December 2012

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Rays Looking For Relief Pitching

The Rays are looking to add another reliever or two, Tampa Bay executive VP Andrew Friedman tells Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.  The Rays have made a few bullpen moves already this winter, such as signing Roberto Hernandez as a free agent, exercising Fernando Rodney's 2013 option and re-signing Joel Peralta.  If another reliever isn't added, internal options like Cesar Ramos or Brandon Gomes could play larger roles in the bullpen, plus the Rays could use whatever starting pitchers don't make the rotation. 

A quick look at the list of remaining free agents reveals a number of solid right-handed relief options still available.  As Smith points out, Friedman has been successful at acquiring relievers over the last several years, especially at finding unheralded arms who deliver big returns for Tampa.

Rodney and Peralta might not be the only Rays relievers bought back next season, as both J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth are "still in the mix to return," writes Smith.  Howell, the top southpaw reliever left on the market, has at least five other suitors.  Farnworth has been targeted by the Brewers this winter, though Milwaukee may have completed its bullpen remodeling after agreeing to sign Mike Gonzalez.

Quick Hits: Stanton, D'Backs, Upton, Pirates

The Marlins aren't in a rush to trade Giancarlo Stanton, but it remains highly unlikely that he will agree to a long-term contract, writes Joe Frisaro of  It seems inevitable that he'll be moved sometime before he reaches free agency because Miami is reloading its roster and will look to add as many quality pieces in the next few years as they can.  Here's more from around baseball as Sunday becomes Monday..

  • The Diamondbacks are now overloaded with outfielders, but almost no one inside the industry is second-guessing General Manager Kevin Towers, writes Richard Justice of  Many are wondering if the signing of Cody Ross means that Arizona has earmarked Justin Upton or Jason Kubel for a trade, but Justice believes that Towers will simply make the best deal he can and doesn't know which outfielder it's going to be.
  • The Joel Hanrahan trade benefits the Pirates by increasing the cost-effectiveness of their bullpen and allowing them to reallocate their savings to other areas of need, opines Eric Seidman of Fangraphs.  By swapping Hanrahan for Mark Melancon and taking a flier on Francisco Liriano, the Bucs may be able to replicate the Hanrahan-Jason Grilli tandem’s production at 30% of the cost while improving the rotation.
  • There are still big names for the Mariners on the trade block and free agent market and Jason A. Churchill of Prospect Insider looked at some of the possibilities.

Javier Vazquez May Return, Wants To Join Contender

Javier Vazquez is pitching for Puerto Rico's Ponce Lions this winter and is planning to pitch for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in March.  Peter Gammons of MLB Network reported in November that Vazquez would gauge things during the WBC and see if he wants to make a comeback, but comments made to Ralph Pagan Archeval of indicate that he is heavily leaning towards a return.

"Winning the World Series, quite simply, is the only thing (I’m interested in). It’s a team award, since I’m not interested in individual awards. In truth, what I’m missing is a World Series victory...If I decide (to play), it doesn’t matter for what team, as long as they have a good possibility to get to the championship. I’m not going to sign with a team knowing that I’m going to lose," said Vazquez (translation courtesy of Nick Collias).

Vazquez was ranked as No. 19 in the 2012 free agent class by Tim Dierkes last winter and fielded phone calls from a number of clubs.  The right-hander stopped short of announcing his retirement, leaving the door open for a comeback at some point.  Vazquez, now 36, showed in 2011 that he still has a lot left to offer as he pitched to a 3.69 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 32 starts for the Marlins.  The veteran may prefer to spend 2013 with his family, but if he does, it won't be because of his health.

"My [physical] condition is very good. The most important thing is to keep count of the pitches and get that as high as I can. I’ve felt very good; better than I thought I was going to feel. I’ll continue pitching and see what happens."

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MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week as we wind down 2012:

Week In Review: 12/23/12 - 12/29/12

Here's a look back at the last (full) week of 2012..

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This Week In Transactions History: Messersmith-McNally Decision

The game of baseball changed forever this week in 1975. No, not how the game was played on the field, but how the game was played off the field. Thirty seven years ago this week, arbitrator Peter Seitz issued his historic decision making pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally true free agents. Federal district and appeals courts both upheld Seitz's opinion, effectively voiding baseball's reserve clause.

