Lastings Milledge Rumors

The Youngest Free Agent Available

The rules state that a player must accrue six full years of service time before they are eligible for free agency, and as a result we see very few players hit the open market in their mid-20's. Alex Rodriguez become a free agent as a 25-year-old in the 2000-2001 offseason, and if wasn't for his recent contract extension, Felix Hernandez would have been a free agent next winter at age 25. Clearly, those two are the exception and not the rule because of their rare talent.

Players can still become a free agents without having six years of service time though, but their team would have to non-tendered at some point. That's what happened to Lastings Milledge this offseason, and he is currently the youngest free agent (with recent and substantial MLB time) on the market at 25 years old. Born on April 5, 1985, he'll turn 26 about a week into the 2011 season. 

It wasn't too long ago that Milledge was one of the game's very best prospects. Baseball America ranked him as the ninth best prospect in baseball prior to the 2006 season, a year after they dubbed him the 11th best. The Mets were never shy about aggressively promoting prospects under Omar Minaya, and Milledge made his big league debut at age 21. He was traded to the Nationals during the 2007-2008 offseason, then traded to the Pirates before the 2009 deadline. In 1,655 career plate appearances, he's a .269/.328/.394 career hitter, hardly justifying his reputation as a top prospect.

Because he is still just 25 and theoretically on the upswing of his career, Milledge could have more to offer a team than some of his fellow free agent outfielders. The best of that lot includes guys like Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, and Scott Podsednik, all of whom are on the wrong side of 30 with their best years clearly behind them. Milledge's strikeout rate has continued to improve throughout his career, and he's maintained a batting average right around .270 since 2008. The power isn't there yet, but it's usually the last tool to come and he still has some time left to grow into it.

Milledge could be useful to a big league team right now because he has some defensive versatility, capable of playing both outfield corners as well as center in an emergency. UZR doesn't love his defense, but it takes thousands of innings at a position before the stat stabilizes and becomes reliable. He has also hit left-handed pitchers pretty well in his career, a .289/.363/.435 batting line. We know the Yankees are looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder, but the Braves, Dodgers, and Phillies could be other clubs in that mix as well. 

Any team that signs Milledge will not only have him for the 2011 season, but also for the next two as an arbitration-eligible player as well. He's out of options, meaning he'd have to clear waivers to go to the minors, but that could be taken care of with a minor league contract. Milledge has just 580 total plate appearances at the Triple-A level (scattered across four seasons, no less), so perhaps a trip back to the bush leagues could do him some good. If he wants to ensure a return to the big leagues at some point, he could insist that an opt-out be included in his contract. Established big leaguers often have these clauses put in minor league contracts, and it allows them to elect free agency if they're not back in the majors by a certain date.

Milledge's age compared the rest of his free agent cohorts makes him an intriguing option. He's not far removed from top prospect status and won't require an arm and a leg to sign. If he flops, it would be an easy move to back out of given the minimal commitment. But if he starts to live up to his potential, whatever team signs him would have Milledge at a below market for the next three seasons. For some teams, it might be worth the risk as opposed to hoping an aging veteran fights off Father Time for another year.

Pirates Notes: Cedeno, Karstens, Non-Tenders

The Pirates have avoided arbitration with Ronny Cedeno and Jeff Karstens, signing both players to one-year contracts.'s Jenifer Langosch has the contract details.  Cedeno will earn a $1.85MM base in 2011, and has a club option for '12 that includes significant incentives based on starts.  Karstens will earn $1.1MM next year.   

Cedeno is the incumbent starter at shortstop, though the Pirates are known to be looking for help at the position.  The veteran has played mostly shortstop over the last two years, but has also played second, third and the outfield in his career.  Cedeno has a .682 OPS in 672 plate appearances as a Pirate.

Karstens came to the Bucs in July 2008 as part of the trade that sent Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Yankees.  In 74 appearances (41 of them starts) for Pittsburgh, Karstens has posted a 4.95 ERA and a 1.73 K/BB ratio.  As Biertempfel pointed out in his longer article, Karstens' $1.1MM salary for 2011 is almost triple what he earned last season.

Other news from Biertempfel…

  • Infielder Argenis Diaz, outfielder Lastings Milledge and left-handers Brian Burres and Donald Veal were all non-tendered by the Bucs, but the club wants to re-sign Burres and Veal.  Diaz "is unlikely to return."
  • Milledge could be welcomed back "if we think it's the right fit for the team, and he thinks it's the right fit for him," said Neal Huntington.  The Pirates GM said he couldn't work out a contract with Milledge before the non-tender deadline and "began to explore alternatives" to fill Milledge's corner outfield spot.  Two options are Jack Cust and Matt Diaz, both of whom were non-tendered themselves by the A's and Braves, respectively.

National League Non-Tenders

This post will list all the National League players non-tendered today, but the best place to track all 200+ arbitration eligible players is our new non-tender tracker.

Revisiting The Burnett-Morgan-Hanrahan-Milledge Trade

On June 30th, 2009, the Pirates traded reliever Sean Burnett and outfielder Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals for reliever Joel Hanrahan and outfielder Lastings Milledge.  With exactly one year in the books, which side is ahead?

