detroit might be, but the Tigers are one of the clubs who are in the mix for Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.  Last season, Turner spent the bulk of the year with Double-A Erie where he turned in a 3.48 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 17 starts.


Red Sox Notes: Quentin, Madson, Soriano

Here's a look at some Red Sox items courtesy of WEEI.com's Rob Bradford..

  • Prior to him being traded to the Padres earlier today, the Red Sox weren't engaged in talks for Carlos Quentin, a major league source tells Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.  One of the major concerns from Boston's perspective, according to the source, was the 29-year-old’s ability to play right field in Fenway Park.
  • The Red Sox never got the sense that Ryan Madson's price would drop enough to make him a viable option.  Multiple big league execs surmise that Madson’s agent, Scott Boras, is looking for a deal similar to the one he landed for Yankees set-up man Rafael Soriano.  Boras managed to get Soriano a three-year, $35MM deal last offseason after the market for closers appeared to have dried up.
  • Boston could stand pat and take care of their right field situation with in-house solutions.  The newly-acquired Ryan Sweeney could split time Darnell McDonald and converted infielder Mike Aviles could also factor in.  Ryan Kalish should be in the mix too upon recovering from shoulder surgery. 

Marlins Have Serious Interest In Matt Garza

5:17pm: The Cubs are talking to a number of teams about Garza, but no deal is imminent, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN.com.

3:25pm: The Marlins have serious interest in Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, Major League sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  The Marlins' interest was sparked after they failed to land left-hander Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics.

The two sides are not close to a deal and the Cubs continue to speak to other clubs, including the Tigers, according to sources.  The Yankees have also expressed interest in Garza, but the asking price for the 28-year-old is a stumbling block for the Bombers.  The Red Sox and Blue Jays are also in on the pitcher but talks have slowed with both teams.

Rosenthal writes that the Tigers might have the upper hand if they are willing to include right-hander Jacob Turner in a deal.  Rival executives say the Cubs are desperate for young starting pitching.  Meanwhile, the Marlins have more position players to offer.

Marlins' Class-A outfielder Christian Yelich is likely on the Cubs' wish list and was among the players the Athletics were targeting in a possible deal for Gonzalez.  Rival clubs say Matt Dominguez, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Jose Ceda are among the other players Miami is willing to part with.


Padres Acquire Carlos Quentin

The Padres have acquired Carlos Quentin from the White Sox for pitching prospects Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez, the teams announced.  It's the second time Padres GM Josh Byrnes and White Sox GM Kenny Williams have gotten together for a trade involving Quentin; Byrnes was the Diamondbacks GM when the outfielder was traded from Arizona to the ChiSox in 2007. 

Quentin, 29, grew up in San Diego and will instantly add some power to the offensively challenged Padres' lineup.  The right-hander hitter produced a .254/.340/.499 batting line with 24 homers in 2011, and he's hit .257/.352/.505 with at least 21 homers per year from '08-'11.

13076543During his time in Chicago, the outfielder has battled shoulder, foot, hamstring, and wrist problems, requiring four separate stints on the disabled list.  We project him to earn $7.5MM his third time through arbitration in 2012 before becoming a free agent after the season.  On the surface, the deal appears to be a cost-cutting measure for the White Sox.

Castro, a 23-year-old right-hander, was ranked as the Padres third best prospect at this time last year by Baseball America but was left off of this year's top ten list.  In 2009, Castro was tabbed as the best pitcher in the Padres system after turning in a 3.33 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 for the club's Single-A affiliate.  The 6-foot-5 hurler started off 2011 with Double-A San Antonio before being promoted to Triple-A Tucson.  Combined, Castro posted a 5.63 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 2011. 

Hernandez, 22, was also left off of Baseball America's top ten list of Padres prospects in 2011.  The left-hander worked his way up from Class-A+ Lake Elsinore to San Antonio and finished the year in Tuscon.  In total, Hernandez turned in 116 innings of work with a 3.49 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9.

Neither prospect was ranked among the top 25 in San Diego's system by John Sickels of Minor League Ball while Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had Castro tabbed at No. 20.  Goldstein writes that Castro has "gone backwards from [his] big prospect days" and cites the fastball as his only dependable pitch.

The first time Josh Byrnes and Ken Williams hooked up in a trade involving Quentin, the outfielder was sent to the White Sox for first baseman Chris Carter.

Zach Links contributed to this post.


Poll: Which Team Will Sign Carlos Pena?

It’s been a very slow offseason for Carlos Pena, at least in terms of hot stove rumors. The 33-year-old first baseman was understandably overshadowed by Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder heading into free agency, and even now he’s still playing second fiddle to Fielder, a fellow Scott Boras client.

Pena is one of the best remaining free agent power hitters, hitting at least 28 homers in each of the last five seasons. Although his batting average (.216 from ’09-’11) leaves much to be desired, he still draws plenty of walks (walked in 15.6% of his plate appearances from ’09-’11) and gets on base at a solid clip (.346 OBP from ’09-’11). Pena is generally regarded as a strong defender at first, but he’s going to need a platoon partner after hitting just .179/.306/.398 against southpaws from ’09-’11.

Boras is confident that he’ll get multiyear offers for Pena, who is a Type-B free agent and will not require the signing team to forfeit a draft pick. The Blue Jays, Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Pirates, Rangers, and Rays are all in the hunt for an upgrade at first base/designated hitter, and we shouldn’t rule out a return to the Cubs either.


