Friday, December 25, 2009

Minnesota Twins All-Decade Team

As the first decade of the 2000s comes to a close, it seems like a fine time for a little reflection.

The Twins have arguably been one of baseball’s best franchises during the past decade.

Largely under the watch of underrated skipper, Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have won the American League Central five times.

Even more impressively, the club has maintained a high level of competitiveness all decade long, as Minnesota only finished lower than third one time, way back in 2000.

The success of the club as a whole has come as a result of numerous players over the last ten years.

As such, I’ve created the Twins All-Decade Team, a full 25-man roster meant to honor those players who played a big part in the most successful period of Twins baseball in franchise history.

Not all of the players listed below are the best players who have suited up for the club in the past ten years, but they are the players who had the biggest impact.

For example, Luis Castillo is probably the best overall second baseman to grace the Twins’ roster in the past decade, but his brief stint with the club didn’t warrant a position on this list. The same could be said about Joe Crede, who (when healthy) was arguably the best third baseman the Twins have had in years.

As such, all of the players listed have spent significant time—at least three seasons—with the Twins.

Some of the decisions were no-brainers and some required a lot more reflection. When you’re done with the slideshow, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Without any further ado, I present the Minnesota Twins All-Decade Team.

Check out the slideshow at BleacherReport.com.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Juan Pierre Traded to the Chicago White Sox



Juan Pierre is a free man.

After two long seasons, Pierre’s stint as baseball’s best fourth outfielder is presumably over.

The Chicago White Sox have reportedly acquired the slap-hitting sensation from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for two minor league pitchers to be named later.

Pierre, 32, will give the club an element it has lacked in recent years, speed.

Prior to assuming a bench role, Pierre averaged 52 steals per 162 games played while hitting mostly in the leadoff spot, a role he figures to assume with the White Sox.

Pierre brings more than speed to the Chicago lineup as he is also a solid top of the order table-setter with a career .301/.348/.372 batting line.

Last season, Pierre appeared in 145 games and hit .308/.365/.392 with 30 stolen bases.

Included in that total is a torrid stretch when starting left fielder Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50-games. During Ramirez’s suspension Pierre hit .318/.381/.411 with 21 stolen bases, 17 extra-base hits and 32 runs scored in 240 at-bats.

Despite his obvious skills as a leadoff hitter, Pierre had been deemed largely unmovable as he has two more years and $18.5 million remaining on the five-year, $44 million pact he signed with Los Angeles prior to the 2007 season.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Pierre will cost the White Sox $3 million in 2010 and $5 million in 2011, with the Dodgers picking up the remaining $10.5 million.

Prior to his relegation to the bench in 2008, he’d shown incredible durability by playing in all 162 games in each of the previous five seasons.

His defense and throwing arm are both stretched in center field and he ranks poorly on the defensive metric du jour, UZR/150. However, with Alex Rios in the fold, the club is more likely to shift Pierre to left field, Rios to center, and move Carlos Quentin to right field.

Based on the aforementioned UZR/150 rating, that arrangement would give the White Sox their best overall defensive alignment in the outfield, with the recently-acquired Andruw Jones serving as the fourth outfielder.

The addition of Pierre probably spells the end of Chicago’s tinkering for the offseason. The club is set all around the diamond and the rotation appears solid.

The White Sox now have a dynamic leadoff hitter, something the club hasn’t truly had in years. Pierre figures to be the table-setter the club has desperately needed in recent years.

Overall, the offense appears to be very solid and—given a full, healthy season of Jake Peavy—the club should have one of the best pitching staffs in the American League Central.

After struggling in 2009, Chicago’s under-the-radar roster moves could land the club right back in the thick of the pennant chase next season.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Mike Cameron Signs with Boston and Ends the Jason Bay Era



Jason Bay? Nope.

Matt Holliday? Pass.

The Boston Red Sox balked at the sticker price on the two marquee left fielders on the market and went a different route by reportedly signing veteran center fielder Mike Cameron.

The signing—which is currently pending a physical—further solidifies the end of the Jason Bay era in Boston and by all accounts should spell the end of any more Matt Holliday to Boston rumors.

It also shows that the Red Sox, after reportedly signing ace John Lackey earlier today, are making a commitment to pitching and defense going forward. A decision that contrasts Boston’s rival, the recently re-stocked powerhouse New York Yankees.

Cameron and the Red Sox have reportedly reached an agreement on a two-year deal worth roughly $15.5 million.

Cameron, 36, is an elite defender in center field and has three Gold Glove Awards to his name as a result.

It isn’t yet known if the Sox will use Cameron in center or left, but given last year’s low defensive ratings of incumbent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, it would make sense to move Ellsbury to left and allow Cameron to roam center at Fenway Park.

Throughout his big league career Cameron has played 1,699 games in center field, 139 games in right, and just three in left field. He did, however, express a willingness to shift to a corner spot earlier this offseason in an attempt to entice more suitors.

Cameron brings much more to the table than just his glove.

He is a .250/.340/.448 career hitter with 265 home runs in 15 seasons spent with the White Sox, Reds, Mariners, Padres, Mets, and the Brewers.

Over the past four years he has averaged 23 home runs and 75 RBI to go with 16 stolen bases per season.

Cameron could thrive moving from Milwaukee’s spacious Miller Park to the more hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park.

Cameron also has a reputation for being an upstanding clubhouse presence and a mentor to younger players.

He figures to have a profound impact on Ellsbury who is very talented and has a flair for the dramatic plays. Ellsbury also has a reputation of getting bad reads and taking poor routes to balls, both of which impacted his defensive decline last season.

The Cubs, Braves, Padres, and Mariners were all rumored to have interest in Cameron.

Chicago had waited to pursue Cameron until the club was able to clear salary by moving outfielder Milton Bradley and Seattle was reportedly preoccupied trying to sign the aforementioned Jason Bay.

Undoubtedly, their loss is the Red Sox gain as the club continues to stockpile talent in one of the busiest days of the offseason.

Cameron will no doubt prove to be a great acquisition for the Red Sox and at a substantially more reasonable price than Bay or Holliday would have required.


John Lackey to Sign with the Boston Red Sox



The never-ending game of one-upmanship continues.

The Boston Red Sox are reportedly on the verge of inking the top pitcher on the market, John Lackey, to a five-year, $85 million contract.

Reports out of Boston claim that Lackey took a physical with the Sox on Monday, an indication that an official deal is close.

The move would serve to counter the New York Yankees' recent acquisition of All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson in a three-team blockbuster trade last week.

The Sox have money to spend after Jason Bay reportedly rejected the club’s latest contract offer. With his rejection, the club had seemingly decided to go a different route and improve the club’s pitching and defense.

Lackey, 31, would play a major part in the club’s new mission, as the Sox would boast one of the most formidable rotations in the American League.

The club has already acquired shortstop Marco Scutaro to shore up the middle infield both defensively and offensively.

Additionally, the Sox are in the process of trading veteran third baseman Mike Lowell to the Texas Rangers in exchange for minor league catcher Max Ramirez.

