Thursday, January 28, 2010

Is Johnny Damon a Fit for the Seattle Mariners?



Johnny Damon is a popular subject lately, but not for good reasons.

It’s nearly February and Damon, coming off a very solid season, is finding his pool of potential suitors to be very, very shallow.

It was long assumed that Damon would return to the Yankees, but the signings of Nick Johnson and Randy Winn, coupled with the acquisition of Curtis Granderson have ultimately spelled the end of Damon’s tenure in the Bronx.

The Braves, Tigers, Athletics, and Reds have all been linked to Damon at some point this offseason, but right now there appears to be no legitimate offers on the table.

Damon entered the offseason seeking a three-to-four year deal at roughly the same $13 million per season he made on his last contract.

Needless to say, interest—at that price and length—was tepid, at best.

It was rumored that the Yankees and Damon were close on a two-year pact at one point, but by the time Damon and his agent, Scott Boras, were willing to accept the Bronx Bombers had already inked the aforementioned Johnson.

So where does that leave Damon now?

He’s coming off a very solid year where he put up a line of .282/.365/.489 with 24 home runs, 82 RBI, and 107 runs scored in 550 at-bats.

He is, however, a 36-year-old whose defense is politely described as inadequate and declining speed on the bases.

As such, he is widely-expected to sign something closer to the one-year, $5 million contract Bobby Abreu signed with the Angels last season to re-establish his market value.

This is where the Seattle Mariners come into the picture.

If the Mariners were to sign Damon it would be for one simple reason, the long ball.

As Damon’s speed has waned in recent years, he’s taken to swinging for the fences.

Damon’s home run totals in New York eclipse his totals elsewhere throughout his career.

In Damon’s six years in Kansas City he hit 65 home runs, four years in Boston netted Damon 56 long balls, his lone year in Oakland resulted in nine dingers, and in his four, free-swinging years in New York, Damon launched 77 balls into the seats.

Additionally, his career batting line received a nice boost playing the Bronx. Damon is a career .288/.355/.439 hitter, but in New York he put up an average line of .285/.363/.458, clearly Damon has thrived by implementing a “put it in cheap seats” mentality.

The Mariners projected lineup features some combination of Franklin Gutierrez, Milton Bradley, and Jose Lopez in the heart of the order.

That is if Lopez isn’t traded before Opening Day and if Milton Bradley can prove he belongs on a big league roster after last season’s implosion in Chicago.

Last year, the now-departed Russell Branyan led the team with 31 long balls and trade-candidate Lopez was second with 25 home runs.

After those two Ken Griffey (19), Gutierrez (18), and leadoff man, Ichiro Suzuki (11) rounded out the club’s top five in home runs.

If the Mariners—who seem primed to compete in the cutthroat American League West—want to have a legitimate shot at winning the club’s first pennant since the 2001, the lineup needs some more punch.

Damon just might be a perfect fit.

A rotation of Damon, Bradley, and Griffey at designated hitter and in left field sounds a lot more promising than relying on any one of the three consistently and, if rested and rotated properly, the trio could provide some serious offensive punch.

The Mariners have made some big strides this offseason and currently appear to be just one or two pieces away from becoming a legitimate powerhouse.

The club could still stand to add another starter to round out the rotation and a big bopper to infuse the middle of the order.

At the right price, Damon is exactly what Seattle is missing.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Minnesota Twins: Five Free Agent Options at the Keystone Corner



The Minnesota Twins need to improve the infield.

The club is set at first base and shortstop with Justin Morneau and J.J. Hardy, respectively.

Second base and third base, however, are both wide-open.

Nick Punto figures to be guaranteed a starting job at either of the two positions. As such, the Twins need to add just one more infielder.

Unfortunately, the free agent market—although still loaded with talent—has grown rapidly depleted when it comes to impact players.

The Placido Polancos, Adrian Beltres, Miguel Tejadas, and Mark DeRosas of the world have all signed deals elsewhere and the Twins find themselves still in hunt of an infielder with less than a month before Spring Training begins.

Today I’m going to take a look at five free agents who could potentially play second base for the Minnesota Twins next season.

Check out the slideshow at BleacherReport.com.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Curt Schilling Hints at Potential Comeback



Curt Schilling may be on the comeback trail.