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Remaining Free Agent Strikeout Relievers

Everyone loves having relievers that can strike batters out in their bullpen, guys that can record outs all by themselves without the help of their defense. That comes in handy when there are men in base, since it's really hard to score without putting the ball in play. Take David Robertson of the Yankees for example; he faced 19 batters with the bases loaded last season and struck out 14 of them. Great way to prevent runs.

The pool of unsigned free agent relievers is at least 30 pitchers deep, but not all of those relievers are strikeout guys. We're going to take a look at those with an affinity for strike three using two metrics: K/9 and K%. You're probably familiar with K/9, which is strikeouts per nine innings. The league average was 7.13 K/9 in 2011, and Kenley Jansen led all qualified relievers with 16.10 K/9. The second metric, K%, is simply the percentage of batters faced that the pitcher struck out. It's a more accurate measure of strikeout proficiency. The league average was 18.6% in 2011, and Jansen again led all qualified relievers at 44.0%. 

As you'll see below, the K/9 and K% leaderboards are similar but not identical. More efficient pitchers will have a higher K%, even though they may have a lower K/9 than their baserunner-prone counterparts. Here are lists of unsigned free agent relievers with above average K/9 and K% rates. 

Strikeouts Per Nine Innings (K/9)

  1. Kerry Wood – 10.06
  2. Ryan Madson – 9.20
  3. Mike Gonzalez – 8.61
  4. Michael Wuertz – 8.55
  5. Juan Cruz – 8.51
  6. Chad Durbin – 7.77
  7. Fernando Rodney – 7.31

Dan Wheeler just missed the cut with a 7.11 K/9. He would have posted an above average 7.30 K/9 with just one more strikeout last year, and I'm sure an umpire robbed him of a strike three call somewhere along the line. Free agent closer Francisco Cordero struck out a well below average 5.43 batters per nine innings last year.

Strikeouts Per Batters Faced (K%)

  1. Wood – 25.5%
  2. Madson – 25.2%
  3. Cruz – 23.0%
  4. Gonzalez – 22.2%
  5. Wuertz – 19.8%
  6. Wheeler – 19.4%
  7. Durbin – 18.6%

Rodney (17.3%) drops off the list in favor of Wheeler, which essentially means that more of the outs he recorded were strikeouts, but Wheeler was more efficient and struck out a higher percentage of the batters he faced. Make sense? Cordero was again well below average at 15.3%.


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Extension Candidate: Tyler Clippard

Icon_6756808The Washington Nationals are clearly a team on the rise, combining a young rotation (Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez) with an improving offense (Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Morse, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, eventually Bryce Harper) and a solid bullpen. Part of that bullpen is setup man Tyler Clippard, who's been one of the game's best relievers since the Nats moved him to the bullpen full-time in 2009.

Clippard, 27 in February, was acquired from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo in December 2007. A starting pitcher with just a half-dozen big league starts to his credit at the time of the trade, the Nats kept the right-hander in Triple-A for the majority of the 2008 season. He struggled, pitching to a 4.77 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in 143 minor league innings that year, making a pair of unspectacular spot starts for Washington in June. The Nationals moved him to the bullpen full-time in 2009, and after a 24-game trial in the minors, he was called up in late-June and has been a bullpen force ever since.

Since that June 2009 call-up, Clippard has pitched to a 2.52 ERA with 10.6 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. His arm has proven to be resilient after working 91 innings in 2010 (78 appearances) and 88 1/3 innings in 2011 (72 appearances), and his fastball velocity has actually increased the last two years. He also cut his walk rate from 4.3 BB/9 in 2009-2010 to just 2.6 BB/9 in 2011. Clippard's biggest flaw is his utter inability to get ground balls, which makes him homer prone. His 25.6% ground ball rate since the start of 2009 is easily the lowest among all pitchers (min. 200 IP), and his 1.05 HR/9 is the third highest among relievers during that time. He did make his first All-Star team in 2011 despite the long ball problem.

Clippard qualified for Super Two status by just two days of service time this offseason, so he'll be arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three. Our system projects him to make $1.7MM in 2012, which puts him in uncharted territory for non-closing relievers. Fellow Super Two relievers like George Sherrill ($900K in 2008), Brandon League ($640K in 2009), Rafael Perez ($795K in 2010), and Nick Masset ($1.035MM in 2010) all received considerably less their first time through arbitration while Brian Wilson ($4.4375MM in 2010) received considerably more thanks to his saves total. Clippard falls somewhere in the middle, an elite setup man without enough saves to pad his salary.

You don't see many teams locking up relievers to long-term contracts that buy out arbitration years for a number of reasons, namely the risk involved. Relievers are more volatile than just about any other position in the game, plus their salaries generally remain affordable through arbitration anyway. Wilson, Masset, Manny Corpas, and Jonathan Broxton all signed multi-year contracts that bought out some (but not all) arbitration years and no free agent years. A similarly structured contract could benefit both the Nationals and Clippard.

A two-year contract in the $4-4.5MM range or a three-year contract around $8MM seasons reasonable, though that is just my speculation. A relatively short-term commitment like that would put some guaranteed money in Clippard's pocket while allowing him to maintain the earning potential of his later arbitration years and free agency. The Nats would get some financial certainty and save a few bucks before he starts approaching closer money through arbitration. Most relievers don't get the luxury of multi-year contracts, but then again Clippard isn't most relievers. Washington is improving every year, and a multi-year deal for their star setup man could help ensure that he's still affordable when they're ready to contend.

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.