The belief is that the club would then move to acquire free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre or attempt—once again—to trade for San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Beltre is a Gold Glove third sacker who would help solidify one of baseball’s best defensive infields. Gonzalez is one of the game's most underrated first baseman who could legitimately mash 50-plus home runs playing in a different home park.

In left field, the club appears content to let Bay get overpaid elsewhere and has shown limited interest in Matt Holliday.

Recent rumors have the club interested in free agent center fielder Mike Cameron.

Cameron is a top-flight center fielder who would allow the club to move Jacoby Ellsbury to left field, a position he is better suited to play on a full-time basis.

It was reported earlier in the offseason that Lackey was seeking a contract similar to the five-year, $82.5 million deal that the Yankees gave to right-hander A.J. Burnett last offseason, and he seems to have gotten exactly what he wanted.

Lackey entered this offseason as the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market after going 11-8 in 2009 with a 3.83 ERA in 27 starts. He helped the Angels advance to Game Six of the American League Championship Series and dominated the Red Sox in Game One of the AL Division Series, hurling 7.1 shutout innings.

Needless to say, adding a pitcher of his caliber to an already daunting front two of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester would be a major coup for the Red Sox.

Lackey has a career record of 102-71 with a 3.81 career ERA in eight seasons. In the postseason he is 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Minnesota Twins: Non-Tenders Provide New Free Agent Targets

Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith just got a reprieve.

After sitting idly by and watching a number of the club’s offseason targets sign elsewhere in the past two weeks, Smith now has a second chance at making some major moves this offseason.

Smith’s reprieve comes as the free agent pool just received an infusion of new talent.

This infusion came as a result of the non-tender deadline, which passed at 11:59 p.m. ET Saturday.

Teams had the option to not tender a contract to any player with less than six years of service time, rather than enduring the arbitration process.

In doing so, those players are then released by the club and become free agents.

In total, 39 players were non-tendered last night, including some very big names.

Of those non-tendered, many could be good fits for the Twins’ roster next season.

Making them all the more attractive is that most of these players should be willing to sign one-year, make-good contracts to re-establish their market value and/or build for a solid raise via arbitration next winter.

Obviously signing a non-tendered player wouldn’t inspire the inhabitants of Twins Territory in the same way signing Adrian Beltre, Felipe Lopez, or even Joe Crede would.

These players, despite the lack of fanfare, could still provide a major boost to the Twins’ championship hopes next season and at a fraction of the cost that their heavily-acclaimed counterparts will no doubt require.

With that in mind, here’s a look at five newly-minted free agents that should be of significant interest to general manager Bill Smith in the coming weeks.

Check out the slideshow at BleacherReport.com.

Friday, December 11, 2009

MLB’s Winter Meetings: Winners and Losers



Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings have officially come to a close.

What we saw this week was a lot of talking and very little action from most teams, but a few intrepid general managers forged headlong into the free agent market, essentially setting the bar for all free agent signings that will follow.

Additionally, we saw a handful of teams able to strike deals with the intent of improving their fortunes heading into next season.

As is often the case, much of the winter’s action will happen in the weeks between the Winter Meetings’ conclusion and the opening days of Spring Training.

Whatever happened or—in some cases—didn’t happen in Indianapolis figures to lay the framework for the rest of the offseason.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five biggest winners and losers of this year’s Winter Meetings.






Check out the slideshow at BleacherReport.com.



Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Rich Harden Signs with the Texas Rangers



The (AL) West just got wilder.

Rich Harden has reportedly signed a one-year deal, worth a guaranteed $7.5 million, with the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers will pay him $6.5 million in a base salary for 2010, plus $2.5 million in incentives. He gets $500,000 more if he pitches 155 innings and another $500,000 each at 165, 175, 185 and 195 innings.

There is a mutual option for 2011 worth $11 million with a $1 million buyout. Both the Rangers and Harden have the right to turn down the option for 2011 and have him become a free agent.

The deal is currently pending a physical.

The timing of the deal is no surprise as the Rangers traded incumbent staff ace, Kevin Millwood to Baltimore earlier today in exchange for reliever Chris Ray.

The swap netted the Rangers roughly $5-7 million worth of savings, leaving them with enough money to add one of the three big “risk vs. reward” pitchers on the market.

The club showed no real interest in lefty Erik Bedard, but did seem intrigued by Harden and the player they coveted—and nearly signed—a year ago, Ben Sheets.

Sheets priced himself out of the Rangers plans—and likely limited his overall market—when he announced that he was seeking a deal worth $12 million, the same figure he earned when he last pitched in 2008.

As such, Harden immediately became the most attractive option for Texas.

Harden, 28, was not offered arbitration by the Chicago Cubs, but was a Type B free agent and would not have cost the Rangers a draft pick either way.

The right-hander went 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 26 games last season with Chicago.

Overall he has a career record of 50-29 with a cumulative 3.39 ERA and 783 strikeouts in 753.2 innings pitched.

All of that work, however, comes in just 127 career starts spread over seven seasons.

Harden has a checked health history, there’s no denying that fact. He’s never pitched more than 190 innings in a season and he’s only surpassed last season’s mark of 26 starts once, back in 2004 as a 22-year old.

He does, however, offer exactly what the Rangers are looking for to head the club’s rotation.

He’s young, having just turned 28 at the end of November, he’s got experience pitching in the American League West after spending five and a half years with Oakland, and he’s a lot like team president Nolan Ryan, in that he likes to strike people out.

Harden has a career mark of 9.4 K/9 while allowing just 3.9 BB/9. He isn’t going to waste pitches and he’s got all the making of a legitimate ace on the mound.

The Rangers are definitely taking a gamble that he’ll remain healthy and effective while transitioning back to the American League after a year and a half pitching on the senior circuit.

If Harden is healthy, however, he’ll be a dramatic improvement over Kevin Millwood and could give the Rangers the push they need to leapfrog the Angels and Mariners for division dominance.

With that thought in the mind the Rangers are more than happy to welcome Harden back to the wild, wild AL West.



Texas-Sized Trade: Rangers Deal Ace, Millwood to Baltimore



Kevin Millwood is headed east to Baltimore after the Orioles and Rangers made a splash in the trade market today.

The Rangers receive former closer, Chris Ray and a player to be named later in the swap.

Ray, 27, closed for the Orioles in 2006, saving 33 games. He started the 2007 campaign as the closer, but underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2007.

He missed all of 2008 while recovering from the surgery and didn’t rebound as the club had hoped in 2009, putting up an abysmal 0-4 record with a 7.27 ERA in 43.1 innings pitched.

Although he wasn’t effective in 2009, he still possesses a fastball that is consistently in the mid-nineties. It is, however, a very hittable, very straight fastball.

The hope is that Rangers’ pitching coach Mike Maddux can help straighten out the youngster and get him back into the form that made him a late-inning dynamo back in 2006.

If Ray is healthy, he could be the right-handed setup man that allows the Rangers to move Neftali Feliz or C.J. Wilson to the rotation.

Millwood, 34, figures to take on the same role he did in Texas, ace by default.

