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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.