December 2012

The 80-89 Win Club

Last year, roughly one quarter of the teams in baseball won between 80 and 89 games and all of them missed the playoffs.  This season, we saw the Tigers take the AL Central and the Cardinals grab the second NL Wild Card spot with 88 wins.  Outside of that, you weren't invited to the party in 2012 if you had 80-something victories.  What have those teams within striking distance done so far this winter to bulk up?  As Ben Nicholson-Smith has done over the last two winters, I've broken those clubs in two groups with their 2012 win totals in parentheses and links that send you to the club's offseason transactions summary..

Aggressive Acquirers

  • Angels (89) – The Angels are one of two repeat customers this year, with the other being the Dodgers.  After the Dodgers backed up a Brink's truck to sign Zack Greinke, the Halos went into best player available mode and inked Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125MM deal.  The Angels then took care of their logjam by trading Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for left-hander Jason Vargas.  Meanwhile, their signings of Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett will also help to solidify the bullpen.
  • Dodgers (86) – We all knew the Dodgers were going to spend this winter, but it was still jarring to see how much they shelled out for Greinke.  The six-year, $147MM deal landed them the top pitcher on the open market while plucking him away from their intra-market rival.  They also added Hyun-Jin Ryu to the starting five and kept Brandon League in the pen with a three-year deal.  
  • Diamondbacks (81) – The Angels didn't need a boost in the outfield when they signed Hamilton and neither did the D'Backs when they landed Cody Ross on a three-year deal.  Even after parting with Chris Young, the Diamondbacks still have Justin Upton, Jason Kubel, and Gerardo Parra in the fold with prospects Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock waiting in the wings.  It sounds like Upton or Kubel will be moved, and they'll bring back a solid return for Arizona.  GM Kevin Towers also shook things up when he acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius, left-handed pitcher Tony Sipp, and first baseman Lars Anderson in a three-team deal.
  • Phillies (81) – The Phillies didn't make a major splash on the free agent market, but they did upgrade with a pair of significant trades early in December.  The Phillies solved their third base vacancy when they got Michael Young from the Rangers.  They were also in need of a center fielder and were heavily linked to Michael Bourn, but they instead went out and got Ben Revere from Minnesota for Vance Worley and Trevor May.  They also picked up a pair of pitchers in the middle of the month in starter John Lannan and reliever Mike Adams.

Restrained Spenders

  • White Sox (85) – The White Sox finished three games behind the Tigers for the AL Central crown and they opted against an overhaul heading into 2013.  They got the offseason started with a two-year contract extension for Jake Peavy and so far their biggest free agent pickup is Jeff Keppinger on a three-year, $12MM deal.
  • Brewers (83) – Kyle Lohse remains unsigned, but don't expect the Brewers to make a play to keep him in the division.  Milwaukee upgraded their pitching by signing Tom Gorzelanny last week and inking Mike Gonzalez to a one-year deal yesterday.

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Poll: Will LaRoche Get A Three Year Deal?

Adam LaRoche wants to return to Washington and the Nationals want to bring the first baseman back.  So what's LaRoche still doing on the open market?  Well, the 33-year-old is looking for a three-year deal and the Nats say that they won't go beyond two years.  They reportedly haven't felt pressured to consider a deal to keep LaRoche in D.C. through 2015, because they don't see another team offering him the same.  It looked like General Manager Mike Rizzo & Co. were dead on about that, until recently, when the Red Sox's situation with Mike Napoli became cloudy.

Amidst concerns over Napoli's hip, the two sides have still yet to finalize their three-year, $39MM deal.  Whether it's a play for leverage or legitimate concern over the catcher's health, Boston has begun talking to LaRoche as a plan B.  Even though we're closing in on the New Year and LaRoche's market likely isn't what he expected, he's still not willing to budge on his demand for a three-year pact.

How do you see it playing out?  Do you see the Nationals, Red Sox, or any other team giving LaRoche a three-year contract?


Orioles Remain In Contact With Joe Saunders

Orioles GM Dan Duquette remains in contact with free agent left-hander Joe Saunders, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com. He notes that the team doesn't want to surrender a draft pick and is disinclined to hand out a big pitching contract, so Kyle Lohse isn't a fit.

The Mariners, Padres, Mets, and Twins are among the other clubs with interest in Saunders. The 31-year-old pitched to a 4.07 ERA in 174 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks and Orioles last season, his fifth consecutive season of 170+ innings pitched. Baltimore has had a relatively quiet winter so far, as a new contract for Nate McLouth and trades for Trayvon Robinson, Yamaico Navarro, and Danny Valencia highlight the team's moves.

MLBTR's Tim Dierkes ranked Saunders as the 25th best free agent available earlier this offseason, predicting he would re-sign with the Orioles.