Millwood doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he gets the job done on the hill and has proven to be a reliable innings-eater, which is exactly what the Orioles need.

He has made at least 25 starts for eight consecutive seasons. In fact, he’s started at least 29 games in ten of his twelve full-seasons in the big leagues.

Currently the only other “sure thing” in the rotation is Jeremy Guthrie, and that ain’t saying much.

The rest of the rotation is stocked with young talent and Millwood’s ability to eat up innings and provide stability atop the rotation will be a great asset as the rest of the staff matures.

Millwood has spent the last four of his 13 major-league seasons with the Rangers. He is 155-121 for his career with a 4.02 ERA.

Last season he posted a 3.67 ERA in 198.6 innings with a 5.6 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9.

The Rangers will pay approximately $3 million of Millwood's $12 million salary for 2010, after which he’ll become a free agent.

Both teams walk away from this deal with exactly what they need.

The Rangers were able to shed some payroll and add a power arm to the back of a bullpen, which should allow them to improve the rotation internally. They could also used the money they’ve saved to sign a free agent starter.

The Orioles, who have money to spend, acquired a solid, albeit pricey, front of the rotation starter to provide much-needed stability to a very young rotation. Additionally, they were able to acquire Millwood without giving up a major piece of the farm system.

In the end, this deal is a win-win for both parties.


Randy Wolf Signs with the Milwaukee Brewers



Another one bites the dust.

An already weak crop of free agent starters just took another hit as left-hander Randy Wolf has reportedly inked a three-year deal deal worth just under $30 million with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The deal, which is contingent upon Wolf passing a physical, reportedly has an option for a fourth year.

Wolf, 33, is coming off a stellar year with Los Angeles in which he went 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA in 34 starts. He hurled 214.1 innings, topping the 200 inning mark for the first time since 2003 when Wolf was with Philadelphia.

Along with staff ace, Yovani Gallardo, Wolf will be expected to help anchor a rotation that was one of the worst in baseball last season.

The Brewers tied the Orioles for the worst starters' ERA in the Majors at 5.37 and finished next to last in the National League in cumulative team ERA at 4.83.

Wolf also figures to provide the Brewers with a much-needed innings-eater. Although he’s only thrown more than 200 innings in a season four times in his eleven year career, the club is confident that he is the man for the job and can continue to put up numbers similar to the ones he posted last season.

After making the playoffs in 2008, the Brewers lost both Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia to free agency and fell two games below .500 last season. As a result, the club finished eleven games behind the St. Louis Cardinals and missed the playoffs once again.

Wolf will be expected to help right the ship and push the Brewers back into contention in the traditionally tight National League Central.

That is, if Wolf can stay healthy, something that hasn’t always been easy for the southpaw.

Wolf’s aforementioned 2003 campaign with Philadelphia earned him an All-Star nod and, at 26, he figured to be a pitcher on the rise.

Unfortunately, Wolf was hampered by lingering arm troubles after the 2003 season. In 2005, Wolf’s injuries required Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss parts of the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

The Phillies let him enter free agency following the 2006 season and he signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers.

Wolf started the season well, but landed on the 15-day disabled list in July with shoulder soreness. It was believed that he would recover quickly, but the condition worsened and he underwent shoulder surgery and missed the remainder of the year.

In 2008, Wolf signed yet another one-year deal, this time with the Padres, and he finally managed to stay healthy.

In a season that was split between San Diego and Houston, Wolf went 12-12 with a 4.30 ERA in 33 starts while notching 190.1 innings pitched.

Wolf’s return to health was enough to convince the Dodgers to give him a second chance in 2009 and he made the most of it by anchoring a rotation full of inexperienced youngsters and veteran journeymen.

The Dodgers ran away with the National League West and Wolf’s contributions played a major part.

As such, he had seemingly re-captured the spark he’d shown back in 2003 and put himself in a situation to earn a big multi-year payday, as opposed to another one-year deal.

As a Type A free agent, it was believed that he might once again struggle to find a team willing to offer him a multi-year deal as the signing club would be forced to surrender draft pick compensation to Los Angeles.

There was even talk that Wolf might be better served to accept arbitration and return on yet another one-year deal.

The perennially short-sighted Dodgers, however, were worried Wolf would accept and didn’t want to pay him the $8-10 million it was believed he could earn via arbitration.

As such, the club foolishly chose not to offer him arbitration and he immediately became one of the most desirable free agents on the market.

As a Type A free agent, the Dodgers would have received Milwaukee’s first-round draft pick and a sandwich pick in next year’s amateur draft.

Instead, the Dodgers receive nothing, the Brewers receive a second ace, and Wolf receives nearly $30 million and, something he’s coveted for years, job security.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Curtis Granderson Heads to the Yankees in a Blockbuster Three-Team, Seven-Player Trade



The New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, and Arizona Diamondbacks have reportedly completed a blockbuster trade that has seven players switching teams.

All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson goes from the Tigers to the Yankees.

Pitcher Edwin Jackson goes from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks.

Pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth go from from the Diamondbacks to the Tigers.

Pitcher Ian Kennedy goes from the Yankees to the Diamondbacks.

Top outfield prospect, Austin Jackson and reliever Phil Coke go from the Yankees to the Tigers.

Got all that?

Don’t worry, with all of the players who have been rumored to be in on this deal in the past 24 hours, the three teams involved might not be entirely sure who is landing where when it all shakes out.

The deal has been in various stages of completion and dormancy since late last night, but talks heated up this morning and all three teams seemed determined to find the right mix to make it work.

Arguably the biggest catch of the bunch is Curtis Granderson who is trading in his English D for pinstripes.

Granderson, 28, is a left-handed hitting outfielder with great speed on the bases and in the field. He showed some serious power this year and could conceivably be a consummate 30-40 home runs threat in Yankee Stadium.

His overall numbers dipped last year to.249/.327/.453, but his power numbers spiked despite the struggles. Granderson is still considered among baseball’s premier leadoff men and plays above average defense in center field.

The Diamondbacks receive a top-flight pitcher in Edwin Jackson and an elite Triple-A starter in Ian Kennedy who has yet to translate his minor league success into the big leagues.

Jackson, 26, went 13-9 with a 3.62 ERA for the Detroit Tigers last season and made his first All-Star team. The Tigers only incentive for dealing the youngster, who was finally realizing his potential, was the potential cost.

Jackson is arbitration-eligible and figures to earn a significant raise on the $2.2 million he made last season. The Tigers, currently suffering from the down economy, couldn’t afford to take that kind of financial hit.

Kennedy, 24, has an amazing minor league track record, but little big league success. He is 19-6 with a 1.95 ERA in 43 minor league starts over four seasons. In twelve starts at the big league level he’s mustered a 1-4 record with a 6.03 ERA.

Getting out of the New York spotlight, and switching to the lighter-hitting National League, figure to give Kennedy a golden opportunity to finally translate his minor league prowess into big league success.

The Tigers, in addition to shedding the salaries of Jackson and Granderson, have picked up some serious young talent.