Schilling, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since Game 2 of the 2007 World Series, hinted as much with this ambiguous tweet earlier today:

“Working out again.....not sure I can add anything to that other than I feel it in every fiber of my being, every step I take....”

Schilling is well-known for tooting his own horn and is a shameless self-promoter, so it is entirely possible that the six-time All-Star is merely trying to get his name in the news during a relatively quiet period in baseball’s offseason.

Schilling, 43, has 216 career wins and is one of the most dominant postseason pitchers of all-time. He is also renowned for having one of the biggest egos in the game and may still believe he can still pitch at an elite level after two years away from the game.

If Schilling were looking to make a comeback it is entirely possible he could find a team to agree to an arrangement similar to the one Pedro Martinez, Paul Byrd, and Roger Clemens have used in the past.

That being, Schilling would sign with a club early in the season, make a few minor league starts, and join the big league club after the All-Star break.

In doing so, Schilling would conceivably be rested and healthy enough to be a reliable starter down the stretch and into the postseason.

Teams may be wary to sign Schilling after he pulled a bait-and-switch of sorts on the Red Sox back in 2008.

After the 2007 season, Schilling signed a one-year, $8 million deal loaded with incentives. Mere months after signing the pact Schilling and his doctor were pushing for season-ending shoulder surgery.

There was a brief tug-of-war between Schilling and the Sox that eventually involved the player’s union. In the end, Schilling never pitched and the Sox paid him $8 million for nothing.

If—and it’s a big if—Schilling is contemplating retirement there are a number of teams that would undoubtedly be interested in his services.

The New York Mets jump to mind immediately as the club is in dire need of another proven starter.

The never-ending arms race between the Red Sox and Yankees could easily draw Schilling into a playoff race as well.

Whether any of this amounts to more than blatant self-promotion remains to be seen.

If nothing else, Schilling has proven he can still get baseball fans talking.

Minnesota Twins: Offseason Options and Fans’ Optimism Dwindling Fast



Fans of the Minnesota Twins tend to be a nervous bunch.

This is largely due to years of inactivity, false hope, and empty promises from the front office.

It seems that every year we’re given a decry that implies “this offseason the Twins will scour the market to improve the club and prepare for a legitimate push for a third World Series trophy.”

Then Spring Training rolls around and the only additions are past-their-prime veterans who were willing to sign on the cheap and no-name rookies who spent the previous season toiling in Rochester or New Britain.

This offseason—potentially the most important offseason in club history—we were given the same message.

The club was going to improve the infield, add at least one veteran starter to bolster a young rotation, and, most importantly, sign Joe Mauer to a contract extension.

General Manager Bill Smith struck early by trading away defensive wunderkind, Carlos Gomez to acquire an equally-talented gloveman in shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Twins fans assumed that this was the offseason that the club would actually spend money on the free agent market and bring in the talent necessary to push the club to the next level.

After all, the Twins are opening a brand new, state of the art ballpark in 2010 and figure to be rewarded handsomely at the box office as a result.

There was talk of the payroll potentially pushing $100 million.

There was talk of signing the likes of Orlando Hudson, Placido Polanco, Felipe Lopez, Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Tejada, Rich Harden, or Ben Sheets to supplement the lineup.

Thus far, that’s all any of it has been, talk.

With Saturday’s announcement that Miguel Tejada had signed a one-year, $6 million deal to return to Baltimore, it become increasingly obvious that the Twins are simply running out of time and options.

Pitchers and catchers are slated to report to Spring Training in less than four weeks and the only names remaining from the initial list of potential signees are Hudson, Lopez, and Sheets.

Thus far, the Twins have been legitimately linked to none of them.

Ben Sheets, after an impressive throwing session that the Twins did not attend, is being courted by up to half-a-dozen teams. Most of those teams are willing to pay him upwards of $10 million in 2010.

The Twins will undoubtedly not match that figure and—sadly—are far more likely to make yet another run at the likes of Jarrod Washburn, Jon Garland, or Braden Looper.

Personally, I’d rather we make an offer to “Oil Can” Boyd or Jim Bouton than sign any of those three, but that’s just me.

Orlando Hudson has most-recently been linked to the Washington Nationals. The Nats are reportedly willing to give Hudson a two-year deal, as I’d like to assume the Twins would also be willing to do.

Hudson, however, is reportedly seeking a $9 million payday next season, a figure that no team figures to meet. In the end it’s believed he’ll land a two-year deal in the $12-$15 million range, which the Twins could legitimately afford.