The reserve clause allowed teams to renew a player's contract "for the period of one year on the same terms," except that the salary could be cut by as much as 20%. Players generally signed new contracts, so the process had the effect of holding the player to the team with which he first signed indefinitely. This eliminated competition and suppressed salaries to the benefit of the owners and to the dissatisfaction of the players.

In 1975, Messersmith and McNally were the only two players bound to their teams, the Dodgers and Expos respectively, on the basis of the reserve clause. Since neither signed a contract during that option year, both insisted that they were free to sign with other teams the following season. The owners disagreed.

The grievance was submitted to arbitration with MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller and players Joe Torre and Jim Bouton testifying for the players. Meanwhile, commissioner Bowie Kuhn, NL president Chub Feeney, and AL president Lee MacPhail testified for the owners. The hearing lasted three days and produced an 842-page transcript with 97 exhibits. Seitz sided with the players, ruling owners could not maintain a player's services indefinitely. Messersmith went on to sign a three-year deal with the Braves worth $1MM while McNally, who quit baseball in June 1975, remained retired. 

The decision created a true free agent market and salaries skyrocketed. According to Baseball Almanac, the average salary in 1975 was $44,676. Today, the Associated Press (via reports the average salary is over $3.2MM, an increase of nearly 7,100%.

The free agency windfall has continued this offseason with the top five richest free agent contracts, based on MLBTR's Free Agent Tracker, totaling nearly $500MM. This includes the richest contract ever given to a right-handed pitcher (Zack Greinke's $147MM), a record average annual value (AAV) for any pitcher on a multiyear contract (also Greinke at $24.5MM), and the fifth player in MLB history to receive a contract with an AAV of at least $25MM (Josh Hamilton at $25MM). The Indians recently agreed to sign Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56MM contract, but Swisher's AAV of $14MM doesn't even crack the top 50 list of the highest-paid players in baseball history (based on AAV), as compiled by Cot's Baseball Contracts.

In his opinion, Seitz summarized the owners' argument that eliminating the reserve clause "would encourage many other players to elect to become free agents at the end of their renewal years, that this would encourage clubs with the largest monetary resources to engage free agents, thus unsettling the competitive balance between the clubs, so essential to the sport...that driven by the compulsion to win, owners of franchises would overextend themselves financially in improvident bidding for players."

It could be argued that the owners weren't far off the mark. The George Steinbrenner reign of the Yankees featured some lavish spending and the next few Dodgers teams are poised to set National League payroll records under the ownership of Guggenheim Baseball Management. 

What was Seitz's reward for changing the game of baseball? He was fired the same day he issued his opinion by the owner's representative in labor matters and asked to refrain from writing or discussing the historic decision. However, on the day of his ruling, Seitz put his decision in context saying, "I am not Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation."  

Seitz may have downplayed the effect his ruling would have on baseball, but no decision in the last half century has had such a profound impact on the business side of the sport.

Thanks to Sports Illustrated for some historical information.

Quick Hits: LaRoche, Marlins, Delmon Young, Brewers

The Mills Commission published its final report on this date in 1907 concluding Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball in Cooperstown, NY in 1839 and had invented the word "baseball," designed the diamond, indicated fielders' positions, and written the rules. The commission's report remained the authoritative work on the origins of baseball for over a half a century before being scrutinzed by historians. It is now believed baseball did indeed evolve from rounders. Here's a round up of the latest news from around baseball:

NL East Notes: Nationals, Howell, Harper, Mets

Links out of the National League East..

  • The Brewers' signing of pitcher Mike Gonzalez will have a direct bearing on whatever kind of deal fellow left-hander J.P. Howell is going to get, whether it's from the Nationals or another club, writes Buster Olney of (Insider sub. req'd).  Washington has been heavily linked to Howell and are said to have him as their top choice among free agent lefties.
  • The Nationals' decision to promote Bryce Harper this season wasn't an easy one, but it was the right call, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.  The Nats promoted Harper on April 28th, triggering the start of his service clock.  However, they waited long enough to postpone his free agency by a full year and will control him through 2018.  Harper was just 19-years-old when he got the call and won the NL Rookie of the Year award with a .270/.340/.477 slash line and 22 homers.
  • Brian Joura of Mets 360 believes that minor league pickup Greg Burke has a good chance of making the Mets big league roster out of spring training.  The Mets still haven't signed a free agent to a major league contract this winter.

Cafardo On Upton, Red Sox, Stanton, Lohse, Myers

In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe looks at the best big league rosters as we head into 2013.  The Nationals top the list as their addition of Denard Span in the leadoff spot made an already strong roster even more impressive.  The Reds are second after adding Shin-Soo Choo to the fold.  The Blue Jays are only in fifth after annexing a big chunk of the Marlins' roster and the Dodgers rank sixth despite having the highest payroll in baseball.  Here's more from today's column..

  • When asked if he thought there was any match on a Justin Upton deal with the Red Sox, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers responded, “Probably not.”  Upton would be a fit for the Red Sox, but it could mean giving up prospects such as Xander Bogaerts and Matt Barnes, as ESPN's Jim Bowden recently suggested. Upton is an underachieving player who has frustrated his bosses in Arizona and the Red Sox want something better for those prospects.
  • The Marlins have put out word that Giancarlo Stanton is going nowhere, but that hasn’t stopped some teams from trying to put together a package to obtain him.  A big league source says that's expected to continue.  Teams have also called on righty Ricky Nolasco and the right package for him could net a team a decent starter.
  • The Dodgers may jump in on Kyle Lohse, even with Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang slated for the back end of the rotation.  The Tigers could also be a possibility as they listen on offers for Rick Porcello.
  • People like Brett Myers and what he can bring either as a starter or reliever but he's still on the open market. “The feeling is he’s been asking for too much money,” said an NL GM. “I think teams are waiting for the price to come down. He can certainly help a team. I think a lot of teams have him on a wish list.
  • In his introductory presser, Cody Ross said that right field is his least favorite position.  Cafardo theorizes that this could be the reason why the Red Sox wouldn't go beyond two years for him.  Ross inked a three-year, $26MM contract with Arizona earlier this month.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka prefers to stay in the US, but Japan may not be out of the question, depending on what type of deal he gets.  He likes the Padres, but so far there’s no indication that the feeling is mutual.
  • Opinions are mixed on the potential of first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, who has been traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox to the Pirates.  “He’s one of those guys who could all of a sudden put up a big year if he gets the chance to play every day,” said one AL GM. “Don’t think he’ll be that effective off someone’s bench. He’s got to get into a rhythm at the plate and when he does, he can hit.
  • Hideki Matsui will likely manage the Yomiuri Giants someday, though for now it appears that he will live with his family in the US.  The slugger announced his retirement in a press conference late last week.

This Date In Transactions History: December 29

Things tend to be fairly quiet between Christmas and New Year's Eve, but we've seen some big free agent signings go down during that week.  Today marks the anniversary for two of them: Jason Bay signing with the Mets and Barry Zito to the Giants.

In the winter of 2009, the Mets agreed to a four-year, $66MM deal with former Red Sox slugger Jason Bay.  The deal was panned by many critics at the time as they felt that the Mets were mortgaging their future with a heavily backloaded deal.  The Mets agreed to give Bay $6.5MM in 2010 and $16MM in the following three seasons.  The deal also included a $17MM club option for 2014, which could be 86'd for another $3MM.  Of course, the two sides never got close to that point.  After playing just 288 games across three seasons in Queens with a batting line of .234/.318/.369, the Mets and Bay agreed to an early expiration of his contract in November 2012.  Bay will still earn the $21MM owed to him for the remainder of the deal, but the Mets will save a bit by being able to defer a portion of it.

Three years prior to that, the Giants made a statement when they signed Barry Zito to a seven-year, $126MM deal.  At the time, the deal made the left-hander the highest paid pitcher in major league history.  The deal was widely panned as an overpay and it's not clear how much the next-highest bidder was offering.  The Rangers put a six-year, $80MM offer on the table and those spend-happy Yankees never got around to making a formal offer. 

On the whole, Zito has struggled to pitch well consistently, but the left-hander found redemption last season.  After pitching to a 4.15 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 across 32 starts in the regular season, Zito shined in a pair of postseason starts for San Francisco, including a strong effort in Game 1 of the World Series to give the Giants a 1-0 advantage.

Can Bay re-write his story as well?  The Mariners took a low-risk flyer on the veteran this winter, signing him to a one-year, $1MM deal with $2MM in performance bonuses.  Bay now has a chance at a tabula rasa, away from the scrutiny of the New York press and a short drive from his home in Kirkland, Washington.

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