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Millwood a Ranger

The Rangers have needed pitching for several years and now they are finally making a serious effort to improve it. Texas signed Kevin Millwood, the AL ERA champion just last season, to a 4 year, $48 million deal with a club option for a 5th year. The last time the Rangers gave a pitcher this monstrous of a deal, it was Chan Ho Park and he did not exactly pan out. I am guessing Millwood will not be worth the money either, though he should be better than Park.

Millwood definitely got a huge contract, but considering that he has Scott Boras as an agent and the market for pitchers this offseason, the deal could have been much bigger. The scariest part of the contract is the length, as it is highly unlikely that Millwood will continue to perform at his current level when he is 35, especially considering his medical history. Still, Texas was able to make Scott Boras budge slightly, which is remarkable.

I wanted the Mariners to get Kevin Millwood and I am unhappy that an A.L. West team signed him, but Texas can have him at that price. It is an awfully risky deal. With signings like this and the 5-player super swap with the Padres, I wonder if John Daniels will be the Rangers' GM when Kevin Millwood's contract expires. It is possible Daniels is just trying to make a splash, especially considering how young and green he is, but continuing to make deals like this will run the organization into the ground. Texas has a Texas-sized budget, but it's certainly not Yankee-sized.

Hello Lawton; goodbye Reed?

Tonight the Mariners announced that they had signed free agent OF Matt Lawton to a 1 year contract with a base salary of $400,000, though incentives could escalate it to well over $1 million. Also included in the deal was a limited no-trade clause.

This deal is interesting for several reasons. First of all, Lawton will have to serve a 10 game suspension at the start of the season for testing positive for steroids at the end of last year. Lawton admits to taking them but also says that he only took them once. The Mariners believe him, and I believe him too. As interesting as this is, Lawton's signing is even more intriguing from a pure baseball standpoint.

When the Mariners signed Jarrod Washburn, it looked like their offseason was complete. Bill Bavasi had publicly stated that his offseason goals were to improve the catching, get a left-handed bat, and improve the starting pitching. Once Washburn was signed, every objective had been addressed. Then, out of nowhere, the Mariners add Matt Lawton. I really like the signing (personally, I think he is a much better player than Carl Everett, which makes me wonder why the Mariners did not just sign him in the first place instead of Everett) but it does not all add up to me. Bavasi did not specify what Lawton's role would be on the team, though he did say that Lawton can play a variety of roles, namely all three outfield positions. This is noteworthy because Bavasi tends to be very clear about defining player's roles. For example, when he signed Carl Everett, he clearly stated that Everett would primarily be the designated hitter and spell Raul Ibanez in left field from time to time. It just seems out of character for Bavasi to be as vague as he was about Matt Lawton's role.

To me, this is a clear signal that the rumors involving Jeremy Reed going to the Red Sox are legitimate. A deal may not be imminent quite yet, but I think Boston and Seattle are in serious discussions right now. It is no coincidence that the deal for Matt Lawton came right on the heels of the Johnny Damon signing, and also that Bill Bavasi was not willing to talk about Lawton's specific role.

Whether Jeremy Reed is traded or not, Matt Lawton was a great signing for the Mariners, especially at such a ridiculously low price. He will be the starting center-fielder if Reed is dealt, and I bet he will be a started very quickly even if Reed is not dealt. This was an outstanding move for the Mariners and it also may be a signal of things to come.

48 Hours: Deals Around the MLB

For the last few days, all that has been covered is Johnny Damon's move to the Yankees. However, contrary to what has been reported, the baseball world has not stopped. In fact, it is churning at a rapid pace and a flurry of baseball deals have happened the last few days. Here is a quick recap, with analysis:

The Yankees actually signed a free agent before they signed Johnny Damon, RP Octavio Dotel. He has struggled, but still has a power arm and was signed to a relatively cheap $2 million, 1 year deal. If Dotel becomes dominant again this is a great move for the Yankees but at worst he is a decent middle reliever. A pretty solid move.

Yesterday was the last day to tender players. 50 in total were not tendered, most notably Eric Byrnes. The Mariners did not tender three players, Cha Seung Baek, Jamal Strong, and Ryan Franklin. Non-tendered players immediately become free agents so the market has shifted a little. No great players are suddenly available, but the middle of the pack just got a little larger, which should in theory make free agents a little cheaper.

The Rangers traded away SP Chris Young, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, and OF Terrmel Sledge to the Padres for SP Adam Eaton and RP Akinori Otsuka, presumably in an effort to improve their pitching staff. However, Chris Young is probably a better pitcher than Adam Eaton right now and he should have more upside and probably is more durable as well. However, trading a great looking prospect like Adrian Gonzalez and a solid reserve outfielder for Akinori Otsuka, an aging relief pitcher who looks worse and worse with every appearance, is what makes this deal really bad for the Rangers. Good news for Mariners fans.

The Cardinals signed often-hammered (in more ways than one) pitcher Sidney Ponson to a one year contract with lots of incentives. There is no way the Cardinals can lose in this deal the way they wrote it so, though Ponson could be a complete failure, this is still a great deal for St. Louis. A low-risk, high-reward signing.

The Angels shipped OF Steve Finley to the Giants for INF Edgardo Alfonzo. This trade would have been a much bigger deal a few years ago, but now it is just a swap of former stars whose best days are clearly behind. Still, the Angels got the better end of this deal.