That fact notwithstanding, there have been almost no reports of the Twins even contemplating Hudson as the club’s second baseman next season.

Minnesota’s hesitation to sign Hudson is particularly puzzling as he seems to be exactly what the club has lacked for years, a reliable defensive second baseman who can handle the two-hole in the lineup.

Felipe Lopez, well, he seems to have vanished from the face of the earth based on the fact that absolutely no one is talking about him this offseason.

Lopez is coming off a career year and reportedly has only garnered modest interest from the Cardinals who seemingly aren’t willing to pay actual money to acquire him.

Despite the overwhelming availability of all three of these potential game-changers, the Twins have been legitimately linked to none of these men.

The Twins have, however, been linked to the likes of Jim Thome.

Now obviously acquiring Thome would be a huge move, if it were still 2005. The problem is, it's not 2005.

Additionally, the Twins already boast a very lefty-heavy lineup and already have a designated hitter.

In fact, they have a pretty good DH.

His name is Jason Kubel, perhaps you’ve heard of him?

That leads us to where we sit right now, 25 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting and still with glaring holes in the roster.

The top available options are apparently not of interest to the club.

Smith appears more interested in aging, decline-phase sluggers who can no longer play the field.

…and Jarrod Washburn.

Oh yeah, and most reports indicate that the Twins haven’t even begun contract negotiations with Joe Mauer, leading to speculation that the club will be forced to trade the once-in-a-generation catcher before the season’s end.

Yeah, there’s a reason Twins fans are a nervous bunch.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles Set for Reunion




Miguel Tejada is headed back to Baltimore.

The six-time All-Star has agreed on a one-year deal with the Orioles.

The deal, which is currently pending a physical, was confirmed by Tejada during a phone interview with the Associated Press on Saturday.

“I’ve reached a deal for one season and $6 million,” Tejada said. “I know it’s less than what I made last year, but the market has changed and I feel happy to be able to play in the major leagues.”

Tejada, 35, made more than $14 million last season with the Houston Astros. It was the final year of a six-year, $72 million contract that Tejada signed with the Orioles prior to the 2004 season.

When Tejada signed his original deal with Baltimore he was one year removed from winning the American League MVP with the Oakland Athletics and he was regarded as one of the best shortstops in the game.

A lot has changed in the six years since Tejada inked that deal.

Tejada has lost much of his power and his range at shortstop has deteriorated to the point that he’ll be shifting to third base for his second tour of duty with the Orioles.

Additionally, Tejada has endured a number of blows off the field as well.

Just days after being traded to Houston prior to the 2008 season Tejada was named in the infamous Mitchell Report.

In April 2008, he admitted that he’d lied about his age and was actually two years older than he’d claimed.

And finally, last March, Tejada was sentenced to one year of probation for misleading Congress.

All the while, Tejada didn’t let the off-field issues impact his play on the diamond.

In two seasons with the Astros, Tejada hit a combined .298/.327/.435 and made two All-Star teams.

Tejada proved last season that despite diminished power he can still hit at a pretty solid clip. His .313/.340/.455 batting line came with 14 home runs, 86 RBI and a league-best 46 doubles in 158 games last season.

The Orioles hope to get similar production from the veteran who will be replacing the departed Melvin Mora at the hot corner, a career move that Tejada seems excited to tackle.

“I’ll play in third base, which means a change in my career,” Tejada said. “It’s like the beginning of a new career, but I’ll continue doing my same workout routine to be able continue my career.”

Tejada figures to fit nicely into a lineup that includes burgeoning young stars Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, and Matt Wieters; in addition to veteran talents such as Brian Roberts, Luke Scott, and the recently-signed Garrett Atkins.

Surprisingly, interest in Tejada was tepid, at best, this offseason.

The Athletics, Cardinals, Giants, Rockies, and Twins were all linked to Tejada at some point in recent weeks. Nothing ever materialized as Tejada seemed to be everyone’s backup plan.

That’s how the Orioles, who admittedly didn’t expect Tejada to be around this late, were reportedly the only club to make an official offer for his services.

If Tejada is able to match last year’s production at a value price of $6 million there’s no doubt that all of his other suitors will regret not making a more serious play for Tejada.


Friday, January 22, 2010

New York Mets Acquire Gary Matthews Jr.