In terms of pitching, Max Scherzer is the cream of the crop in the Tigers’ haul.

Scherzer, 25, was one of the Diamondbacks top pitching prospects and has shown flashes of brilliance in his short tenure in the big leagues. In 37 career starts, Scherzer is 9-15 with a 3.86 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 226.1 innings pitched.

Schlereth, 23, is a lot like the aforementioned Kennedy. He’s shown glimpses of brilliance in the minors, but has yet to have the same success in the big leagues. He has limited experience in both the minors and big leagues, but is a power lefty who has the stuff to be a very successful setup man and potentially a closer.

The catalyst in the deal to get Detroit to deal Granderson was a major-league ready center fielder. Enter Austin Jackson.

Jackson is considered the Yankees top prospect and has an impressive batting line of .288/.356/.410 over five seasons in the minors.

Jackson, 22, has shown flashes of both power and speed in his time in the minors and defensively appears ready to take on an everyday role with the Tigers in 2010.

Phil Coke, 27, is a dominant late-inning reliever who has proven very effective in a setup role with the Yankees and figures to serve the same purpose in Detroit.

All in all, the deal seems to give each team exactly what they need.

The Diamondbacks, by acquiring Edwin Jackson, gain a young, but experienced, arm to slot behind Brandon Webb and Dan Haren in the rotation and a wild card in Kennedy who could finally live up to his potential.

The Yankees gain a legitimate center fielder and leadoff hitter for the first time in nearly a decade. Additionally they now have major leverage in any potential negotiations with free agent outfielder Johnny Damon.

The Tigers gain a slew of young talent and considerable payroll flexibility going forward.

Personally, I can’t find a clear-cut winner or loser in this trade. I feel like Arizona could have asked for more, but other than that it seems to be on the up and up for all parties involved.


Brave Decision: Rafael Soriano Accepts Atlanta's Arbitration Offer



Rafael Soriano just threw a curveball and Frank Wren didn’t see it coming.

In a move that the Atlanta general manager hadn’t planned for, Soriano has accepted the arbitration offer from the Braves and will return to the club for the 2010 season.

Soriano, 29, racked up 27 saves in 31 chances last season. He also posted a 2.97 ERA and a 102/27 K/BB ratio in a career-high 75 2/3 innings.

Soriano made $6.5 million in 2009 and figures to make close to $8 million via arbitration.

On the bright side, with Soriano returning, the Braves figure to have one of the most dominant bullpens in all of baseball next season.

On the not so bright side, with Soriano returning, the Braves figure to have one of the most expensive bullpens in all of baseball next season.

Wren offered arbitration to both of his free agent relievers, Soriano and lefty Mike Gonzalez with the intent of reaping first-round draft picks when the two signed elsewhere.

Needless to say, Soriano’s decision to accept the offer throws a wrench into those plans and the rest of the Wren’s offseason to-do list.

That list included rebuilding the backend of the bullpen after the loses of Gonzalez and Soriano, something Wren took care of last week when he dished out big bucks to sign closer Billy Wagner and setup man Takashi Saito.

After investing more than $10 million in his bullpen, Wren was ready to move on to the second item on his list, adding some offense via free agency and trades.

Soriano’s expected 2010 salary will undoubtedly impact Wren’s already limited funds to acquire a big bat and will definitely force the club down the path of trading from an enviable surplus of starting pitchers.

It is believed that Wren has already dipped his toes into the trading pool, but hasn’t found much interest in either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez.

The Braves figure to struggle to find a taker for Lowe and the three years and $45 million that remain on his contract.

Vazquez is only under contract through 2010 at $11.5 million, but was easily the club’s most reliable starter in 2009 and the Braves would no doubt be hesitant to lose his presence at the front of the rotation.

Additionally, Vazquez has a limited no-trade clause that prevents the club from moving him to any team in the National League West or American League West.

Neither pitcher figures to have much value until after John Lackey is signed to a new deal. After Lackey, the free agent pool of starters is very shallow and many teams could find Lowe and Vazquez to be more attractive alternatives.

The Braves may attempt to trade Soriano, but he’ll be in control of the situation more than the club will.

As is the case with all signed free agents, Soriano now possesses a full no-trade clause until June 15, so the Braves cannot move him to another club without his permission.

Clubs such as the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, and Baltimore Orioles figure to be more interested in acquiring Soriano now that he won’t cost a first-round draft pick.

It is also possible that the club could release him in Spring Training—as arbitration players don’t receive guaranteed contracts—if his performance gives them any reason to do so.

It is conceivable that Atlanta could choose to ride out the storm with Soriano, Saito, and Wagner anchoring the bullpen. All three are proven injury-risks and all three have proven they can thrive as setup men or closers.

The Braves would be heavily invested in the rotation and bullpen, but could bid on some bargain free agent options and/or call up top prospect Jason Heyward to fill the hole in the outfield and, hopefully, in the lineup as well.

Whatever Wren does (or doesn’t do) going forward will undoubtedly be affected by Soriano’s decision to accept arbitration.

If there is one thing Wren is learning about pitchers this offseason, it’s that sometimes they throw curveballs.


Ivan Rodriguez Signs with the Washington Nationals



An already thin catching market just got a little more barren.

According to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, Ivan Rodriguez has reportedly agreed to terms on a two-year, $6 million deal with the Washington Nationals.

Rodriguez, 38, hit .249/.280/.382 for the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros last year and is a career .299/.336/.471 hitter who still has modest pop left in his bat.

Many wondered if Rodriguez—a future Hall of Famer—would accept arbitration after a contentious offseason a year ago.

Last offseason, Rodriguez struggled to find a suitor willing to take on his services. An excellent showing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in March netted him a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Houston.

Rodriguez, despite coming off one of the worst-seasons of his career, felt confident enough to reject the Rangers’ arbitration offer and venture onto the free agent market yet again.

Washington promptly proved his confidence was not unfounded.

Rodriguez will take over as the club’s primary backup and mentor to Jesus Flores. Flores is recovering from surgery on his right shoulder and elbow, but is expected to be ready to play by Spring Training.

The signing of “Pudge” essentially ends the tenure of backup catcher Wil Nieves, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time. He is now expected to be non-tendered before Saturday’s deadline.

Rodriguez figures to be the perfect mentor to Flores as he has played in 14 All-Star Games and won 13 Gold Gloves, the most by a catcher and tied for fourth most overall. In 1999 he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player. He also has more career runs, hits, and doubles than any other catcher in Major League history.

Additionally, he has been part of major organizational turnarounds with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and the Detroit Tigers in 2006.

He doesn’t figure to have that type of impact on the lowly Nationals, but he will certainly be a great presence in the clubhouse and a good example for a relatively young and impressionable roster.

Rodriguez’s reported $3 million salary figures to make him the fifth-highest paid player on the roster behind Adam Dunn, Christian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, and arbitration-eligible Josh Willingham.

That is assuming, of course, that none of the four are traded this offseason.

Washington will mark Rodriguez’s sixth different team, and fourth in two years. The two-year deal does, however, offer a sense of stability and reassurance that is hard to find for aging catchers.

It is curious as to why the Nationals would give a two-year deal worth $3 million a year to an over-the-hill backup, when Nieves could have served purpose at a much cheaper cost.

It could be perceived as a sign that general manager Mike Rizzo isn’t confident that Flores will be fully-recovered by Opening Day and the club wants to have a reliable Plan B in place.

Rodriguez appeared behind the plate in 115 games last season and proved he could still carry the bulk of the catching load if necessary.

It is also entirely possible that Rizzo wanted a reliable backstop and mentor for Flores and didn’t see a better option on the market and was willing to overpay to lure Rodriguez to Washington.

Whatever the case may be, the Nationals have some stability and insurance behind the plate and “Pudge” Rodriguez is guaranteed at least two more years in the sun.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Brad Penny Signs with the St. Louis Cardinals



Brad Penny is headed to St. Louis.

According to ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, Penny and the Cardinals have come agreed upon a one-year deal for the 2010 campaign.

Penny, 31, will earn a base salary of $7.5 million and can earn up to $1.5 million in performance bonuses.

The deal is currently pending a physical, which—with Penny—is no sure thing.

St. Louis, the reigning National League Central champion, is facing the loss of three starting pitchers to free agency and all three—Joel Pineiro, John Smoltz, and Todd Wellemeyer—are expected to be plying their trade elsewhere next season.

As such, adding a starter was high on general manager John Mozeliak’s to-do list at this week’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.

Penny is coming off a year in which he had very mixed results.

He began the year with Boston and was initially a solid, albeit mediocre back of the rotation starter.

His final five starts with the Red Sox, however, were abysmal. He went 0-4 with a 9.11 ERA and was demoted to the bullpen.

Soon after he requested and was granted a release from Boston.

Overall, he was 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA in Boston.

He signed with the San Francisco Giants at the end of August and made six starts down the stretch going 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA.

He was absolutely dominant in all but one of his starts and finished the year on a high-note, despite his pedestrian totals of 11-9 with a 4.88 ERA.

The Giants offered the two-time All-Star a one-year deal, but he rejected the offer and chose to test his value on the open-market instead.

In doing so, Penny has landed in an enviable position.

He has just joined a rotation that boasts two potential Cy Young candidates in right-handers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and a lineup anchored by the best hitter in the game, Albert Pujols.

Additionally, his new battery-mate, Yadier Molina is renowned for his ability to get the best out of pitchers.

Molina isn’t the only member of the Cardinals staff known for coaxing solid performances out of pitchers. Pitching coach Dave Duncan’s track record for getting career years out of journeyman pitchers is legendary.

Don’t believe me, ask Jeff Weaver, Kyle Lohse, Jeff Suppan, and, this year’s recipient of the magical Duncan dust, Joel Pineiro.

Penny does, however, have a more impressive dossier than any of Duncan’s previous reclamation projects and it's not just because he dated Alyssa Milano.

He was a 16-game winner in 2006 and 2007 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was an All-Star both seasons. Penny was even elected as the starter for the National League in the 2006 game in Pittsburgh.

Since then, however, injuries and reported attitude problems have hampered his performance.

Despite shaky performances in recent years, the door isn’t completely closed on Penny as middle-to-front of the rotation starter.

His mid-nineties fastball is still there and still as dominant as ever and if he can continue using the pitch-to-contact, groundball-inducing style that worked so well in San Francisco at season’s end, he could completely re-energize his otherwise flagging career.

Penny has certainly landed in the right spot to re-build his value before hitting the market again next season and—at a maximum $9 million investment—the Cardinals have shrewdly added a former ace to an already imposing staff.

All the while, the club’s modest investment still leaves room to pursue more offense for next season.

As it turns out, the Cardinals may have just found the lucky Penny they need to get over the hump and back to the World Series.


Sheamus: Too Much, Too Soon



Not like this.

It just can’t happen like this.

The WWE is completely botching the push of Sheamus.

I’ve made it clear in the past how I feel about the WWE’s initial build of Sheamus and I still hold the same feelings.

The company has done nothing to adequately build Sheamus as a main event talent and—aside from one cheap-shot and bodyslam—we’ve seen him show nothing in the ring against John Cena.

I’ve got absolutely no problem with the WWE pushing new talent.

I ranted and raved about the direction the company took with Kofi Kingston and I am a converted fan of the way CM Punk is being slowly built as a major heel after his initial quick turn.

Those facts notwithstanding, I still feel that the company is doing itself and Sheamus a major injustice by tossing him into the main event scene.

No one in their right mind actually expects Sheamus to win the title at the upcoming TLC pay-per-view because to the average viewer Sheamus is a nobody.

Since his debut on RAW, just six short weeks ago, we’ve seen Sheamus squash Jamie Noble, dominate a stagehand, kick Jerry Lawler in the face, beat the 600-year old Finlay, win a battle royal in which he avoided confrontation for the majority of the match, cheap-shot John Cena and put him through a table, and we saw him squash Santino last week.

Yep, that’s it.

I know all of this so well, because the WWE has been showing video montages almost non-stop to try and prove to viewers that Sheamus is a main-eventer and worth paying $40 to watch on pay-per-view.

The montages, entitled “The Celtic Warpath,” fall short, because all they show is Sheamus beating up on jobbers and non-wrestlers.

Sheamus has been incredibly overmatched on the microphone and appeared weak by not physically confronting Cena.

The build-up figures to be strong over the remainder of the week to convince viewers that Sheamus could win the match by putting Cena through a table and his brute strength might be all he needs.

They’ll undoubtedly pimp the fact that Sheamus doesn’t have pin Cena or make him submit, all he needs to do is toss him through a table, which he’s already done.

If they’re smart, they’ll have Sheamus obliterate Cena in the “Championship Showdown” at the end of RAW and put him through a table once again, thus proving that Sheamus has what it takes to win the title.

Here’s the problem, even if they build up Sheamus enough to make him seem like a viable number one contender for this Sunday, what comes next?

If Sheamus doesn’t win the WWE Championship, it proves he’s out of his league. What’s worse is that it proves he’s out of his league in a match that is painted as being in his favor.

If Sheamus loses this Sunday, he’ll probably get a one-night rematch on RAW, but any legitimate shot he has at being a main-eventer goes down the toilet with the pay-per-view loss.

John Cena was in a similar situation back in 2003 when he was pushed into a main event program with Brock Lesnar. There was minimal build and an obvious loss at Backlash.

It took Cena two years to legitimately work his way back into the main event picture.

The Miz suffered a similar fate earlier this year when he and Cena had a small feud. Miz appeared to be gaining some real steam before Cena squashed him in multiple matches and forced a dramatic re-boot of his entire persona.

Six months later, he’s the United States Champion, but is currently not on the radar for a main event push any time in the near future.

Pushing Sheamus this quickly leaves two options.

Sheamus can lose the match and, at best, attempt to carry the feud into the Royal Rumble before returning to the mid-card as an apparently failure at the upper echelon.

The alternative is to have Sheamus win the WWE Championship this Sunday.

It is feasible that the WWE could have Sheamus win the title without making Cena look too bad, thanks to the stipulations of the match, but then what?

Sheamus won’t be the WWE Champion at WrestleMania 26, that’s for sure. Any potential title reign would undoubtedly be a short one, after which he would once again return to the mid-card.

Either way you look at it, the end-game is the same. Sheamus returns to the mid-card and John Cena moves into a program that builds for WrestleMania.

I’m glad that the WWE didn’t shove another Cena vs Orton/HBK/Triple H match down our throat, but pushing Sheamus this quickly with no real resume to speak of only hurts themselves (buyrates) and Sheamus (potential) going forward.

Hopefully, the WWE will learn their lesson when, in six months, Sheamus has become another Kane. No longer an unstoppable monster, but rather just a big, bad heel who is occasionally thrown into title matches that he’ll never win.

For Sheamus it’s just too much, too soon.


Seattle Mariners Ready to Play with the Big Boys



The Seattle Mariners mean business.

General Manager Jack Zduriencik is entering just his second offseason at the club’s helm, but clearly has the franchise headed in the right direction.

Last offseason, he engineered a number of low-risk, high-reward deals and helped turnaround a club that had just 61 wins in 2008 to 85 victories last season.

Aside from adding a solid crop of new players, Zduriencik also took by strides by hiring manager Don Wakamatsu and bringing a more combined approach to the scouting department, by mixing both traditional scouting and modern statistical analysis.

Zduriencik is in an enviable position this offseason.

The Mariners have a very solid core in Felix Hernandez, Ichiro Suzuki, Brandon Morrow, and Franklin Gutierrez.

The club plays in a division that appears more wide-open than it has in half-a-decade and, most importantly, Seattle has some serious payroll flexibility.

The large salaries of Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, Kenji Johjima, Erik Bedard, and Adrian Beltre are all officially off the books.

The total savings amounts to roughly $50 million to spend on free agents this offseason.

Additionally, Zduriencik has plenty of organizational depth to deal from and talented Major League players who could be used in trades.

As such, Zduriencik has wasted no time making improvements.

The club has already reportedly inked third baseman Chone Figgins to a lucrative four-year, $36 million contract and they don’t figure to be anywhere near done shopping.

Earlier this offseason the club signed defensive stalwart Jack Wilson to a two-year, $10 million deal to anchor the infield at shortstop.

The club also brought back future Hall of Famer—and arguably the most popular player in franchise history—Ken Griffey Jr. on a one-year, $2 million for the 2010 campaign.

The club is also in the mix to add at least one front-line starter, as the departures of Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard have left the depth chart a little barren beyond ace, Felix Hernandez.

Hernandez, 23, is arbitration-eligible for the first-time this offseason and—after finishing second the American League Cy Young balloting—figures to command a significant raise after earning just shy of $4 million last season.

Talks of a signing Hernandez to an extension have begun, but nothing serious has come out of the talks as both sides are said to be “far apart” in negotiations.

If an extension can’t be worked out, there is a possibility the club could move the young fireballer for a slew of prospects.

Numerous teams were rumored to have inquired about Hernandez’s availability at the trade deadline, and acquiring “King Felix” would no doubt require a king’s ransom.

In addition to bolstering the rotation, the club is also in the market to improve a lineup that ranked last in the American League in runs scored (640) in 2009, as well as tied for last in batting average (.258) and on-base percentage (.314).

Zduriencik figures to be on the lookout for a slugging left fielder, a veteran catcher, and improvements to the right side of the infield.

Jason Bay’s name has been floated as a potential target for Zduriencik this offseason and for good reason.

Signing Bay, who lives near Seattle, makes plenty of sense for both parties.

Bay, 31, has made it clear that he would love to play close to his home and his family and friends in and around Seattle.

The Mariners would love to add his 30+ home runs and 100+ RBIs into the lineup that lacked a real home run threat for most of 2009.

Bay has already rejected a proposed four-year, $60 million deal from the Boston Red Sox and could cost more than Seattle would care to pay, but he could also give a hometown discount to gain the comfort of playing close to home.

He may not fit into Jack Zduriencik’s defensive-minded lineup, but he could split his time between left field and designated hitter to minimize his impact. Additionally, with Franklin Gutierrez covering ground in center field, Bay’s defensive ineptitude would be less of a burden.

The club has also reportedly not given up on bringing back third baseman Adrian Beltre, who has until midnight eastern Monday to accept or decline arbitration.

If the Mariners and Beltre did re-unite it would create an interesting situation with the recently signed Figgins. The club would logically want to keep Beltre’s glove at the hot corner and move Figgins to either second base or left field.

Both of those potential moves would hinge on the club’s ability and/or inability to sign Bay and/or trade incumbent second baseman Jose Lopez.

If the club did sign Bay and bring back Beltre, it wouldn’t be out of the question to move Figgins to second and slide Lopez over to first where his defensive shortcomings would be less detrimental.

If Beltre does not return, the club figures to push very hard to acquire Bay to add some power and could look toward Nick Johnson, Adam LaRoche, Lyle Overbay, or even Carlos Delgado—obviously on a short-term deal—to play first base.

The club has not yet ruled out a reunion with Russell Branyan, but the sides still seem far apart on contract negotiations after Branyan rejected a one-year deal earlier this winter.

The Mariners’ other big need, a catcher, offers fewer options this winter.

There are a number of solid, but past their prime options available such as Ivan Rodriguez, Rod Barajas, and Bengie Molina.

None of the three figures to be an impact player, but the club is more interested in having their primary backstop serve as a mentor to incumbent starter Rob Johnson and rookie Adam Moore.

As the Winter Meetings open today, it seems that the Mariners are already pushing ahead of their American League West counterparts.

The Texas Rangers are still in a state of financial flux. The club is set to be sold this winter. In fact, a deadline of December 15 has now been set, so the Rangers don’t figure to be major players in free agency until the ownership situation is resolved.

The Los Angeles Angels entered the offseason with a slew of potential free agent loses.

The club has addressed a few of the holes, having already re-upped with outfielder Bobby Abreu while seemingly deciding to let outfielder/designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero leave.

Losing Figgins to a division rival was no doubt a big blow to the Angels who had hoped to bring back their starting third baseman and leadoff hitter. Figgins will now serve as a catalyst to the arguably the Angels biggest threat for division dominance.

It is also rumored that the Mariners are interested in former Los Angeles ace, John Lackey.

If Seattle is able to sign the right-hander, it would serve as a veritable knockout blow to Los Angeles as the free agent market offers few, if any, pitchers who figure to have the same impact as Lackey.

The Mariners and Jack Zduriencik realize that they have a very limited window to win a championship during the Ichiro Era and/or the second Griffey Era and it seems as though they’re willing to go all-in to make it happen.

That fact should be enough to put the rest of the American League on notice, the Seattle Mariners mean business.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Miguel Jean Officially Signs with the Minnesota Twins



It’s official…finally.

More than two months after initially agreeing on a deal with a $3.15 million bonus, Miguel Jean is officially a member of the Minnesota Twins organization.