Ugueth Urbina Hopes To Return To MLB

Recently released from prison in Venezuela after serving seven years of a 14-year sentence for attempted murder, former big league reliever Ugueth Urbina hopes to return to MLB according to Reyes Urena of El Nacional. The right-hander is currently working out with the Caracas Lions.

"The objective is to pitch," said Urbina. "When? My arm will say, and that's why I'm here. I'll work out two times a day if it's necessary, but my primary goal is to suit up with the Lions. After that, we'll know if any doors open to me up north (in MLB), which is what I want. I know that right now my mechanics aren't very good, but my arm is healthy. I only have to work on the details."

Alexander Mendoza of El Nacional recently reported Urbina was able to work out and play softball while in prison, and it's been rumored that he even hit 90 mph recently. The 39-year-old last pitched for the Tigers and Phillies back in 2005, and he owns a 3.45 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 11 big league seasons with six different teams. His son Juan is a prospect with the Mets.

Nick Collias provided the translations.


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The Latest On Adam LaRoche

Free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche told Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post that he is in talks with multiple clubs in addition to the Nationals. His preference is to remain in Washington, but he also expressed some frustration that the two sides have not yet reached an agreement.

“We’re talking to a few other teams,” said LaRoche to Kilgore yesterday. “Got to keep things open in case Washington doesn’t work out. I’m still hopeful that it will, but as you know it takes two sides cooperating to make that happen. I’m doing everything I can.”

LaRoche added that he's left negotiations to his representatives at SFX, saying he's "let the guys who get paid to do that do their job." The 33-year-old is the top remaining free agent slugger, having hit .271/.343/.510 with 33 homers in 647 plate appearances for the Nationals last season. Since he rejected a qualifying offer, he will require draft pick compensation to sign.

The Nationals have made LaRoche a two-year contract offer, but he's seeking a third guaranteed year. He's reportedly been talking to the Red Sox as their agreement with Mike Napoli appears to be in danger due to a hip issue. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes ranked LaRoche as the 15th best free agent available this winter, predicting he would re-sign with the Nats.


Remaining Free Agent Contact Hitters

With power becoming harder to find, lots of teams are shifting towards a contact-oriented offense. They seek players who can hit for average and put the ball in play to force the defense's hand, move runners over, all sorts of stuff. Few players manage to be above-average at both hitting for power and putting the ball in play, but Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, and Albert Pujols are among those who pull it off.

The league average strikeout rate in 2012 was 19.8% (of all plate appearances). Marco Scutaro had the lowest strikeout rate among qualified hitters this year (7.2%) while Jose Reyes was second (7.8%). Adam Dunn, on the other hand, had the highest strikeout rate at 34.2%. Only four other players (Pedro Alvarez, Drew Stubbs, Carlos Pena, Chris Davis) were over 30%. Strikeouts are not the only way to identify hitters who can put the ball in play though, especially in the age of PitchFX. Contact rate, which is available at FanGraphs and uses PitchFX data, is the percentage of contact made with individual swings. The league average contact rate was 79.6% this past season, with Scutaro (95.2%) and Josh Hamilton (64.6%) representing the two extremes. No other player was above 92.6% or below 66.9%.

Here are the remaining unsigned free agents who posted better than average strikeout and contact rates in 2012 (min. 200 PA). The lists, as you'll notice, are not identical.

Strikeout Rate

  1. Carlos Lee – 8.0%
  2. Casey Kotchman – 9.8%
  3. Juan Rivera – 10.3%
  4. Yuniesky Betancourt – 11.0%
  5. Johnny Damon – 12.1%
  6. Ryan Theriot – 12.2%
  7. Adam Kennedy – 16.4%
  8. Jose Lopez – 16.5%
  9. Travis Hafner – 17.5%
  10. Orlando Hudson – 18.0%
  11. Yorvit Torrealba – 18.3%
  12. Delmon Young – 18.4%
  13. Scott Rolen – 18.8%
  14. Rod Barajas – 19.1%

Contact Rate

  1. Lee – 89.5%
  2. Theriot – 89.3%
  3. Damon – 89.2%
  4. Kotchman – 87.7%
  5. Betancourt – 85.3%
  6. Rivera – 84.8%
  7. Hudson – 84.6%
  8. Kennedy – 84.4%
  9. Rolen – 84.0%
  10. Lopez – 83.7%
  11. Bobby Abreu – 82.9%
  12. Jeff Baker – 80.2%
  13. Hafner – 79.7%

Damon and Rolen could retire before the end of the offseason, which would further remove from the crop of available contact hitters.


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Quick Hits: Indians, Matsui, Ethier, Sanchez

The Indians are the latest team to get a financial boost from a new TV contract, as the club announced that it has sold SportsTime Ohio (and the broadcasting rights to Indians games) to FOX Sports Media Group.  The Tribe's contract with FOX will run for at least 10 years and the team will receive at least $400MM over the course of the deal, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  The Indians will get $40MM from FOX in 2013, up from the $33MM the team received from STO in 2012.  While it isn't the multi-billion dollar deal that other teams have received in recent TV rights deals, the extra funds have already played a role in the Indians' operations, namely the $56MM contract given to Nick Swisher.