It took a while, but Gary Matthews Jr. finally got his wish.

Matthews, 35, has reportedly been traded to the New York Mets in exchange for a yet-to-be named "low salaried pitcher'' off the big league roster.

Matthews’ former team, the Los Angeles Angels, is expected to eat the majority of $23 million remaining on Matthew’s ill-fated contract.

The five-year, $50 million pact was agreed upon prior to the 2007 campaign.

At the time Matthews was coming off a career year in Texas where he’d set career highs across the board posting an impressive .313/.371/.495 batting line to go with 102 runs scored, 19 home runs, 79 RBI and 44 doubles.

To boot, Matthews gained an inaccurate reputation as premier defensive center fielder, based largely on the merits of one spectacular catch.

When Matthews’ 2006-success didn’t carry over with the Angels, he quickly lost playing time.

The Angels signed a legitimate defensive center fielder—and a superior hitter—in Torii Hunter prior to the 2008 season and Matthews was relegated to a fourth outfielder role and by mid-2009 had become the club’s fifth option.

As such, Matthews began lobbying for a trade out of Los Angeles.

Matthews reportedly asked for a trade in Spring Training of 2009, at the All-Star break, and again at season’s end.

Shocking as it may seem, teams weren’t exactly lining up to acquire a mediocre defensive outfielder with a career battling line of .258/.333/.408 and one of the worst contracts of all-time.

As one might expect that left only two options for Matthews, shut up and cash paychecks as a bench player in Los Angeles or the New York Mets.

The Mets are clearly concerned that Carlos Beltran, the club’s star center fielder, won’t be ready to play as soon as expected.

Beltran underwent knee surgery last week and is expected to miss at least twelve weeks recovering, thus ensuring he won’t be available early in the season.

The move appears to be a knee-jerk reaction by the Mets who possess internal options in Angel Pagan and Fernando Martinez.

Additionally, if the club is that worried they’d be better off signing someone like Johnny Damon who can still hit the ball and can play mediocre defense just as well as Matthews can.

Matthews, who will receive $11 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2011, is in his second-stint with New York. He appeared in two games, earning one at-bat, back in 2002.

Matthews figures to play a much larger role this time around as he’ll likely be penciled in as the club’s starting center fielder in Beltran’s absence.

If/when Beltran returns to the lineup, it will be interesting to see how vocal Matthews is about playing time now that he’s been given a second—albeit undeserved—shot as a big league center fielder.

UPDATE: According to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, the Angels will receive big league reliever Brian Stokes in the deal and will pay $21 million of the remaining $23 million on the contract in addition to a $500,000 bonus that Matthews receives for being traded.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Minnesota Twins Debate: Johnny Damon vs Eric Byrnes



“The Minnesota Twins should sign Eric Byrnes.”

That was the general thesis statement of the article I wrote yesterday.

In reaction to that article, the fine folks at “Baseball Musings” posed a good question.

“Why Byrnes if you could sign Johnny Damon for well below his value?”

It is a solid question and being that it was in response to my original article; I might as well be the one to answer it, so here it goes:

Eric Byrnes is a better free agent signing than Johnny Damon for four simple reasons.

The first reason is the easiest to debate, the overall investment.

Earlier this offseason Johnny Damon was rumored to be seeking a three or four-year deal, valued at no less than $13 million per season. An underdeveloped market has brought down his demands to something in the neighborhood of a two-year, $20 million deal.

If Damon is indeed stuck on a multi-year agreement, I can’t see the Twins wanting to lock up an aging, decline-phase Damon when the farm system is loaded with top outfielders like Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales and Max Kepler.

Even if Damon were to suddenly give in and accept a deal similar to the one Bobby Abreu received last offseason (one-year, $5 million) he’d still require an investment more than twelve times higher than Byrnes, who would be signing for the league minimum.

The second reason is playing time.

As currently comprised, the Twins appear committed to Delmon Young in left field.

Young, despite all his faults, made some big strides at the end of 2009 and—based on the one-year, $2.6 million deal he received earlier this week—has earned at least one more chance to prove that he can be Minnesota’s left fielder of the future.

His overall numbers in Minnesota have been disappointing to say the least, especially given that he was once touted as a lock for 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases every year.

He has obviously fallen short of those projections, but the Twins—in an effort to show that the cost of Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett was worth it—aren’t ready to give up on Young quite yet.

Undoubtedly, 2010 will be a make or break year for Young. Relegating him to a bench role in favor of Damon would only further derail any chance Young has of becoming a legitimate everyday left fielder.

Both Byrnes and his agent have made it clear that they are well-aware that the charismatic outfielder’s future is as a part-time player. That awareness would allow Byrnes to shift into the clubhouse without creating any controversy and disturbing the oft-revered harmony that exists within the Twins’ locker-room.

The third reason Byrnes makes more sense is lineup balance.

Although Damon is the superior hitter, the Twins lineup is already chockfull of left-handers.

Inserting Damon into the two-hole—his primary batting position last season in New York—would give the Twins four-straight lefties atop the lineup. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but allows for opponents to exploit matchups far more than a balanced lineup.

Byrnes is a right-hander who, despite slightly diminished skills, can still rake against left-handed pitching and has respectable speed on the bases.

My fourth, and final, reason that the Twins would be wise to sign Byrnes over Damon is one of the most obvious, defense or a lack thereof by Damon.

Damon’s ability to play center field is non-existent and was, in his prime, below average. His overall defensive rating in left field last season was below average as well.

Byrnes, despite losing a few steps over the years, is still a strong corner outfielder who can play center field in a pinch. He fits the prototypical fourth-outfielder model much better than Delmon Young, who would undoubtedly be relegated to the role if Damon were signed.

In the end, I’d much rather have Byrnes as a fourth-outfielder for the league minimum and take my odds on Delmon Young in left at $2.6 million than drop $5 million-plus on a decline-phase Johnny Damon.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Joel Pineiro Signs with the Los Angeles Angels




Joe Pineiro is packing his bags for the west coast.

Pineiro has reportedly signed a two-year deal worth roughly $16 million with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Angels suffered a number of free agent losses this offseason, but recouped some pitching depth Wednesday with the signing Pineiro, who was believed by many to be the best remaining arm on the market.

Pineiro, 31, went 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 32 starts for St. Louis in 2009. Much of that success was due to his impressive, and league leading, 60.2% groundball rate.

The addition of Pineiro seemingly rounds out the Angels rotation for 2010.

Alongside Pineiro will be lefties Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders and fellow right-handers Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana.

Pineiro comes as a consolation prize of sorts for the Angels who had previously struck out in pursuit of pitching this offseason.

The club made an unsuccessful bid to retain John Lackey when he signed with the Boston Red Sox in December.

At almost exactly the same time, the club came up empty in an attempt to trade for Roy Halladay. Halladay landed in Philadelphia as part of a three-team trade with the Mariners and Blue Jays.

In January, the Angels were reportedly very interested in signing Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman. In the end, Los Angeles was beat to the punch by the small-market Cincinnati Reds.

Pineiro himself may consider the Angels a consolation prize as well.

Earlier this offseason Pineiro indicated that he was looking for a four-year deal with a higher annual value than what Randy Wolf received from the Milwaukee Brewers in December.

Unfortunately for Pineiro, his market never really developed and it seemed for weeks that he was destined to land in either New York with the Mets or on the other side of Los Angeles with the Dodgers.

The Angels jumped into the fray earlier this week and quickly become Pineiro’s top choicehttp://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman/status/8008756702.

Although Pineiro didn’t get the years or dollars he was reportedly seeking, he has landed in a good spot to re-establish his value for his next foray into free agency.

The Angels are a consistently competitive ballclub with a solid defense to back Pineiro in the field. Additionally, he’ll benefit from pitching games in the cavernous parks of Oakland and Seattle on a frequent basis.

He’ll be 33 when he re-enters the market in two years and could parlay two good years with the Angels into one final payday that will be more to his liking.

Los Angeles still has holes to fill, especially given the strides made by the rest of the division this winter, but the addition of Pineiro gives the Angels arguably the best rotation in the American League West.


Is Eric Byrnes an Option for the Minnesota Twins?



Eric Byrnes is officially a free agent and might be exactly what the Twins are looking for this offseason.

Byrnes, 33, was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks last Friday when the club signed first baseman Adam LaRoche and was officially released this afternoon.

Byrnes was entering the final season of an ill-fated three-year, $30 million contract he signed on the heels of a career-year in 2007. That season he put up a solid batting line of .286/.353/.450 with 21 home runs, 83 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 50 stolen bases.