The off-season continues to buzz with activity and there is no end in sight with so many free agents still unsigned. The Mariners look fairly well set, though the Red Sox are rumored to be dangling Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo for a center fielder, maybe even Jeremy Reed. If I were Bill Bavasi I would only trade Reed for Clement and cash considerations, but we will see what actually happens. Spring training may be on the horizon, but it is still far enough away for things to change.

They Still Are the Yankees

I was starting to worry about the Yankees this off-season. After all, the only move they had made was signing Kyle Farnsworth, hardly earth-shattering. Sure, plenty of deals had been rumored but nothing had come to fruition. In fact, it looks like they actually lost the battle for Nomar Garciaparra and they reportedly even lost money last year. I was starting to think that the Yankees may have a new way of doing business this off-season, that maybe they finally had to do business like every other major league team.

Well, the Yankees came roaring to life today and looked just like the Yankees of old. They announced that their center fielder will be Johnny Damon, and it only cost them $52 million over 4 years.

Damon is a big name that is certainly not worth the money the Yankees gave him. However, New York was able to stick it to Boston, so they definitely do not mind overpaying. It only makes the best rivalry in baseball, and arguably all of sports, better.

So, the Yankees got the best centerfielder on the market at a ridiculous price but to be fair, the move also hacked off Red Sox nation. A classic childish but expensive Yankees move. The Yankees certainly have not changed their ways, much to my chagrin. However, upon further review, I guess I really like the deal only because it gives me another reason to hate the Yankees. Damon is a good player and an upgrade for New York, but not worth the money he got. However, has money ever stopped the Yankees?

Washburn Finally a Mariner

The Mariners finally officially inked starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn, days after the deal had been reported. In the end, the two sides agreed to a 4 year, $37.5 million contract.

In Washburn, the Mariners get a 31-year-old left-hander who is mediocre in many respects. He strikes out an average amount of hitters, gives up an average amount of hits, and pitches an average amount of innings. Though he has never sustained a serious injury, he has been on the disabled list each of the last two years. Washburn will not get alot of double plays either because he relies heavily on fly ball outs. The only thing impressive about him is his ability to limit the running game as no one stole a base when he was on the mound last year. He also put up an impressive 3.20 ERA in 2005, though it should have been much higher based on any other number. Overall, the Mariners probably overpaid for Jarrod Washburn.

However, that does not mean this was a bad signing. The only better free agent starter available was Kevin Millwood, and he wanted a five year deal, which the Mariners were probably smart to balk at. In Washburn, the Mariners get a remarkably steady starter who is productive. Though that may not sound exciting, it is when you look at how the Mariners' starters performed as a whole in 2005. There is no doubt that Jarrod Washburn will improve the Mariners starting rotation and that is why this is a good signing, even if the price tag was too high.

How 'Bout Them Royals!

Very quietly, the Kansas City Royals (that's right, the Kansas City Royals) have put together a great offseason. Kansas City has been the A.L. Central's doormat ever since the Tigers lost 119 games, but they have improved dramatically thanks to a series of savvy moves. Here is a quick recap of what the Royals have done this offseason as of tonight:

  • Signed 2B Mark Grudzielanek to a 1 year, $4 million deal with a 2007 option: Though Grudzielanek is old, he is still very productive and will be a noticeable upgrade at second base over Ruben Gotay. I personally thought Grudzielanek was one of the 10 best free agents available and to get him at such an affordable price was remarkable. Excellent move.
  • Signed SP Scott Elarton to a 2 year, $8 million deal: Elarton is not a great pitcher, but he will improve the Royals staff at a very affordable price. Another solid acquisition.
  • Signed 1B Doug Mientkiewicz to a 1 year, $1.85 million deal, with incentives: Mike Sweeney is a bad defensive first-baseman, so signing a late-inning defensive replacement was a smart idea. Mientkiewicz is arguably the best defensive first-baseman in the game and could end up being a decent pinch-hitting option as well.
  • Signed C Paul Bako to a 1 year deal: A great backup catcher, though he may push John Buck to start or platoon if Buck does not improve. Another guy which will help the team.
  • Signed RP Elmer Dessens to a 2-year contract: Once again, not a premiere pitcher but one which will improve the pitching staff.
  • Traded Rule 5 Draft Pick Fabio Castro to the Rangers for INF Esteban German: I originally thought German my start at second base, but with the acquisition of Mark Grudzielanek he will now be a reserve. German can play all over the infield and he will be invaluable on the bench, both as a pinch-runner and a pinch-hitter. A fabulous trade for the Royals.
  • Traded RP Jonah Bayliss to the Pirates for SP Mark Redman: Though Bayliss is a nice looking relief prospect, the Royals have other good-looking relief prospects. They needed a reliable starter and that is exactly what Mark Redman is. Another very good deal for the Royals.
To a certain extent, it is hard for horrible teams like the Royals to make moves that will hurt them because almost any player brought in is bound to be better than the predecessor. Still, it is nice to see a bad team making a legitimate effort to improve. The Royals probably will not contend for the playoffs this year, but do not be surprised if they are significantly better. Also, it is likely that many of the players the Royals have signed this off-season will be hot commodities at the trading deadline, meaning Kansas City will have the opportunity to acquire several good prospects. The Royals have had a great off-season and they should reap the benefits down the road.

Carl ?#@!ing Everett

Ever since Albert Belle retired, there is no baseball player I hate more than Carl Everett. What is there to like about a man who is surly off the field and has a terrible temper on it? Everett is the biggest jerk in baseball today. However, with Everett having been signed by the Mariners, I may just be forced to root for him. The marriage of love and hate in my baseball world has left me torn. Should I, and the multitude of fans who also despise Carl Everett, actually be fans of this cantankerous player?

The Mariners certainly think so. One of their off-season goals was to acquire a bat with some power, preferably left-handed, who could play the outfield. Carl Everett seems to be a perfect fit as he perennially hits over 20 home runs, can bat from either side of the plate, and has extensive experience playing the outfield. Furthermore, Mike Hargove welcomes the "intensity" that Carl Everett will bring to the team, as he believes that Everett will stir up what has been a moribund clubhouse for several years. According to the Mariners, Carl Everett is a perfect fit.

The Mariners are completely wrong, as much as it hurts for me to say it. Carl Everett not only is an imperfect fit, he does not fit in at all. To start with, the "intensity" that Mike Hargrove referred to is one of Everett's worst qualities, not his best as the Mariners want to lead people to believe. He gets way to intense and the resulting tirades alienate him from his teammates. Then, with the clubhouse falling apart thanks to his own actions, he gets angry and blames everyone for not unifying as a team. Everett's antics will certainly stir up the clubhouse, but they will stir it up way too much. Just ask the Astros, Red Sox, and Rangers, who all dumped Carl Everett because he was such a burden to deal with.

However, just for argument's sake, I will say that Carl Everett is the best thing ever to happen to the Mariners' clubhouse. What makes this signing truly horrid is that he does not improve the team as a baseball player. Mike Morse was a likely candidate to have the role that Carl Everett will now fill. So, let's compare Carl Everett's 2005 statistics with Mike Morse's:

Carl Everett
Mike Morse

Based on last year's numbers, Carl Everett is barely an upgrade over Mike Morse. However, Everett's production is bound to plummet this year for two reasons. First, he has been steadily declining for several years, which is not surprising considering he is 34 years old. More importantly though, Everett played his home games at U.S. Cellular Field last year, a home-run-hitting paradise. Needless to say, Safeco Field is far more pitcher friendly. As for Morse, his numbers were compiled in Safeco and he is just starting his career, so his numbers in theory should improve. In addition, the Mariners have two other prospects, Chris Snelling and Shin-Soo Choo, who have both been better hitters than Morse throughout their minor league careers. Both of them are also left-handed hitters and outfielders, the exact type of player the Mariners were looking for in the free agent market. In fact, Shin-Soo Choo has the chance to be a gold-glover because his defense is so impressive. Any of those three prospects may be better players than Carl Everett right now and they obviously have way more upside than him at this point too.

So, in conclusion, Carl Everett is a clubhouse cancer who is a worse, yet more expensive, player than three prospects the Mariners already have. Everett looks like the next Rich Aurilia, or worse, the next Scott Spiezio and if he is it may cost Bill Bavasi his job. Whoever pushed for Carl Everett to be signed should be fired because nothing good will come out of this move. It is terrible, simply terrible.

Rule 5 Draft Analysis

Every year, Major League Baseball finishes the winter meetings with the Rule 5 Draft. Every player 4 years removed from signing with a baseball team (or 5 years removed in the case of high-schoolers) that is not on a team's 40-man roster is eligible to be selected and if a team chooses a player in the Major League phase of it, the team is required to keep the player on the active 25-man roster or give them back to their original team and pay a small fine. Very few great players are available in the Rule 5 Draft, but a few good ones emerge every year. Here are quick glimpses at the 12 players selected in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft this year, in draft order:

1) Fabio Castro, LHP, 20 years old, selected by KC from CHW, traded by the Royals to the Rangers for INF Esteban German: Castro is a diminuitive pitcher but he put up big numbers last year at a very young age. However, those numbers were in High-A Ball, a far cry from the major leagues. Castro may be a great reliever some day, but he is not ready for the major leagues right now. By trading for Esteban German the Royals got an all-around solid infielder with great speed and good plate discipline. It would not surprise me if he establishes himself as a starter in Kansas City. Unless Castro really crashes and burns, the Rangers will likely hold on to him and send him to the minor leagues next year and he will eventually resurface as a very good reliever. Still, I think the Royals got the better end of this deal.

2) Luis E. Gonzalez, LHP, 22 years old, selected by COL from LAD: Gonzalez was in AA most of last year, where he was extremely difficult to hit against. However, he also walked lots of hitters and ultimately that may be his downfall. I don't expect Gonzalez to stick with the Rockies because he cannot throw strikes consistently enough to succeed in the Major Leagues right now.

3) Steve Andrade, RHP, 27 years old, selected by TB from TOR, traded by the Devil Rays to the Padres for cash considerations: Andrade played in AA all of last season, which is surpising considering his age. He was extremely effective though as he posted a 1.97 ERA and struck out 71 batters in only 50 1/3 innings. Even more impressive, he only walked 16 batters. Even though the jump from AA to MLB is a big one, Andrade has a chance to secure a spot in the Padres' bullpen and establish himself as a quality reliever.

4) Victor Santos, RHP, 29 years old, selected by PIT from KC: Santos is not the classic Rule 5 draftee. While most players drafted are career minor-leaguers, Santos has logged substantial innings in the major leagues the last four years. Santos is fairly mediocre and will likely be a long reliever or spot starter for the Pirates in 2006.

5) Chris Booker, RHP, 29 years old, selected by DET from WAS, traded to PHI for cash considerations: Booker spent last year in AAA and earned a brief cup of coffee with the Reds thanks to his outstanding season. Booker has an excellent chance to stick in Phillies bullpen for the entire year.