Here are some items from around baseball as we head into the final weekend of 2012…

  • Hideki Matsui told reporters (including Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News) that he received offers from several Japanese teams but decided to retire since he felt he wasn't able to play up his standards.  Amongst Major League clubs, only the Astros were known to have shown any interest in Matsui this winter.
  • The Mariners could be in on Andre Ethier, tweets CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, though there is "no real evidence" that the Dodgers have any interest in dealing the right fielder.
  • Matt Sosnick, agent for infielder Freddy Sanchez, tells Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his client is healthy and has received some interest from teams, though no offers.  Sanchez, 35, has been plagued by injuries over the last two seasons and was limited to just 10 minor league plate appearances in 2012.
  • The Brewers signed righty Alfredo Figaro to a minor league deal last week but they were unaware that Figaro's rights were still controlled by the NPL's Orix Buffaloes, reports MLB.com's Adam McCalvy.  Milwaukee assistant GM Gord Ash said that the Brewers have told Orix that they will retract their offer if the Buffaloes choose to retain Figaro.
  • ESPN's Jim Bowden lists five possible transactions that he thinks make sense for contending teams, such as the Cardinals trading for Carlos Gonzalez or the Orioles signing Kyle Lohse.
  • Twins assistant GM Rob Antony tells La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the team could still make further additions to its pitching depth.  "I wouldn't say we're done," Antony said. "I wouldn't say were pushing hard. We have our feelers out there. If the situation is right, we could do something else. If not, we're OK too.''  Minnesota has already added Kevin Correia, Rich Harden, Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley this winter but Neal doesn't think the team is willing to give a two-year, $14-$15MM contract to the likes of Joe Saunders, Shaun Marcum or Brett Myers.

Padres Notes: Myers, Porcello, Headley, Cabrera

Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune is back with his regular chat with fans about the Padres, and here are some of the relevant hot stove items…

  • The Padres have been talking to right-hander Brett Myers, according to Myers' agent.  San Diego would use Myers as a starting pitcher, which is Myers' preferred role after spending 2012 coming out of the bullpen for the Astros and White Sox.
  • The Tigers are reconsidering trading Rick Porcello, who has drawn attention from the Padres and several other clubs since Detroit re-signed Anibal Sanchez.  If Porcello is available, Center feels it would take more than a rumored trade package of Luke Gregerson and Jesus Guzman for the Padres to acquire the right-hander.
  • It's a "gamble on both sides" for Chase Headley and the Padres that there are apparently no extension talks taking place between the club and the third baseman.  Headley is under team control for two more years, but a repeat of his 2012 numbers could make him too expensive for the Padres to lock up.
  • Everth Cabrera has drawn trade interest but most clubs (including the Padres) aren't sure if he is capable of being an everyday shortstop.  Center notes that San Diego has been shopping "several" of its middle infielders this winter.
  • The Padres are "actively seeking" starting pitching but aren't going to be forced into making a bad signing just for the sake of adding an arm to the rotation. 
  • Between Porcello, Shaun Marcum and Joe Saunders, Center lists Marcum as the most likely of the trio to be a Padre in 2013, followed by Saunders and Porcello in that order. 
  • The Padres won't be adding another outfielder as they already have several options on the roster.
  • Center doesn't expect the Padres to have a $100MM payroll within the next few years, even adding an "if ever" to the idea.
  • The Padres want to bring back Dustin Moseley and Tim Stauffer on minor league contracts.  The two pitchers elected to become free agents in October following injury-plagued 2012 seasons.
  • Center hasn't heard of the Padres having any interest in Carlos Zambrano.

This Date In Transactions History: December 28

Major transactions can occur at any time in baseball's offseason, even during the lull between Christmas and New Year's Eve.  Let's look back at some of the major transactions that have taken place on past December 28ths over the years…