Hanrahan has tossed 63 innings for the Pirates with a 3.00 ERA, 11.9 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, and 0.43 HR/9.  He's totaled 1.0 WAR for the Pirates.  His fastball velocity has increased since the trade, to the point where he's averaging 95.4 mph this year.  Hanrahan will be arbitration-eligible for the first time after this season, and he's under team control through 2013.  He's part of a strong late-game relief trio in Pittsburgh, along with Evan Meek and Octavio Dotel.

Milledge is hitting .281/.339/.384 in 490 plate appearances for the Pirates.  He's played 928 innings in left field, but has moved to right field since Jose Tabata's promotion.  He's totaled 1.2 WAR for the Pirates.  Like Hanrahan, Milledge is arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2011 and under control through 2013.

For the Nationals, lefty reliever Sean Burnett has a 2.96 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, and 0.70 HR/9 in 51.6 innings.  He's totaled 0.4 WAR for the Nats.  That value came entirely from 2010, as he's increased his K/9 to 8.1.  He's earning $775K this year after losing an arbitration hearing in February.  Burnett is under team control through 2012.

Morgan is hitting .291/.345/.368 in 530 plate appearances with 41 stolen bases in 59 attempts for the Nationals since the trade.  His 2.7 WAR comes entirely from 2009, as he's actually had negative value in 2010.  Morgan's '09 season ended in late August with a broken wrist.  It's been a rough 2010 season offensively, and Morgan leads the league with 11 times caught stealing.  Morgan has tallied 1,000 innings in center field in his time with Washington.  After the season it appears that he'll miss the Super Two cutoff by a few days, meaning he will not be arbitration-eligible until after the 2011 season.  Morgan is under team control through 2014.

I'd rather have Hanrahan than Burnett at this point, and the Pirates' reliever is under team control for an extra season.  Morgan's last two months have been discouraging, but he might be better than Milledge defensively and is under control for an extra year.  While the Nationals are ahead 0.9 in WAR, this challenge trade remains something of a toss-up a year later.

Mets Came Close To Acquiring Manny After 2004

Manny Ramirez was no stranger to the trade rumor circuit during his time in Boston, long before the team actually went ahead and shipped him to the Dodgers in 2008. The deal that would have sent him to the Rangers in exchange for Alex Rodriguez is perhaps the most well known Manny non-trade, but's Rob Bradford says the team also came very close to shipping Ramirez to the Mets following the 2004 season.

Manny was fresh off being named World Series MVP, but the idea behind trading him was to use the savings for then free agents J.D. Drew and Adrian Beltre. Drew went on the sign with the Dodgers, Beltre the Mariners, though both found their way to Boston eventually.

There were several variations of the deal with the Mets, but the two constants were hotshot prospect Lastings Milledge and the veteran Cliff Floyd. At various other times, the package of players included Heath Bell and Ian Bladergroen, who the Mets eventually traded the the Red Sox for Doug Mientkiewicz.

The deal fell apart because of money. The Mets wanted to the Red Sox to kick in some of the $77MM left on Manny's deal, but Boston "wanted to get money back in the deal to pursue the available free agents." Bradford goes through some what-could-have-been scenarios in his article.

Ramirez went on to hit another 120 home runs and win another World Championship with the Red Sox, while the Mets fell just a game short of qualifying for the 2006 Fall Classic. They did, however, land one superstar responsible for helping the Red Sox end their World Series drought that offseason, signing Pedro Martinez to a four year, $53MM deal in December of 2004.

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Garza, Pierzynski, Padres

Eleven years ago today, Fernando Tatis became the first and only player in baseball history to hit two grand slams in one inning. Amazingly, both came off Chan Ho Park, who allowed 11 runs while recording eight outs. Tatis went on to hit .298/.404/.553 with 34 homeruns for the Cardinals that season, easily the best of the big league career. 

 Here are a handful of links from around the blogosphere…

If you have a suggestion for this feature, Mike can be reached here.

Odds And Ends: Milledge, Tate, Royals

Links for the morning…

Odds And Ends: Bedard, Astros, Marquis

Links for Tuesday morning…

Discussion: Mike Rizzo’s Team-Building Strategy

Chico Harlan of the Washington Post has some interesting thoughts in the wake of yesterday's deal between the Nationals and Pirates. He argues that this trade was an indication of GM Mike Rizzo's team-building strategy, "which favors reliability over high-yield potential, a counter to predecessor Jim Bowden."

Harlan continues, "the trade, too, commences Washington's attempt to restock a malformed roster on which few outfielders can catch and few relievers can hold leads."

Meanwhile, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs argues that Nyjer Morgan might be more valuable than most give him credit for.

Morgan and Sean Burnett will both plug holes for the Nationals, but is this kind of deal a ticket to respectability for Washington? Is reliability a good return for the upside of Lastings Milledge? Pick a side!

Olney On Pirates, Marlins, Escobar's Buster Olney says yesterday's Pirates-Yankees trade proves we're looking at a buyer's market this year. The Pirates had to include $400k to shed part of Eric Hinske's salary, and they won't be the only ones including salary relief in trades. Here are the rest of Olney's rumors:

  • The suitors for players like Nick Johnson and Josh Willingham may start disappearing if the few teams who can take on salary decide to look elsewhere for help.
  • Olney says the Pirates acquired potential success in Lastings Milledge.
  • The Marlins are still looking aggressively for relievers.  
  • Now that Mike Lowell's out, the Red Sox and Rockies seem to match up well for a possible deal that would send Garrett Atkins to Boston for a reliever. 
  • The Braves are willing to trade Yunel Escobar for a good hitter.