6) Seth Etherton, RHP, 29 years old, selected by SD from KC: Like Santos, Etherton has logged quite a few innings in the major leagues already, though his Major League career leaves much to be desired. There is a good chance he does not make the Padres out of spring training.

7) Mitch Wylie, RHP, 28 years old, selected by NYM from SF: Wylie has had a nice minor league career, but not a great one. He may be a decent Major League reliever, but I am not convinced the Mets are looking for decent players. My guess is Wylie will be returned to the Giants.

8) Dan Uggla, 3B, 25 years old, selected by FLA from ARI: Uggla may be the most intriguing prospect taken in the Rule 5 Draft. He has a history of struggling the first time he plays in a new league, which is bad omen considering he is going to jump from AA to the Major Leagues. However, he also has a history of exploding when repeating a league. Considering the Marlins have purged their roster, Uggla should make the Marlins in some capacity and though he may struggle this year, he could develop into a quality everyday player for 2007 and beyond. A high risk move by the Marlins, but one certainly worth taking considering their current situation. Very nice pick.

9) Jason Pridie, OF, 22 years old, selected by MIN from TB: Pridie has an interesting power/speed combination but he is yet to channel his talent and become a great ballplayer. Pridie certainly will not start for the Twins and I am not sure he will make their bench either. He will have to make it as a stolen base/defense specialist.

10) James Vermilyea, RHP, 23 years old, selected by BOS from TOR: Vermilyea had good numbers in AA but got lit up in AAA. I doubt he will stick with the Red Sox.

11) Juan Mateo, RHP, 22 years old, selected by STL from CHC: Mateo has spectacular numbers, but they were accumulated while playing High-A baseball. Few players are able to make the massive jump and I doubt Mateo will either. However, he does have a better than average chance because it looks like he has major-league talent.

12) Mike Megrew, LHP, 21 years old, selected by FLA from LAD: Megrew was hurt for almost all of last year and he has never played in any lever higher than high-A, so he is a very high-risk pick. However, the Marlins have nothing to lose and when Megrew was healthy, he was dominant. Megrew may stick around because the Marlins can afford to keep him and he may even turn out to be a quality pitcher. However, Megrew has atleast an equal chance of completely failing.

Overall, this Rule 5 "draft class" looks pretty good. Usually, only a couple players stick and make a difference but this "class" looks like it will produce several. The ridiculous free agent market for relievers certainly added incentive for teams to draft rule 5 pitchers and as a result, 10 of the 12 players drafted were pitchers. It will be interesting to see how many of this year's Rule 5 players make an impact in 2006.

Quick Hitters on the Winter Meetings

With the last day of baseball's annual winter meeting coming tomorrow, I take some time today to reflect on what has already happened and take a look at what will happen:


-The Athletics traded for Chad Gaudin, another pitcher with starting experience. This seemed to be an extremely strong indication that the A's were looking to trade Barry Zito, but their G.M. Billy Beane continued to deny rumors involving the star pitcher and said the team was not looking to trade him. Since Beane has already left the meetings, he seems to be speaking the truth.

-The Marlins continued their roster purge by trading Paul LoDuca to the Mets and Juan Pierre to the Cubs. The purge is complex and deserves a post all by itself for a complete breakdown. Watch for that in the not-so-distant future.

-The Indians signed SP Paul Byrd to a two year contract, leaving no doubt that Kevin Millwood will be pitching for a new team in 2006.

-The Blue Jays continued to spend like the Yankees by signing A.J. Burnett to a 5 year, $55 million deal. The deal is big, but not as inflated as the relief pitcher contracts have been this off-season. That is good news for teams like the Mariners, who are in the market for starting pitching.

-The Orioles traded RP Steve Kline to the Giants for RP LaTroy Hawkins. This was essentially a swap of two disappointments.

-The Padres shipped 3B Sean Burroughs to the Devil Rays for SP Dewon Brazelton. Both are young players who were prized prospects that have not developed as anticipated. Both teams say it was just a swap of disappointments, but I believe the Devil Rays clearly got the better end of the deal.

-The Pirates have made a pair of interesting moves so far by acquiring 1B Sean Casey from the Reds and RP Jonah Bayliss from the Royals for SP Dave Williams and SP Mark Redman, respectively. The Pirates dealt from their strength (left-handed starting pitching) to fill holes so, though the trades look like washes on paper, the Pirates did improve. Both were very good moves for them, as well as their trading partners.

-Rafael Furcal was signed by the Dodgers for 3 years, $39 million. The Dodgers overpaid for him, and it's not clear where he will play when Cesar Izturis returns from injury. Furcal is an upgrade, but the Dodgers could have spent their money more wisely.

-The Braves traded Johnny Estrada to Arizona for relievers Lance Cormier and Oscar Villareal. Neither team looks to gain much from the trade, though it is a clear indication that youngster Brian McCann should get a chance to be the starting catcher for the Braves next year.

-The Astros did not offer Roger Clemens arbitration, which likely means that Clemens will retire.

-The White Sox did not offer Frank Thomas or Carl Everett arbitration, which means neither will return to the reigning world champions.

-Trever Hoffman re-signed with the Padres instead of signing with the Indians.

-The Red Sox have agreed in principal to trade backup catcher Doug Mirabelli to the Padres for 2B Mark Loretta. If Loretta comes back from the injury he suffered last year, this will be a terrific deal for the Red Sox. This may also signal that the Padres are ready to give prospect Josh Barfield a chance to start at second base next year.


-The Rule 5 draft is tomorrow, so expect a breakdown of the players taken.

-Trade rumors continue to swirl around Manny Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and Bobby Abreu. Whether any of the rumors are true is hard to tell.

-The Red Sox and Braves are talking about a deal involving SS Edgar Rentaria and it is rumored that they want C Brian McCann and 3B Andy Marte, one of the Braves' best prospects, in return. I doubt that the Braves are willing to trade McCann now considering they just traded Johnny Estrada, so if the rumors are legitimate, this deal will not happen.

-Javier Vazquez has been rumored in many deals, which is not surprising considering he has requested to be traded, which he can legally do with the contract he has. The Mets are rumored to be interested, and that would be a good fit. If the Mets were to acquire him, they would likely turn around and trade Kris Benson, whom the Royals are rumored to be interested in.

-The Mariners have shown interest in SP Kevin Millwood and SP Matt Morris. They must also decide whether to offer arbitration to Gil Meche and/or Ryan Franklin by tonight or they will become free agents. My guess is they will offer Meche arbitration, but let Ryan Franklin go.

-I am convinced Barry Zito will not be traded by tomorrow, but I am not convinced that he will be an Oakland Athletic to start the 2006 season.

-The Rangers are desperately trying to add pitching, both through the free agent market and through trades. They even are rumored to be willing to trade Hank Blalock and some of their top prospects, which they were not willing to do at the beginning of the off-season.

-The Cubs are rumored to be interested in acquiring Milton Bradley, and that rumor seems to be valid.

There are plenty of other rumors I have not touched on, but those are the biggest ones that seem to have some validity. Check back tomorrow for more analysis on whatever has happened.

More proof relievers are way overpriced

Lately, it seems like all I write about is how much relief pitchers are overpriced this offseason. I would stop writing about it, but baseball teams keep giving me reasons to type about it. For instance, the Phillies just gave 38-year-old Tom Gordon a 3 year contract worth a total of $18 million to replace Billy Wagner, who signed with the Mets for 4 years and $47 million. As impressive as Gordon's credentials are, is he really going to be worth $6 million a year when he turns 41? Maybe, but I doubt it. Gordon is going to start pitching like an old man some day.

Then, with Tom Gordon having been signed by the Phillies, the Yankees replaced him with Kyle Farnsworth, who owns a career 4.45 ERA, for a mere 3 years and $17 million. What a bargain! To be fair, Farnsworth is much better than his ERA suggests and I think he will do an admirable job of replacing Gordon. Still, the Yankees paid too much for him.

While the Gordon and Farnsworth signings will dominate the headlines, another deal involving a relief pitcher happened yesterday that should be noted. The Boston Red Sox, one of baseball's premier money-making super powers, decided to go cheap and acquire Jermaine Van Buren from the Cubs for cash considerations or a player to be named or later. I find it ironic that the Red Sox decided to go cheap, but it really speaks volumes about the free agent market. Boston may be the first organazation to realize that every relief pitcher in this market has been ridiculously overpaid, so they went and found the best AAA reliever they could find because at the very least he will be reasonable priced. I think the Red Sox stole Van Buren from the Cubs, who recently signed relief pitcher Bob Howry to a 3 year, $12 million contract, and I'm going to laugh if/when he puts up better numbers than Howry. Bullpens used to be underrated, but that certainly is not the case any more.

What a Wacky Free Agent Market

This year's baseball free agent market is completely ridiculous. Even what was expected makes no sense.

Paul Konerko and Brian Giles, two of the most coveted position players on the market, decided to re-sign instead of moving elsewhere. Konerko got 5 years, $60 million and Giles 3 years, $30 million. Both ended up with contracts in the range that was expected when free agency began.

However, considering the lucrative deals being handed out to closers, those contracts are not in line with the market. Brian Giles will actually get less per year than Billy Wagner and he's barely being paid more than B.J. Ryan. So, according to the market, an All-Star-caliber left fielder is equal to an All-Star-caliber closer. That simply is false. Position players like Brian Giles and Paul Konerko are superior to any reliever because they play so much more. Great position players have a greater opportunity to impact games than any reliever, so they end up impacting games more. Therefore, they should be payed more than any reliever. It is as simple as that.

This free agent market clearly favors relief pitchers. Though it remains to be seen whether this is a one year phenomenon or a trend, teams will be better off going with cheap youth in their bullpen and spending all their money on offense and starting pitching if premium relief pitchers continue to be this overpriced.

Cy Young Winner On the Move?

With the baseball winter meetings set to commence next week, plenty of trade rumors will begin to sprout and circulate. Most of them are bogus, but every now and then a rumor does come to fruition. The key to navigating through the myriad of smoke screens is following the transaction wire for supposedly minor deals leading up to the meetings. Today, one of those "minor" deals went down with the Athletics signing free agent starter Esteban Loaiza to a multi-year contract. The acquisition of Loaiza is not a big deal but why the A's acquired him is.

With Esteban Loaiza, Oakland now has seven legitimate starters on their 40 man roster: Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, Kirk Saarloos, Joe Kennedy, and now Esteban Loaiza. Only five will actually be starters for the Athletics next year. So, who are the two odd men out? Certainly not Loaiza, since the A's just signed him. It is hard to imagine Harden, Haren, Blanton, or Kennedy being left out either, considering how young they are and, more importantly, how good and inexpensive they are. As for Kirk Saarloos, he has a fair amount of experience coming out of the bullpen, so he could very well start the season as a long reliever until one of the starters inevitably misses a start. That leaves only one pitcher unaccounted for: Barry Zito. Most teams would drool over the possibility of acquiring a Cy Young Award winner, especially one with several prime years left like him. Furthermore, the A's could save money by dealing him and other teams would consider his $8.5 million salary a bargain thanks to the ridiculous free agent market set for pitchers this year (see this for more on the market).

So, when Barry Zito's name comes up in trade rumors, believe it. Since the A's signed Esteban Loaiza, it is all but a foregone conclusion that he will pitch elsewhere in 2006.

Holy $$$$ Batman, look at those free agent closers!

Today the Mets announced the signing of Billy Wagner to a 4 year, $43 million deal. Last week, the Blue Jays announced they had signed B.J. Ryan to a 5 year, $47 million contract. Both are quality closers, pretty clearly the top two free agent relievers this year. However, since when is any reliever worth $10 million a year? The answer is never. These may go down as the two worst deals of this offseason and here is why.

For argument's sake, let's say that both Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan average 50 saves per year for the length of their respective deals (needless to say, that should be a ridiculously high overestimate). For B.J. Ryan to do that, he would have to save 250 games over the length of his contract and the Blue Jays would pay $188,000 per save. As for Billy Wagner, he would have to convert 200 save chances and the Mets would pay him $215,000 per save. For perspective, each team could call up any rookie pitcher from the minor leagues and let him close games out for less than $350,000 a year.

So, realistically, both the Blue Jays and Mets will probably end up paying their closers more per save than they could pay a rookie to do the same job for the entire year. Though Ryan and Wagner are clearly superior options to any prospect in any system, are they really 30-35 times better? No way. Unless either of these teams win the World Series in the next four years, they will both regret these ludicrous signings for a long, long time.

The next Ichiro?

Today, it looks like the Mariners made the first significant move of the offseason. Kenji Johjima, a 29-year-old Japanese catcher, has reportedly signed a 3 year, $16.5 million contract with the Mariners and he comes with impressive credentials, as he has won seven straight gold gloves and averaged over 30 home runs and a .300 batting average over the last five years. While the Mariners obviously feel Johjima is major-league material, other clubs were not sold on him, considering the language barrier and the fact he knows nothing about any of the hitters. Mariners' GM Bill Bavasi acknowledges the language barrier, but he also added that Kohjima only needs enough English and Spanish to talk about baseball matters with a pitcher, not enough to "split an atom."

Though there are risks in signing Kenji Johjima, I think this is a great move for the Mariners. First of all, he should be an upgrade offensively. Just look at the following numbers:

Johjima's Projected Stats*

2005 M's Catchers



*Projected stats from
Kenji Johjima is more than capable of hitting better than the projected statistics. Personally, I think he will. Simply put, there is absolutely NO way he does not improve the Mariners, even if his defense is horrific (which it will not be) because he is ridiculously superior to last year's hodgepodge of catching crap. Johjima would be a noticable upgrade for only a little over $5 million a year. As for the whole language barrier issue, there are plenty of Latin catchers who have succeeded despite not knowing English, so it only follows that a Japanese catcher could do the same. If the Mariners do sign Kenji Johjima, and it looks like they will, it could turn out to be the best move any team makes in the offseason. Even if the Mariners were to sign A.J. Burnett, I doubt he would improve the team as much as Johjima simply because the Mariners' catchers last year were exceptionally terrible.

AFL Recap: 10 names to remember

The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is a unique quirk in Major League Baseball's minor league system. Its season starts in October and lasts only a little over a month. Each major league team can send five players and five organizations share a team, for a total of six teams in the league. Most prospects sent to play in the AFL fall into one of two categories: 1) They are the best the organization has and the organization is trying to accelerate their development OR 2) The organization is not sure if the player is a major league prospect or not, so they send them to the AFL to sink or swim. In the end, the prospects that put up impressive numbers throughout the season and then shine in the AFL usually make an impact in the major leagues. With that in mind, here are 10 names to remember, listed in order of organization name, from this year's Arizona Fall League:

HOWIE KENDRICK, 22 Years Old, 2B, ANGELS - The Angels farm system is loaded with prospects right now, so Kendrick has not received the attention he deserves. He can flat out hit, both for average and power and also possesses great speed. Kendrick looks like a perennial all-star waiting to happen.

BRANDON WOOD, 20 Years Old, SS, ANGELS - Unlike Hendrick, Brandon Wood has received plenty of attention, thanks to his prolific power numbers. Wood hit 57 home runs in 159 minor league games, an absurd amount for any minor-leaguer at any level. Even more incredible is that Wood is only 20, which means he is likely still 5-6 years away from fully developing as a power hitter.

DARIC BARTON, 20 Years Old, 1B, ATHLETICS - Barton was acquired in the Mark Mulder trade and may end up being the best player the A's got in return. He has shown very little power to this point, but he can hit for average and he also possesses phenomenal plate discipline. Barton should develop more power as he matures, but even if he does not he will be a starter in the major leagues for a long time because his ability to hit is so special.

MATT MURTON, 24 Years Old, OF, CUBS - This guy is not exactly a prospect since he played the final two months with the Cubs and played very well. However, he was one of the finest hitters in the AFL and has had an impressive minor league career. Murton has a great blend of power, hitting, and speed, which makes him versatile offensively. There is a great chance he will establish himself in the majors in 2006.

STEPHEN DREW, 22 Years Old, SS, DIAMONDBACKS - Offensively, Stephen Drew resembles his brother J.D. Drew (atleast when J.D. is healthy). He leaves nothing to be desired as an offensive player and he looks like a superstar in the making.

RYAN GARKO, 24 Years Old, C, INDIANS - Garko is a great hitter, which means he is an exceptional hitter for a catcher. If he gets a chance to play in 2006 he may assert himself as one of the five best hitting catchers in the game immediately, but the Indians already have arguably the best hitting catcher in Victor Marinez. It will be interesting to see what happens to Ryan Garko in 2006.

CLINT NAGEOTTE, 25 Years Old, RP, MARINERS - Like Matt Murton, Nageotte already has seen some extended time in the majors. However, unlike Murton, he has not fared well. Nageotte failed because he could not throw strikes. However, he did throw strikes in AFL and in AAA this year and he dominated. Nageotte should be in Seattle's 2006 bullpen and it will be interesting to see how well he does.

LASTINGS MILLEDGE, 20 Years Old, OF, METS - Lastings Milledge should be an easy name to remember for two reasons: 1) How can you forget a name like Lastings Milledge? 2) He is a big-time prospect. Despite being so young, Milledge has already excelled in AA. He is the type of precocious talent that is not found perennially, a prospect that looks destined for stardom.

ALEX GORDON, 21 Years Old, 3B, ROYALS - Gordon only played in the AFL this year, which is not surprising since he was a draft pick this year, but the numbers he put up were impressive. For now, the Royals plan to start Gordon in AA ball next year but he looks like the type that will move quickly through the system. Gordon has great plate discipline and good power and that combination will likely propel him into the Royals' starting lineup by the end of 2006, or the start of 2007 at the latest.

T.J. BEAM, 25 Years Old, RP, YANKEES - He may not be Mariano Rivera, but he is a great looking prospect. Lots of strikeouts, few hits, and few walks always equal success and that describes Beam perfectly. Considering the Yankees' bullpen woes the last few years, they would be foolish to not give this kid a look in spring training.

Quick Hitter On the New Drug Testing

Today, baseball announced a new, stricter steroid policy. Now, a player gets a 50 game suspension on the first offense, a 100 game suspension on the second offense, and is banned for life on a third offense. At first I thought the new policy was too harsh on first-time offenders but the more I thought about it, it is only 1/3 of a season, which would be like 5 games in the NFL or 27 games in the NBA .

However, the new agreement covers more than steroids. For the first time, Major League Baseball will test for amphetamines, which many players feel is a much bigger problem than steroids. With the new testing, we should find out rather quickly if that is the case or not.

Still, I wonder if baseball, and even sports in general, is fighting a losing battle against steroids. Better masking agents are being developed, as well as different steroids. Some people think the technology to infuse/mutate DNA to make a perfect athlete out of anybody is in the not so distant future too, and that would be impossible to detect. I hope that never happens, but it is possible.

For now, baseball can claim victory on the battle at hand. However, can they claim victory on the war against performance enhancement? Only time will tell.

Prospect Profile: Yorman Bazardo

Position: SP
Age: 21
Throws: R


Overall, Yorman Bazardo's numbers are mediocre across the board. However, his numbers are compiled from two different AA teams since he played for the Florida Marlins' AA affiliate (the Carolina Mudcats) until being sent to the Mariners along with Mike Flannery for Ron Villone. Named one of the ten best prospects in the Marlins' system by Baseball America, Bazardo had much better numbers with the Mudcats than the Missions. This could be an ominous sign, but more likely it indicates that Brazardo either got tired or struggled with the adjustment to a new organization. Either, or a combination of both, are highly plausible, especially considering he is only 21. If Bazardo has an incredible spring training, he may push for the fifth spot in the 2006 Mariners starting rotation. However, Bazardo will most likely start next year in Tacoma and by 2007 be a strong candidate for the Mariners' rotation. Though Bazardo doesn't project to be an ace, it looks like he will develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

The Baseball Writers Association of America Is Full of Tools

First of all, I have to congratulate Bartolo Colon on winning the AL Cy Young Award and having a great season. However, members of the Baseball Writers Association Of America (BBWAA) just proved they are a bunch of tools by voting him the Cy Young winner. There were two more deserving candidates, Johan Santana and Mariano Rivera. Take a look at these numbers:
































*It is incredible that Rivera had 7 wins considering he is a closer and converted 43 of 47 save chances.

Johan Santana and Mariano Rivera have better numbers than Colon in EVERY SINGLE CATEGORY except one: wins. I mean come on, wins? Wins? That's it? Offense has as much to do with a pitcher getting a victory as the pitcher's pitching does. Good pitchers generally win more games but there are much better numbers available for quantitative analysis. Another statistic as common as wins, ERA, indicates a pitcher's talent much better than wins (though if you want numbers that really quantify a pitcher's talent look at OBP, SLG, K/9, and K/BB). As good as Colon was, Johan Santana and Mariano Rivera were even better in 2005.

However, what bugs me even more is that 6 of the 28 members of the BBWAA didn't even list Mariano Rivera on their ballots. In other words, six "baseball experts" didn't think that Rivera was even one of the three best pitchers in the American League! What's even worse is that all of them probably left him off their ballots only because he is a relief pitcher. That would have been fine 20-25 years ago when bullpens were simply collections of want-to-be starters who weren't good enough to crack the rotation. Now bullpens are specialized and a premium closer, like Mariano Rivera, is just as skilled as a starter. In my opinion Mariano Rivera should have won the AL Cy Young not only because his numbers were jaw-dropping this year, but also because he has been the best closer in baseball for a decade and he is arguably the best closer of all-time. That is really hard for a Yankee hater like me to say, but it is the truth.

So, to those six pathetic excuses for experts that didn't even put Rivera on their ballot, I advise that you get out of your Model T Ford, throw away your pocket watch, and get with the times. Baseball has changed, so don't penalize closers just because they come out of the bullpen. As for the BBWAA members who did put Rivera on their ballot but gave Colon their first place vote, I'd like to ask what exactly made Colon better in their minds. And, if anyone voted Bartolo Colon first and didn't put Mariano Rivera on their ballot, I hope a monkey throws feces in their face. What a bunch of tools.

Prospect Profile: Michael Garciaparra

Position: INF
Bats: R

Remember when the Mariners picked this guy in the first round, back when they were still perennial playoff contenders? It is disappointing that Garciaparra is only in high A at this point in his career but he did have a solid season that should propel him into AA in 2006. Garciaparra’s numbers are not incredible, but they provide reasons for hope. A high on-base percentage and good strikeout to walk ratio generally predict success, and Garciaparra had both last year. He also showed a little power and a little speed too. If Garciaparra puts up numbers in AA similar to his 2005 high A statistics, he will likely make the majors in the next two to three years. However, whether Garciaparra can do that is highly questionable. This is a critical year for Michael Garciaparra and it is why he is worth keeping an eye on in 2006.

Prospect Profile: Matt Tuiasosopo

Now that the offseason has arrived, plenty of people will weigh in with their opinion on what the Mariners should/will do this winter. However, every Mariner fan needs to look in the mirror and realize that the Mariners are still a long way from being a playoff contender. So, the real question heading into this offseason is: When will the Mariners be a contender again? The answer lies in their farm system because every team improves by developing major league prospects. Luckily, the Mariners future looks bright thanks to many youngsters at the major league level (Felix Hernandez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jeremy Reed, et al.) and many other promising youngsters in the minor leagues. Throughout the offseason, I will write short prospect profiles and by spring training I will have covered every prospect worth watching going into 2006. For the first prospect profile, I wanted a name any Seattle sports fan will recognize. The choice was a no-brainer.

Matt Tuiasosopo, SS, 19 years old








Everyone agreed that the Mariners hit a home run when they picked Tuiasosopo in the third round of the draft in 2004 but his first full year of professional baseball brought mixed results. Nothing about his numbers evoke excitement, but there is nothing discouraging either. Some would point to Tuiasosopo's low slugging percentage as disappointing, but he is only 19 and the Wisconsin League generally favors pitchers. Tuiasosopo played well enough in Low A this year to get promoted to high A in 2006 and it will be interesting to see what he does in the California League. Look for his power numbers to go up simply because he will have matured more physically and because the league is more hitter friendly than the Wisconsin League. If Tuiasosopo's on-base percentage improves he will truly be progressing. It is still too early to tell if Tuiasosopo is a legitimate major league prospect, but if he continues to progress at the rate of one minor league level per year he will be ready for the major leagues in 2009.

Why the White Sox Won the World Series

While it is true the White Sox had great defense, spectacular pitching, and the capability to score runs in a multitude of ways, none of these reasons are why they won the World Series. They won it behind the power of former Mariners. Don’t believe me? Let’s go through the series, game by game.

Game 1

Early on, offense ruled with at least one run scored in each of the first four innings. However, pitching took over in the fifth and no runs were scored in the next three innings. Then, in the bottom of the eighth with the White Sox leading by a paltry run, ex-Mariner Scott Podsednik stepped to the plate with two outs and a runner on. He worked the count full and then tripled, scoring the runner obviously, and giving the White Sox a much comfier two run lead. Final Score: White Sox 5, Astros 3

Game 2

This game was characterized by three dramatic momentum shifts. The first came in the seventh inning, when Paul Konerko hit a grand slam with two outs that turned a White Sox two run deficit into a two run lead. Then, with the Astros down to their final out in the ninth, pinch-hitter Jose Vizcaino delivered an incredibly clutch two-RBI single to tie the game. However, it was ex-Mariner Scott Podsednik who delivered the final blow with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth. Ironically, Podsednik had no home runs in the regular season. Final Score: White Sox 7, Astros 6

Game 3

In the first two games, it was the offense of ex-Mariner Scott Podsednik that lead the White Sox to victory. In game three, it was time for ex-Mariner Damaso Marte to shine. With the White Sox and Astros still tied at five apiece in the 13th inning, Marte came in and held the Astros to no runs. In the 14th, the White Sox scored two runs and went on to win the game. Damaso Marte picked up the win. Final Score: White Sox 7, Astros 5

Game 4

After three relatively high scoring affairs, game four proved to be a classic pitchers’ duel. Former Mariner Freddy Garcia started the game for Chicago and pitched seven scoreless innings. In the eighth, the White Sox squeezed out one run and that proved to be enough. Freddy Garcia picked up the win. Final Score: White Sox 1, Astros 0

Jermaine Dye was named World Series MVP, but the award undoubtedly should have gone to Scott Podsednik, Damaso Marte, and Freddy Garcia, the trio of former Mariners. Actually, I’m going to add Chicago’s reserve catcher Chris Widger and make it a former Mariner quartet. He forced in the final run in game three by drawing a walk with the bases loaded. Go former Mariners!