Jean’s application for a work visa was approved Friday by the U.S. Consulate in the Dominican Republic.

Obtaining the visa was the final hurdle that needed to be cleared to finalize the deal.

Jean’s deal included a $3.15 million bonus, which was the largest awarded to an international player this summer and the largest ever for a Latin American positional prospect.

It is also the second-largest Latin American signing bonus ever, behind fellow Dominican Michael Ynoa, who signed a $4.25 million deal with Oakland last year.

Jean, 16, was the jewel of this year’s international signing crop and for very good reason. He is a five-tool prospect with a very high ceiling.

Jean is a 6-foot-3 slugging shortstop from the Dominican Republic who has been compared to everyone from Hanley Ramirez to Alex Rodriguez.

Scouting reports say he has great raw power to all fields and only figures to get better and stronger as he fills out. Although currently a strong-armed shortstop, most scouts assume he’ll transition to third base or the outfield as he grows into his body.

Upon initially signing the deal in September, Jean seemed very confident about his ability to make an impact in the big leagues.

"I'm very thankful to get this chance to sign with the Twins," Jean said. "I'm going to work very hard to try to get to the majors in two years."

A two year romp to the big leagues isn’t entirely unheard of for an elite prospect such as Jean, but it is probably a lofty goal for a player who will be just 17 next season.

It is believed that Jean will begin his professional career next season playing for the Twins’ affiliate in the Gulf Coast League.


Friday, December 04, 2009

2010 All-Free Agent Team – National League

This year 171 players filed for free agency.

Of the 171 total free agents, 99 are from the National League and 72 are from the American League.

Unlike last year’s class of free agents, only a select few in this crop figure to land blockbuster deals.

In fact, an increasing number of teams are choosing to improve via trade or by promoting young talent from within the farm system.

As such, many of these veterans can expect to sign short-term and/or incentive-laden deals for 2010 and potentially beyond.

I’ve taken a look at all of the free agents left on the market and split them up into two 25-man rosters, one for the National League and one for the American League.

League affiliation was determined by whichever team a player finished out the 2009 season.

In an effort to keep things as realistic as possible, I’ve ensured that each team has a backup catcher, infielder, and outfielder. Additionally, both the NL and AL rosters have been given a 12-man pitching rotation.

These teams certainly don’t reflect an All-Star mentality, but rather they give a good indication of how weak this year’s free agent class can be considered.

It should be noted that some deserving players were left off of the roster due to position-eligibility concerns. As such, you’ll note some sketchy inclusions and unfortunate exclusions.

Without any further ado, let’s take a look at the NL All-Free Agent Team.


Check out the National League’s 25-man roster at BleacherReport.com.

 

 


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Marco Scutaro Signs with the Boston Red Sox

Talk about anticlimactic.

Smart, but anticlimactic.

In a move that was pretty much set in stone a week ago, the Boston Red Sox have reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with Marco Scutaro.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the deal pays Scutaro $5 million in both 2010 and 2011 with a $1 million signing bonus.

The third-year option for 2012 is a mutual option.

The club option is worth $6 million and the player option is worth $3 million with a $1.5 million buy-out.

Essentially that makes it, at minimum, a two-year, $12.5 million deal.

Finalization of the contract is pending a physical.


The Red Sox had shown interest in Scutaro earlier this offseason, but when Toronto signed Alex Gonzalez—presumably Boston’s Plan-B—last Thursday, the endgame became pretty apparent.

As a result, Toronto—after shrewdly offering Scutaro arbitration—will receive Boston’s first-round draft pick in 2010 and a supplemental pick, assuming Boston doesn’t sign a higher-ranked Type A free agent.

Scutaro, 34, was easily the most-desirable option at shortstop in this year’s very weak class of free agents.

The Sox were also rumored to have kicked the tires on veterans Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera, and Adam Everett.

All three, however, came with plenty of drawbacks which eventually led to the Sox going with Scutaro to take over what has been a veritable black hole in Boston’s lineup for nearly half a decade.

Scutaro is coming off a career year in which he set career-highs in nearly every statistical corner.

In 574 at-bats, Scutaro put up an impressive .282/.379/.409 line with twelve home runs, 60 RBI, 35 doubles, 100 runs scored, and fourteen stolen bases. He also drew an impressive 90 walks on the season against 75 strikeouts.

Those numbers were good enough to rank him in the top ten among all shortstops in numerous categories including: doubles (6th), home runs (9th), runs batted in (4th), walks (1st), stolen bases (T9th), on-base percentage (4th), and on-base plus slugging percentage (8th).

His numbers in 2009, however, were well-above his career batting line of .265/.337/.384. He’s usually good for modest pop, but nothing like the numbers he put up in 2009.

Many expect him to regress, but the Red Sox are clearly willing to the take the risk that he’s simply a late-bloomer who can hold down the shortstop position for the foreseeable future.

It is also possible that the club has plans to use Scutaro as more of a super utility player if/when his numbers do return to earth in 2010 and beyond.

Scutaro has played everywhere on the diamond except catcher and pitcher.

According to most defensive metrics, he’s roughly a league-average defender no matter where he’s penciled into the lineup.

Earlier this week the Sox made mention that they were considering using former Most Valuable Player and current second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, at shortstop next season.

This now appears to have been a negotiation tactic to get Scutaro to let up on what had reportedly been a desire for a long-term deal of three-years or more.

With the shortstop situation now cleared up, the Red Sox can return to their pursuit of a big bat for left field and/or first base and a potential blockbuster trade for Toronto ace, Roy Halladay.

Atlanta Braves on a Warpath: Club Bolsters Bullpen, Turns Attention to Big Bats

Atlanta is at it again.


Just a day after acquiring Billy Wagner to serve as the club’s new closer, the Braves have reportedly signed free agent reliever Takashi Saito to a one-year deal.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports, Saito's base salary will be $3.2 million, according to a major-league source. He can earn $2.3 million in appearance-based incentives.

The move further re-enforces the backend of a bullpen that could have been destroyed by the free agent exodus of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez who have shared the bulk of the closing and setup duties in recent years.

Soriano and Gonzalez were both offered arbitration, and sources said the Braves would have qualms with one or both accepting the offer and returning next season.

It is believed, however, that both are looking for multi-year deals and the opportunity to close, thus likely closing the door on their respective tenures with Atlanta.

Saito, 39, will serve both as a setup man and an insurance policy in case Wagner’s surgically-repaired elbow becomes an issue.

Throughout his four years in the Major Leagues, Saito has served both roles and proven he can excel in any capacity.

Saito spent 2006-2008 in Los Angeles serving as the Dodgers’ primary closer. In that time he went 12-7, racked up 81 saves, posted an impressive 1.96 ERA, and an equally imposing 0.91 WHIP.

A sprained elbow forced Saito to the disabled list in 2008 and when he returned he’d lost the closer’s role to Jonathon Broxton.

As such, the Dodgers non-tendered him that winter and he signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox for the 2009 campaign.

Saito spent the year serving as a setup man to Jonathon Papelbon and went 3-3 with a 2.43 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP, and 52 strikeouts in 55.2 innings of work.

He was very solid in his role and reportedly had a number of teams looking to acquire his services.

The move should solidify the Atlanta bullpen for 2009 with incumbents Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, and Manny Acosta all expected to resume their late-inning roles.

As the bullpen now appears settled, the Braves can turn their attention to the next goal, acquiring a power bat to reinforce a lineup that was desperately in need of a spark for most of last season.

The Braves have already been linked to free agents Jermaine Dye, Xavier Nady, Mike Cameron, and Marlon Byrd, among many others.

There is also the possibility that the club will avoid dipping into the free agency pool for a hitter and go the trade route, instead.

It is widely-anticipated that last offseason’s key additions, Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, will be shopped this winter with the intent of bringing the aforementioned big-time bat in return.

The Braves may struggle to find a taker for Lowe and the three years and $45 million that remain on his contract.

Vazquez is only under contract through 2010, but was easily the club’s most reliable starter in 2009 and the Braves would no doubt be hesitant to lose his presence at the front of the rotation.

Neither pitcher figures to have much value until after John Lackey is signed to a new deal. After Lackey the free agent pool of starters is very shallow and many teams could find Lowe and Vazquez to be more attractive alternatives.

Whatever the rest of the offseason holds for the Atlanta, one this is certain, the bullpen is all taken care of for 2010.


Placido Polanco Signs with the Philadelphia Phillies

Placido Polanco is coming back to Philly.

After spending four and a half years in Detroit, the Phillies have reportedly signed the 34-year-old to take over as the club’s everyday third baseman.

The contract is believed to be a three-year, $18 million deal with a fourth-year mutual option for 2013.

As is customary with all deals, finalization of the contract is pending a physical.

Polanco spent parts of four seasons in Philadelphia and posted a very solid .297/.352/.439 line during that time while posting of the best power numbers of his career.

The Phillies will be moving Polanco from second base, where he has two Gold Gloves, to third base to replace the departed Pedro Feliz.

Polanco isn’t a stranger to the hot corner, having originally started his career as a third baseman before shifting to second base full-time during his last stint in Philadelphia.

He posted above average numbers at the hot corner, but has only played nine games at third since the end of 2004.

The addition of Polanco gives the Phillies more flexibility in the lineup as well as in the field.

Polanco, a career .303/.348/.414 hitter can hit anywhere in the lineup.

He is renowned for his plate discipline. He struck out once every 14.7 plate appearances last season, good enough for the second-best mark in all of baseball.

Over the past five seasons, he’s averaged just one strikeout per every 17.5 plate appearances, which is also good for second-best in the Majors.

He has hit primarily out of the two-hole in recent years. His penchant for clutch hits and moving runners makes him an ideal candidate to continue that role in Philadelphia.

Another option would be to hit him lower in the order, to allow more turn-over at the bottom of the lineup. Shane Victorino has handled the two-hole in recent years and has thrived in the role.

No matter where manager Charlie Manuel decides to hit him in the lineup, Polanco figures to be an exciting addition to one of the most potent lineups in all of baseball.

The Phillies were rumored to be interested in Mark DeRosa and Adrian Beltre as alternatives at third base, but the Phillies pursued Polanco very aggressively after it was learned that Detroit would not offer him arbitration.

As a Type A free agent, the Tigers could have gained a first-round draft pick and as supplemental pick for Polanco had they offered him arbitration.

Without the offer, Polanco instantly became more attractive as a free agent option.

2010 All-Free Agent Team – American League

This year 171 players filed for free agency.

Of the 171 total free agents, 72 are from the American League and 99 are from the National League.

Unlike last year’s class of free agents, only a select few in this crop figure to land blockbuster deals.

In fact, an increasing number of teams are choosing to improve via trade or by promoting young talent from within the farm system.

As such, many of these veterans can expect to sign short-term and/or incentive-laden deals for 2010 and potentially beyond.

I’ve taken a look at all of the free agents left on the market and split them up into two 25-man rosters, one for the American League and one for the National League.

League affiliation was determined by whichever team a player finished out the 2009 season.

In an effort to keep things as realistic as possible, I’ve ensured that each team has a backup catcher, infielder, and outfielder. Additionally, both the AL and NL rosters have been given a 12-man pitching rotation.

These teams certainly don’t reflect an All-Star mentality, but rather they give a good indication of how weak this year’s free agent class can be considered.

It should be noted that some deserving players were left off of the roster due to position-eligibility concerns. As such, you’ll note some sketchy inclusions and unfortunate exclusions.

Without any further ado, let’s take a look at the AL All-Free Agent Team.


Check out the American League's Official 25-man roster at BleacherReport.com.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

MLB Arbitration Rundown: Who’s Staying, Who’s Going?!

This year 23 free agents were offered arbitration.

Of those 23, ten are Type A free agents and thirteen are Type B.

Teams that sign a Type A free agent will lose their first-round pick—if that club finished in the top fifteen in the league—as well as a sandwich pick between rounds one and two of the draft.

Teams that sign a Type B free agent do not lose a draft pick, but the team that offered arbitration does receive an additional supplemental round pick.

The following players were offered arbitration on Tuesday, and now have until December 7th to decide whether to accept:

Check out the slideshow featuring all 23 free agents at BleacherReport.com.


Billy Wagner Signs with the Atlanta Braves

That didn’t take long.

Just hours after the deadline for teams to offer arbitration, the Atlanta Braves have reportedly signed free agent closer Billy Wagner to a one-year deal.

The deal is reportedly worth $7 million and has a $6.5 million vesting option for 2011.

The option reportedly becomes guaranteed if Wagner finishes 50 games next season.

As with all pending deals, it won’t become final until Wagner, 38, passes a physical, which he is expected to take Wednesday in Atlanta.

Wagner is a Type-A free agent, who was offered arbitration by the Red Sox on Tuesday.

As such, Boston will receive Atlanta’s first-round draft pick in 2010 (the 20th overall pick) as well as a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds.

Wagner spent most of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

He made two strong relief appearances for the New York Mets before he was traded to the Boston Red Sox where he served in a setup role to Jonathon Papelbon.

In all, Wagner made a total of 15 appearances for 13.2 innings pitched. He struck out 22 and walked just seven, while giving up three earned runs.

His overall record was 1-1 with a 1.98 ERA and six holds.

Wagner wasn’t shy about his desire to close and made that clear when he agreed to waive his no-trade clause last summer only if Boston agreed not to pick up his $8 million option for 2010.

Wagner is currently ranked sixth all-time in total saves with 385. He is third on the active list behind only Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.

His return to the ninth inning role also gives him an opportunity to garner out the 40 saves he needs to pass John Franco for the all-time record among left-handed pitchers.

Additionally, the Braves give Wagner a chance to win.

He stated that a big reason why he accepted the trade to Boston last year was an “overwhelming desire to pitch in a pennant race.”

The Braves proved last year that they were only a few pieces away from the Wild-Card.

As such, Wagner just might get another chance at a pennant race.