In the two seasons since inking the deal, Byrnes has been besieged by injuries and overall ineffectiveness.

In 2008 and 2009 combined, he only appeared in 136 games while putting up a paltry .218/.271/.382 line at the plate. His power and speed have both dropped off precipitously in the process.

As such, it wasn’t a shock that the Diamondbacks couldn’t find a trade partner for Byrnes and the $11 million he’s owed in 2010.

Arizona will be on the hook for the vast-majority of his salary this season while Byrnes’ new team will only be responsible for paying him the league minimum.

This is where the Minnesota Twins come into the picture.

After trading Carlos Gomez to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy, the once-crowded outfield in Minnesota seems a bit barren.

Gomez was the only “true center fielder” of the bunch, given his speed and ability to seemingly reach every ball hit within his zip code.

Denard Span, although talented in his own right, figures to be a bit stretched as an everyday center fielder. His arm and range both project much better in one of the corners than in center field.

Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young are going to hold down the corner spots, but both have proven to be prone to injuries (Cuddyer) and ineffectiveness (Young) in recent years and either could struggle this season.

Jason Pridie (aka: the other guy in the much-maligned Garza/Bartlett trade) is currently projected as the club’s fourth outfielder.

Pridie, 26, has shown very little in his time with the Twins to convince anyone he’ll ever be anything more than a fourth outfielder. He has virtually no plate discipline, decent speed on the bases, and a little pop in his bat. That’s it.

Pridie has looked overmatched at Triple-A Rochester the past two seasons hitting a combined .268/.300/.409 with a dreadful K:BB ratio of 237:49 over the same span.

Byrnes, especially, at the bargain price of roughly $400,000 would be a significant upgrade over Pridie as a fourth outfielder.

It is entirely possible that Byrnes will never hit .300 or smash 20+ home runs again and it is almost a foregone conclusion that the 50 bases he swiped in 2007 was a major statistical anomaly.

That having been said, he’s still a much better option than Jason Pridie.

Byrnes is still a very strong corner outfielder who could play center field in a pinch, albeit without the same range he flashed earlier in his career. He showed last season that he still has some pop when facing lefties and can still run a little bit on the bases.

Additionally, Byrnes is well-regarded around baseball for being a very good clubhouse presence. His energy and infectious enthusiasm have been mentioned as two things the Diamondbacks clubhouse will miss most in his absence this season.

That type of attitude and enthusiasm seems like a perfect fit for the traditionally loose and fun-loving atmosphere for which the Minnesota clubhouse is well-renowned.

Adding Byrnes obviously wouldn’t be akin to signing Felipe Lopez or Miguel Tejada, but he would definitely provide the Twins with some much needed insurance off the bench and a much better fourth outfield option than Jason Pridie.

It may not be a sexy move, but it just might be the right one.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Maybe It’s Just Me: The Bill Smith Inactivity Edition


Maybe it’s just me, but I might hate Bill Smith.

I’m not much for hating, but come on, it’s mid-January and all Smith has accomplished this offseason is trading for J.J. Hardy.

Now that move was—admittedly—an impressive exploit by Smith and I have no intention of downplaying the importance of Hardy’s acquisition.

Here’s the problem. That was in November.

That was before the Winter Meetings.

That was before popular targets such as Rich Harden, Placido Polanco, Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa, and Kevin Kouzmanoff all landed elsewhere.

There are still solid free agents available in the likes of Felipe Lopez, Orlando Hudson, and Miguel Tejada.

Bill Smith, however, seems more interested in signing the likes of Jarrod Washburn to “bolster” the rotation.

The way I see it, the rotation with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, and some combination of Glen Perkins/Francisco Liriano/Brian Duensing/Anthony Swarzak is due for a pretty good year.

As such, why waste the money and starts on overrated, overpaid hurlers like Washburn?

The club needs another infielder and appears to be operating under the impression that Joe Crede is just waiting at home for a phone call from the club.

Rumor has it, he’s not. The club may be quickly working on losing its fallback plan.

Miguel Tejada—who would be an ideal number two hitter—is still on the market. Melvin Mora is out there and on a one-year deal, makes plenty of sense.

Second-sackers Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez are both still on the block and either one would be a dramatic improvement in the two-hole next season.

Yet, despite the names available, Bill Smith seems content to continue playing “the waiting game” to see if the prices plummet further.

It’s entirely possible that the prices will plummet further.

Last year, Orlando Hudson didn’t sign with the Dodgers until February 20 and even then he had to settle for an incentive-laden, one-year pact with a miniscule $3.38 million base salary.

Hudson went on to make the All-Star team, win a Gold Glove, and put up a batting line of .283/.357/.417.

Clearly there are gems to be found late in the offseason and clearly they can be found at an incredible discount.

I simply want to know why the Twins—a club that has seemingly been one or two parts away from becoming a legitimate World Series contender—wouldn’t be doing everything to ensure they land a Hudson or Tejada for the 2010 club.

Joe Mauer is supposedly sitting back and waiting to see the club take shape before he’ll begin discussing a contract extension.

If I’m Joe Mauer—and I’ve seen the Red Sox and Yankees re-load in an offseason where neither team needed to re-load—I’d be starting to think that the grass looks a whole lot greener on the other side.

But hey, maybe it’s just me…


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Florida Marlins Forced to Increase Payroll, Should Fans Increase Expectations?



The Florida Marlins are adding payroll, whether they like it or not.

That is the agreement that Major League Baseball and the players’ union have come to after years of watching Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria line his pockets with money from baseball’s revenue sharing system, an act which would be in violation of the revenue sharing provisions.

According to MLB’s Basic Agreement, any club that receives money via revenue sharing is committed to use those funds "to improve its performance on the field."

The Marlins clearly haven’t been doing that as the club’s payroll has been the lowest in MLB in three of the past four seasons.

The club’s payroll topped $40 million just four times in the last decade and has only exceeded $46 million once over the same time period.

Poor attendance is often pointed to as the main culprit, but the Marlins are due to open a new ballpark in 2012, the same year the payroll agreement ends.

Club spending typically increases with the opening of a new stadium, but the commissioner’s office and the union wanted the Marlins to reinvest more of their revenue sharing profits into the on-field product prior to the opening of the new field.

The agreement doesn’t state a mandated minimum salary for the club, but it is believed that the payroll will increase significantly beyond the roughly $37 million the team spent last season.

Despite operating with a shoestring budget, the Marlins finished in second-place in the National League East, while the New York Mets were fourth even with a payroll of $136 million.

As such, it isn’t too far-fetched to believe that this “punishment” could turn into a blessing for the Marlins.

The club can now build a winning ballclub prior to the move across town in two years.

Second baseman Dan Uggla, has been the subject of trade rumors all offseason long and interest has been tepid at best.

Much of this is Uggla’s own doing after publicly stating an unwillingness to move his atrociously bad glove to a position other than second base.

The club can now afford to keep Uggla, 29, who figures to make upwards of $7 million in arbitration this winter. This allows the Marlins to either lock up the slugging second baseman long-term or move him later when the market for his services has improved.

Additionally, the club can—and hopefully will—now right a previous offseason wrong and lock up club ace Josh Johnson.

Earlier this offseason the then-stingy Marlins were near an extension with the 25-year-old Johnson, but balked when Johnson’s agent asked for a fourth-year on the deal.

The club would be wise to jumpstart negotiations with Johnson regarding an extension as the balky right-hander could anchor the Marlins staff well into the next decade if the club is smart enough to keep him around.

A third name that hasn’t been brandied about nearly as often is Ricky Nolasco.

The right-hander was the club’s Opening Day starter in 2009 before ineffectiveness relegated him to the minors for a brief midseason stint.

Nolasco, 27, has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career and pairs up nicely with Johnson at the head of the club’s rotation.

If the season started today the Marlins’ payroll, factoring in arbitration raises, would be somewhere between $40-$50 million.

That figure may be all the higher the club is willing to go, but with a new ballpark only two seasons away and the club on the brink of contending it wouldn’t be unheard of to see the Marlins alter course and make some splashes.

With plenty of free agents still available, and many willing to sign at a discounted rate to ensure employment, the club could go bargain-shopping and lock up in-house talent at the same time.

In doing so, the Marlins would become immediate favorites for the Wild Card and a dark horse candidate to unseat the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East.

The other option is that the Marlins will simply comply with the “punishment” and spend the necessary dollars to appease MLB and the players’ union.

Either way, one thing is certain, the 2010 Marlins will have more money invested into the on-field talent; a fact which should create for a more competitive ballclub and may have the rest of the National League wondering who is really getting punished.