  • It was one year ago today that the Red Sox acquired Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney from the Athletics in exchange for Josh Reddick and prospects Miles Head and Raul Alcantara.  Boston had Bailey tapped as the team's replacement for Jonathan Papelbon at closer, but Bailey struggled with injuries and posted a 7.04 ERA in 19 games.  Reddick, meanwhile, had a breakout year, winning a Gold Glove and hitting .242/.305/.463 with 32 homers to help lead the A's to the AL West pennant.  Even if Bailey gets healthy and returns to form, a good closer doesn't have the value of a good (and controllable through 2016) everyday outfielder, so I'd say Oakland has won this trade already.
  • Jon Garland signed a three-year, $29MM contract to remain with the White Sox on this day in 2005.  Garland never quite developed into anything more than a nice innings-eater, averaging 210 IP with a 4.37 ERA and 4.5 K/9 rate over the next two seasons.  Chicago dealt Garland to the Angels for Orlando Cabrera following the 2007 season.
  • The Diamondbacks acquired their most beloved player in franchise history on this day in 1998, picking up Luis Gonzalez from the Tigers in exchange for Karim Garcia.  Gonzalez had been a solid player for his first nine years in the majors but he exploded in Arizona, posting a 1.001 OPS over the next three seasons including a 57-homer outburst in 2001.  Gonzalez is best remembered for his walkoff bloop single against Mariano Rivera in Game Seven of the legendary 2001 World Series.  Garcia, meanwhile, had a .708 OPS in 104 games with Detroit before being dealt during the 2000 season.
  • Tim Raines is in the news due to his Hall of Fame candidacy, and it was on this day in 1995 that Raines was dealt from the White Sox to the Yankees for future considerations.  Raines was 36 years old at the time of the trade but he still had plenty of value as a platoon player, hitting .299/.395/.429 in 940 PAs over his three seasons in New York and winning two World Series rings.
  • The Astros and Padres swung a whopper of a trade on this day in 1994, with 12 players eventually changing teams once all was settled.  Houston acquired Derek Bell, Ricky Gutierrez, Pedro Martinez (not that one), Phil Plantier and Craig Shipley while San Diego picked up Ken Caminiti, Andujar Cedeno, Sean Fesh (as a player to be named later), Steve Finley, Roberto Petagine and Brian Williams.
  • Warren Cromartie surprised many by instead signing a three-year, $2.5MM deal with the Yomiuri Giants on this day in 1983, a rare case of a player going to Japan in his prime. (Baseball Reference believes collusion may have played a role in Cromartie not finding a good Major League offer.) Cromartie played in Japan for seven seasons and wrote a book about his experiences in the NPL following his retirement. 
  • Danny O'Connell may not be well-remembered today, but the infielder was so highly-sought by the Braves that they sent six players and $100K to the Pirates in exchange for O'Connell on this day in 1953.  It remains the only six-for-one trade in Major League history, topped only by the A's dealing Vida Blue to the Giants for seven players in 1978.  O'Connell, by the way, didn't quite live up to the hype in Milwaukee.  He posted a .647 OPS in three-plus years with the Braves and was part of a trade package sent to the Giants partway through the 1957 season for Red Schoendienst, who ended up playing a key role in the Braves' 1957 World Series run.

NL East Notes: Howell, LaRoche, Crisp, Marlins

Happy 60th birthday to former Mets third baseman Ray Knight, whose World Series MVP performance in 1986 helped lift the Amazins to their most recent championship.  Here's the latest from the NL East…

  • J.P. Howell is still the Nationals' top choice amongst available left-handed relievers, reports Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com.  Several other teams are known to have interest in Howell besides the Nats, who missed out on another southpaw bullpen option when Mike Gonzalez agreed to sign with the Brewers today.
  • The Nationals and Adam LaRoche are no closer to an agreement, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson.  LaRoche appears to be insistent on a three-year deal while the Nats aren't willing to offer him more than two years.  The Red Sox have also shown interest in LaRoche but not for three years.
  • The Mets showed some interest in Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post tweeted last week, though the "sense is that [Oakland] will keep him." Crisp, 33, hit .259/.325/.418 in 508 PAs with the A's in 2012 and was also 39-for-43 in stolen base attempts.  Crisp is set to earn $7MM in 2013 and the A's have a $7.5MM option on him for 2014 that can be bought out for $1MM, plus he'd receive a $250K bonus if he's traded.
  • The Marlins have spent much of the winter looking for center field help but haven't found a fit, leaving Justin Ruggiano as the favorite to win the job, MLB.com's Joe Frisaro writes as part of a reader mailbag.  Frisaro believes Miami hasn't been too ardent in looking for a center fielder since prospect Christian Yelich could be ready for the majors by 2014 or even late next season.
  • Also from Frisaro, the Marlins plan to keep Ricky Nolasco "at least for much of the first half of the season."  Nolasco is entering the last year of his contract and has already said he'd prefer a trade out of Miami, so the right-hander is a good bet to be moved before the trade deadline.  The Marlins told teams during the Winter Meetings that Nolasco wasn't available.
  • Even though the Marlins aren't shopping Giancarlo Stanton, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki thinks it's a moot point for the Phillies, who don't have the minor league depth necessary to acquire the slugger even if the Fish did make him available.  I'd also add that the Marlins are unlikely to deal Stanton to another NL East team, though the Fish have been known to deal stars (such as Dan Uggla) within their division if the price is right.
  • From earlier today on MLBTR, the Mets were looking for relief pitching and the Marlins had only very mild interest in Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez.