The routine mantra of most GMs is, “never give a starting pitcher more than a five year deal”. The thinking being that the proclivity for injury in that time span is just too high. But, if there’s one exception to that rule, it is probably Johan Santana– the best pitcher in baseball.
SI.com and FoxSports.com have just confirmed a deal between the Twins and Mets for Johan Santana. The Mets now have a 72-hour window to come to terms with Santana on a contract extension. It’s believed that the Mets would like to sign the left handed 28-year old pitcher to a five-year deal, while Santana is seeking a six or seven year deal. If you consider that Barry Zito, who is ten months older than Santana, received a seven year deal from the Giants last season, Santana is almost a lock to receive the same length of contract. It is also highly unlikely that the Mets would agree to this deal if they weren’t willing to meet Santana’s contract demands.
While the nuts and bolts are being fastened, Mets’ fans should expect to pop the champagne cork by this Friday at the latest. While the names of the players going from the Mets to the Twins hasn’t been confirmed, USA Today is reporting that the quartet heading to Minnesota will be, OF Carlos Gomez, SP Deolis Guerra, SP Kevin Mulvey, and SP Philip Humber. Jon Heyman of SI.com mentions that there has been talk of substituting swing pitcher Jorge Sosa for Humber, and there have been rumors that the the Mets’ top prospect, OF Fernando Martinez could still replace Gomez. However,giving more clout to the USA Today report is the news that the Mets did call Gomez back to the states the other day even though his winter ball team was in the midst of the Caribbean World Series.
If the Mets indeed have dealt Guerra, Gomez, Mulvey, and Humber and we were to use the Baseball America’s 2008 Top Prospects list as a barometer, then the Mets would be dealing their # 2 (Guerra), # 3 (Gomez), # 4 (Mulvey), and # 7 (Humber) prospects for the right to sign the best pitcher in baseball to a deal that should be the richest contract ever signed by a pitcher. The contract will probably end up looking something like 7-years/$150 Million.
Once the deal is finalized, the Mets will enter the 2008 season with a rotation that will be hard for the rest of the AL East to compete with:
# 1- Johan Santana
# 2- Pedro Martinez
# 3- John Maine
# 4- Oliver Perez
# 5- Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez
So, rejoice Mets’ fans, it’s almost time to celebrate. Get ready to don your # 57 jerseys, break out your “You Gotta Believe” signs, the Mets just got a WHOLE lot better, and Santana-Mania is about to hit the Big Apple!
Carl the Cabbie
How much is an all-star RHSP, a solid switch-hitting corner OF, and a
gimpy CF who is on the better side of thirty worth in today’s market.
Well, if you consider wunderkind GM Billy Beane the Alan Greenspan
of baseball, the answer is 11 prospects. To be more accurate, that
would add up to 3 Gold Star prospects, 3 Blue Chip prospects, 3 Above
Average prospects, and 2 Average prospects.
In the space of one month, Billy the bean counter has not only
rebuilt the A’s farm system with legitimate prospects, he has acquired
one of the toughest things to acquire in baseball—lefthanded starting
pitching. Of the 11 players acquired in these three deft deals, 4 of
them are LHSP, 2 of which are Gold Star, top of the line prospects.
Breakdown of Trades
Dan Haren Deal
Twins GM Bill Smith might want to study this deal when negotiating
the bounty he is seeking in return for Johan Santana. If we simply go
by Baseball America’s 2008 Top Prospects list, Beane traded his ace pitcher for the Diamondbacks’ # 1 (outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez), #3 (left handed starting pitcher, Brett Anderson), # 7 (outfielder, Aaron Cunningham), and # 8 (first baseman, Chris Carter) prospects, plus two average left handed starting pitcher prospects (Greg Smith and Dana Eveland).
way to look at it is that Beane traded an all-star RHSP, who has three
financially controllable years left on his contract before he hits
free-agency, for what will likely be the A’s starting RF in 2009
(Gonzalez); a LHSP (Anderson) that should be a member of the A’s
rotation by 2010; their possible fourth OF (Cunningham) by 2009; their
possible 1B or DH (Carter) by 2010; and two LH pitchers (Smith and
Eveland) who could compete in 2008 either as back-end starters or long
This trade by Beane is another feather in his cap when you consider
that by the time the A’s are good again, Haren will be a free-agent, a
free-agent that the A’s would never have been able to afford.
Nick Swisher Deal
This deal might end up even better for the A’s than the Haren deal.
While Swisher is a solid, young switch-hitting OF/1B with good power,
what the A’s received fromm the White Sox for him is astonishing. In a
three-for-one steal, the A’s received the White Sox’ three
top-prospects. Though this trade occurred before Baseball America’s
2008 Top Prospect compilation, OF Ryan Sweeney (Baseball America’s # 1 White Sox prospect in 2007), LHSP Gio Gonzalez, and RHSP Fautino De Los Santos almost assuredly would have topped the list.
Gonzalez (the Sox’ 2004 # 1 pick) might be ready to contribute as soon
as 2008. After having been dealt to the Phillies for Jim Thome in 2005,
he was traded back to the Sox for Freddy Garcia in 2007. Only 21 years
of age, Gio dominated the Southern league last year in his second
season at Double-A. If he continues to improve, he should join fellow southpaw Brett
Anderson in the A’s rotation by 2009.
While almost every scout who has seen them agrees that Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los
Santos were the White Sox’ top two pitching prospects, some feel De Los
Santos could be even better than Gonzalez. De Los Santos dominated
A-ball opponents in 2007 and though not as experienced as Gonzalez,
many scouts feel he could arrive in the majors in a hurry, possibly as
a member of the A’s rotation in 2009.
The caveat to this trade could be OF Ryan Sweeney. The left handed
hitting 23-year old could end up being a better overall player than
Swisher, albeit less power. In 2007 Sweeney probably possessed the best
throwing arm in the entire White Sox system, and is a far superior
defensive outfielder to Swisher. In his last two seasons in the
minors, he finally started to show some power and because of his short
compact swing, his .289 career minor league average should translate
well in the majors. Sweeney has a good chance at being the A’s fourth
outfielder in 2008 and could contend for the starting CF or LF job in
Mark Kotsay Deal
At the rate Billy Beane is going, he could pass Ricky Henderson on the
all-time “steals” list sometime soon. After letting Andruw Jones walk,
the Braves needed a CF so badly that they decided to part with their
2005 # 1 pick, relief pitcher Joey Devine,
for a 32-year old left fielder whose best days are behind him. Just to
make sure the trade was lopsided enough, the Braves threw in A-ball
prospect, RHP Jamie Richmond.
Kotsay’s bum back has been so bad the past two years that he’s missed a
total of 139 games in that span. Besides grabbing a young power
throwing right handed reliever who could turn out to be the perfect
set-up man to Houston Street, Beane saves a nice chunk of change,
$3-million, for the 2008 season.
While Devine struggled with his confidence through a rough 2006, he
was absolutely dazzling in 2007 in Double and Triple-A. Don’t be
surprised if the 24-year old Devine ends up as one of the best set-up
men in the AL when 2008 is all said and done.
By the time 2010 or 2011 rolls around, when Dan Haren is looking for
the highest bidder on the free-agent market, and Nick Swisher is
spittng sunflower seeds on the bench as the White Sox DH, and Mark
Kotsay is looking into his first coaching job, the A’s should be ready
to contend again.
With probable deals for Joe Blanton and Eric Chavez on the way, the
A’s farm system will be bulging with top prospects. In three years, if
things work out for Beane and his scouts, the A’s could be the giant
once again looking down at the rest of the AL West. And we can all look
back at the winter of 2007-2008, and say that was the year Billy the bean counter
built a new beanstalk.
Amount Billy The Bean Counter Saved A’s For 2008
Mark Kotsay- $3-Million (A’s pick up $5-million of his salary)
Dan Haren- $4-Million
Nick Swisher- $3.5-Million
*Subtract approximately $2-Million for the 11 prospects
Approximate Total Savings For 2008- $8.5-Million
The Astros signed Kaz Matsui, the best 2B on the market. The Halos shocked the monkey when they landed good guy Tori Hunter, the best CF on the market. The Tigers never even let Pudge Rodrigueztest the waters, taking the best catcher off the market. The Red Sox
gave the rest of the league about a week before re-signing Mike Lowell,
the best 3B on the market. Are you getting the drift? 2008 is shaping
into the weakest free agent market since the days when the likes of Steve Kemp and Ed Whitson ruled the roost.
It’s so bad this year that even the few good relievers out there
have almost completely disappeared. Heck, as a fan you know it’s bad
when you find yourself kicking the kitchen table because your team
missed out on signing a 38-year old middle reliever who has barely
pitched half a season over the last three years. That’s exactly what I
did when I heard the Tampa Rays gave Troy Percival a two year/$8 million deal.
Thankfully, for some teams they had the foresight to look to the Far
East to bail them out of this bear market. While this latest class of
Japanese ballplayers might not include a Daisuke Matsuzaka or Ichiro Suzuki,
they do offer their new clubs solid resumes at a decent value. As for
the teams that missed out on the Seven Samurai, it might be time to
start drooling over Carlos Silva and calculating how many Silva
dollars to throw his way. Here now is a look at the five Samurai that
will be joining the majors in 2008.
Scouting The Seven Samurai
OF Kosuke Fukudome (Cubs)–
The 30-year old Fukudome is the top talent in this year’s Japanese free
agent class. While the Padres and White Sox were in on the bidding, the
Cubs, desperate for a lefthanded bat, won out. They will reportedly
give him $48-million over 4 years to be there new right fielder.
Many scouts project Fukudome to to put up similar production to Hideki Matsui, but with less power. Over his nine year career for the Chunichi Dragons, Fukudome had a .305 career average, a .397 OBP and a .543 SLG. In 2006 he was the Central League batting champ with a .351 average. While Fukudome averaged 21
home runs a season for Chunichi, Japanese hitters traditionally lose
power when they come to the majors because of the bigger stadiums.
As long as Fukudome can handle the NL left handers he will be the
Cubs’ starting right fielder and probably bat sixth in the lineup. If
he should struggle against southpaws, he’ll probably end up in a
platoon with right handed hitting Matt Murton. There’s always the possibility that he could play some center field also if youngster Felix Pie is still not ready, though he’d be a below average man in the middle.
.290 Avg. 18 HR 90 RBI
At His Best At His Worst
JD Drew Luke Scott
SP Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers)–
The Dodgers have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to
scouting the Far East. When they signed Hideo Nomo to pitch for them in
1995, *Nomo became the first Japanese citizen to pitch in the major
leagues. Nomo and his tornado windup were an instant success. Since
then La La Palooza has been hit and miss in the forays into the
Japanese market. In 2002 they signed left handed pitcher Kaz Ishii. He
pitched three mediocre years for them before a brief stop at Shea on
his way back to Japan. In 2006 the Dodgers hit the jackpot again though
when they signed Japanese reliever Takashi Saito. Saito has turned out
to be one of the best closers in the NL over the past two seasons.
In 2008 they will be trying to hit the lottery again. The right handed
Kuroda has reportedly agreed to a contract that could be worth
$30-million upwards for 3 years. Kuroda passed on similar deals from
the Mariners and Diamondbacks for the right to pitch at pitcher
friendly Chavez Ravine.
The 32-year old Kuroda has a 103-89 record in 11 seasons for the
Hiroshima Carp of the Central League. Like Fukudome, his best season
was in 2006 when he went 13-6 with a 1.85 ERA in a 189.1 IP. Fukudome’s
career ERA is 3.69. While Kuroda is not an overpowering pitcher like
Dice-K, he possesses great control- 42 BB in 179.2 IP in 2007 and 21 BB
in 189.1 IP in 2006. He throws in the low-90’s and like most Japanese
starters has at least four pitches in his arsenal. Along with his
fastball, he relies on a forkball, a slider, and a screwball. Scouts
project him as a middle of the rotation guy who should net production
somewhere between a Brian Bannister and a Joe Blanton. The Dodgers plan
on slotting him in as their fourth or fifth starter (depending on the
health of Jason Schmidt).
14 Wins 3.80 ERA 190 IP
At His Best At His Worst
Joe Blanton Jeff Suppan
RP Masahide Kobayashi (Indians)– In this day and age of
specialization, the bullpen has become more important than ever before.
Almost every team seems to be on the look out for some relief pitching.
The Angels were the first to discover the boon that Japanese relievers
offered to MLB bullpens, when they signed Shigetoshi Hasegawa in 1997.
But, it wasn’t until the new millennium that teams really started to
dabble in the Japanese bullpen market. While there were some misses,
the payoff from the hits was significant enough to continue the
investment.The Mariners struck gold with dominating closer Kazuhiro
Sasaki in 2000. The Padres hit pay dirt with Akinori Otsuka in 2004.
When the Dodgers signed Takashi Saito in 2006, they got maybe the best
closer in the NL. And then last season when everyone was guffawing over
Dice-K and Kei Igawa, the Red Sox quietly brought in one of the best
left handed relievers in baseball when they signed Hideki Okajima.
This year the benefactors of the Japanese bullpen market could very
well be the Cleveland Indians. When the Tribe signed the right handed
33-year old closer of Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines to a very
reasonable 2-year/$6.25 million contract, it marked the first time the
Indians have signed a Japanese ballplayer. As one of only three
relievers to ever save at least 200 games (227) Kobayashi is one of the
best closers in the history of Japanese baseball. He is the only
Japanese pitcher to ever record seven straight seasons of at least 20
His arsenal is made up of three pitches. He throws two fastballs in
the low 90’s and likes to use his two-seamer to get right handers out.
But, his best pitch, his out pitch, is a hard slider that he can throw
for strikes with precision. In 2007 he had 27 saves and a 3.61 ERA,
though his lifetime ERA is much lower (2.79). The Indians will most
likely use him as a co-setup man with Rafael Betancourt. But, if Joe
Borowski should struggle, don’t be surprised if Kobayashi turns out to
be the one putting the Ki-Bosh on lineups in the ninth inning.
6 Wins 2.60 ERA 1.25 WHIP
At His Best At His Worst
Scott Shields Luis Vizcaino
RP Yasuhiko Yabuta (Mariners)– If the Indians don’t turn out to
be the greatest benefactor of the 2008 Japanese market, then the Royals
might very well be. The right handed 34-year old Yabuta was Kobayashi’s
set-up man on Valentines’s Chiba Lotte club. The Royals gave him a
similar deal to Kobayashi. 2-years/$6 million. Some of you might
remember him for his great run in the 2006 World Baseball Classic
(WBC). In a tie game against the U.S. he struck out Alex Rodriguez to
end the seventh-inning. In the eighth he got Chipper Jones on a weak
grounder before striking out Johnny Damon and Derek Lee. Royals’ new
manager Trey Hillman will certainly remember Yabuta as his Hokkaido
Nippon Ham Fighters regularly faced Chiba Lotte in the Japanese Pacific
Yabuta was Bobby Valentine’s favorite setup man, and was named the
Pacific League’s best middle reliever after going 4-6 with 4 saves, a
2.73 ERA, and 1.18 WHIP in 62.2 IP. Since converting to the bullpen in
2004, he has a 2.80 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 250.2 IP.
In the tradition of many Japanese pitchers, Yabuta has a very
deceptive delivery and throws a tank-load of pitches. He hits between
88-92 mph on the gun and also throws a change-up, a slider, and likes
to use a split-fingered fastball on left handed hitters. He will most
likely replace David Riske as the Royals main setup man.
5 Wins 2.75 ERA 1.20 WHIP
At His Best At Worst
Chad Qualls Matt Wise
RP Kazuo Fukumori (Rangers)– At 31-years old, Fukumori is younger
than both Kobayashi and Yabuta, but he’s also the biggest question
mark. He has been the closer for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of
the Pacific League for the past three seasons. In 2005 when he saved 11
games with a 3.57 ERA, Fukumori’s skill level seemed to be ratcheting
upward. In 2006 he had his best season to date when he saved a career
high 21 games while posting a dominant 2.17 ERA. But, last year
Fukumori’s suspect control did him in and he ended with a 4.75 ERA and
only 17 saves before his season was curtailed by bone chips in his
If latest reports are true, then the Rangers aren’t gambling too
much on Fukumori, offering him a 2-year deal worth around $3 million.
Fukumori doesn’t throw especially hard (88-90 mph range), but does have
a funky delivery and a pretty good split-fingered fastball. He will
slot in somewhere at the back-end of the Rangers’ bullpen and possibly
become their sixth or seventh inning guy.
4 Wins 4.25 ERA 1.40 WHIP
At His Best At His Worst
Jason Frasor Jason Grilli
OF Kazuhiro Wada (Free Agent)– The biggest problem for Wada in
his search for a MLB team is his age. Wada will be 36-years old next
summer and it’s highly doubtful anyone will sign him. But if they did,
they would get a .317 career hitter who in 2005 won the first Pacific
League batting title (.320) by a right handed hitter since 1993. Wada
was a member of the Japanese team in the 2006 WBC and is a former
teammate of Kaz Matsui. He has hit over 30 HR three times and hit .315
last season for the Seibu Lions. He would probably make a very good
fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter for a year or two.
.300 Avg. 5 HR 30 RBI
At His Best At His Worst
So Taguchi Jason Lane
RP Kazuhisa Ishii (Free Agent)– Remember him Dodger fans. Ishii
pitched three season with LA before spending a year with the Mets on
his way back to Japan. Overall, he turned out to be a fairly effective
left handed starter albeit a wild one. In his four year MLB career he
was 39-34 with 4.44 ERA, a 1.53 WHIP and almost as many walks as
Since 2006, Ishii has been pitching for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of
the Central League. He’s still Only 34-years old and coming off a 2007
campaign where he had his best BB/IP ratio ever (2.65 BB/9 IP). Okay,
so he’ll never be Greg Maddux, but with the dearth of good left handers
in the majors, somebody might just want to give Ishii another chance.
12-10 4.50 ERA 160 IP
At His Best At His Worst
Oliver Perez Kaz Ishii
want to be a star during your water cooler conversations at the office, a good way to remember all these new Japanese names is to tune in to
the 11/25 installment of our radio show, BASEBALL TALK w/Carl the
Cabbie & Dugout Joe.
Enjoy the rhythmic rendition of the special Japanese free agent song,
sung by none other than Carl the Cabbie. To listen click below and
then press play on the 11/25 show.
And remember, BASEBALL TALK is on the air every Sunday at 12 Noon :
* While Hideo Nomo was the first Japanese citizen to play in the major leagues (1995), pitcher Masanori Murakami
was the first Japanese born player to play in the major leagues.
Murakami, who shares the same birthday as Carl the Cabbie (May 6th)
pitched for the San Francisco Giants from 1964-65.
Grab your coffee Met-lo-maniacs! Here is the quick & dirty guide to making the 2008 edition of the Mets better. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy my Cabbie three-course meal, specifically prepared for your Mets’ 2008 dining pleasure.
Both Paul Lo Duca & Ramon Castro are free agents, so the Mets need a catcher. Sure the easy thing to do would be to re-sign both guys and maintain the status quo. This would be fine if there was nothing better out there. And if your looking for something better in the free agent pool you certainly won’t find it, unless your fond of a guy who likes to punch out his pitchers (Michael Barrett), or you honestly think that Jorge Posada will jump ship (Not!). No, to find the pearl, sometimes you have to go diving.
My first Cabbie tip for Omar Minaya is for him to use some of those free weekend cell minutes he’s been saving up to say "Hey" to Bill Bavasi in Seattle. Start with a little schmooze, "Hey Bill it’s Omar, how’s it going?… How is old Buzzie doing?… Yeah, I’m sure he misses Montreal as much as I do. Wish ’em my best huh!… Listen, I heard you might be looking for a young starter and maybe some fresh guns to help Putz out in the pen. And with the success you guys have had with that Johjima kid at catcher, I was wondering if you’d figured out what you were going to do with Jeff Clement yet?…" Yada, yada, yada. You get the drift.
So, let’s assume Bill decides to play ball. The Mets get their catcher of the future, a young power hitting lefty. A guy who might only be average defensively, but has the potential to hit a good 30-35 home runs a year with a .280 average. Think the next Todd Hundley. The only question now is, what’s the final fare? Hmmm, well considering the guy was the # 3 pick in the 2005 draft and he plays a high-need position, you’re not gonna just get him for some sandwich meat. But, I’ll bet a young set-up guy with plenty of arbitration eligible years left, plus a former 1st round starter could do it.
Mets get C Jeff Clement
Mariners get RP Aaron Heilman and SP Philip Humber
What do the Mets need more than anything else? How about a couple of RELIABLE relievers. Yes, yes. But, let’s be more specific. Well, it seems that the only good relievers we do have, pitch from the left side. And if we trade Heilman, we’ll need at least two good right handed relievers. Some might say we even need three, but I’m an optimist. I’m going to count on either Duaner Sanchez or Ambiorix Burgos staying healthy next year. However, since I’m no longer an idealist, forget about Guillermo Mota or Joe Smith being anything more than extra-inning fodder.
What to do? Ah, I got it! Terry Ryan just left for the president’s lounge. That means new GM Bill Smith is probably chomping at the bit to make his mark in Minnesota. Omar, call Bill immediately! He’ll probably just be impressed that you know his number. Since he’s been in their organization forever, I’m sure you’ve run into him at a GM meeting or a Rule 5 draft. So, start out like he’s your long lost buddy, "Hey Billy boy how’s it goin’? Congrats on the job, no one deserved it more than you! Hey listen, I know Pohlad’s accountant must be driving you crazy. My hat goes off to you. Figuring out how to keep Johan and Morneau is hard enough, let alone dealing with Joe Nathan and maybe losing Tori this year. But, that’s why I’m calling Bill. I think I can help." Yada, yada, yada.
Now, before you get ahead of yourselves Met-lo-maniacs, I’m not even dreaming of trying to trade for Johan Santana. Remember, I’m not an idealist anymore. No, we want Joe Nathan, the perfect right handed compliment to Billy Wagner in our pen. And I think I know just how to get him. When Tori Hunter officially leaves, the Twins will have a gaping hole in center. Perfect! We can offer them either Carlos Gomez or Fernando Martinez, two of the best CF prospects in the game. As the old adage goes, ‘you can never have enough pitching’, so we toss them a 6′ 10" 2nd round lefty stud from last year’s draft and WHALLA Nathan is a our new set-up man.
Mets get RP Joe Nathan
Twins get CF Carlos Gomez and SP Scott Moviel
This one is simple. It’s just about cost and risk. With Nathan aboard we have a dominant set-up guy, but we still need a solid seventh inning guy. Now, before you all jump on me about his injury history, I want to point out five reasons the Mets should sign RP Kerry Wood.
1. He’s still only 30 years old
2. He’s an incredibly dedicated and hard worker
3. He had a 3.33 ERA with 24 K’s in 24 IP after his long awaited return
4. He was clocked at 98 mph by the end of the season
5. He would cost you less than what you pay Guillermo Mota
Let’s recap. After this fine Cabbie dining delight, the Mets end up with Jeff Clement as their new catcher, and Joe Nathan and Kerry Wood as their new right handed set-up men. And all this can be ours Met-lo-maniacs for the modest fare of outfielder Carlos Gomez, and pitchers Aaron Heilman, Philip Humber, and Scott Moviel (2007 2nd round pick).
Now Go Chew On That!
This is the first of a six part report card analyzing each MLBteam’s winter moves to improve. In today’s entry we will review and
rate all the Hot Stove action that took place in the NL East this past
offseason. Who upgraded the most? Which teams got the most bang for
their buck? Will the Mets dominate the division again? Or could their
be a new beast in the East? Let’s take a look.
SP Freddy Garcia, SP Adam Eaton, RP Alfonso Alfonseca, C Rod Barajas, 3B Wes Helms, OF Jayson Werth
Hasta La Vista
SP Randy Wolf, SP Gavin Floyd, RP Aaron Fultz, RP Arthur Rhodes, C Mike Lieberthal, OF Dave Dellucci, OF/1B Jeff Conine
GM Pat Gillick began accelerating the Phillies’ youth movement at the trade deadline last season, when he jettisoned outfielder Bobby Abreu (33-years old) and middle reliever Rheal Cormier (40-years old). The net result of those two deals were 27-year old lefthanded reliever Matt Smith and four young prospects, including the Yankees’ 2005 first-round pick shortstop C.J. Henry. In the winter Gillick continued his youth movement when he allowed catcher Mike Lieberthal (35-years old), utilityman Jeff Conine (40-years old) and lefties Arthur Rhodes (37-years old) and Aaron Fultz (33-years old) to walk. The young duo of Matt Smith and Fabio Castro
will take over as the lefthanded portion of the bullpen. Both proved to
be very effective at the end of 2006 and will cost the Phils a fraction
of what Rhodes, Cormier and Fultz cost. New catcher Rod Barajas is three years younger than Lieberthal, much more durable, and
has a bazooka arm. If Jayson Werth
can avoid the injury bug that has hampered him over the past year and a
half he could provide a nice power bat off the bench while giving the
Phils more range than Conine in the outfield.
The two best acquisitions Gillick made were starting pitchers Freddy Garcia (Photo on Left) and Adam Eaton. The duo gives the Phillies the deepest starting rotation in the East. Garcia should slot in nicely between Brett Myers and Cole Hamels.
The combination of moving over to the the lighter hitting NL, and the
extra motivation of having to pitch for a new contract in 2008 has him
poised for a big season in 2007. Third baseman Wes Helms is a marginal addition who will help plug a position that has been a major problem for the Phils over the last few years.
If there was one area Gillick didnt address enough it was the
bullpen depth. Unless he can revert back to 2004 form, 35-year old Antonio Alfonseca, the sole addition to the bullpen, might be more of a liability than an asset. With closer Tom Gordon nearing the big Four-O and top set-up man Ryan Madson
coming off the worst season of his career, the Phillies bullpen looks
to be their achilles heel. Expect Gillick to continue his pursuit for a
top-end reliever with starting pitcher Jon Lieber acting as the
main bait. If he is unable to swing such a deal, Adam Eaton could be
headed to the pen. Because of a history of arm problems, counting on
Eaton every couple of days does not seem to be an ideal solution.
RP Rafael Soriano, RP Mike Gonzalez, RP Tanyon Sturtze,
1B/OF Craig Wilson, SS/2B Chris Woodward
Hasta La Vista
1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Marcus Giles, SP John Thompson, RP Danys Baez, RP Chris Reitsma, RP Ken Ray, RP Mike Remlinger
Probably the biggest reason the Atlanta Braves 14-year dominance of
the NL East ended last year was their over-reliance on an ineffective
bullpen. The Braves had only three pitchers that totaled over 100
innings last season. The Braves’ pen finished 11th in the NL in bullpen
ERA (4.39), and blew more saves (29) than any other team in the senior
circuit. After toiling with a closer by committee situation for most of
2006- a committee that saw the likes of Chris Reitsma, Ken Ray and Jorge Sosa as the lead firemen- GM John Schuerholz pulled off a deadline deal in July to acquire a reliable stopper. 38-year old Bob Wickman
turned out to be more than reliable, dominating his new league to the
tune of a 1.04 ERA while converting 18 of 19 Save opportunities.
Schuerholz wasted no time in locking Wickman up, signing him to a
one-year extension before the season ended.
the closer situation settled for 2007, Schuerholz turned his attention
to shoring up the rest of his leaky pen. In maybe the best deal by any
team over the winter, he traded inconsistent lefthanded starter Horacio Ramirez to the Mariners for one of the top set-up men in the game, righthander Rafael Soriano. And Schuerholz didn’t stop there. After a month of intense negotiations, he acquired Pirates’ southpaw closer Mike Gonzalez (Photo on Left)
to be his top lefthanded set-up man. In a little over five months
Schuerholz has turned the Braves’ weakest link into the team’s greatest
While the bullpen has been renovated, it came at a cost. The Braves
sacrificed their first baseman and a lot of lefthanded power when they
dealt Adam LaRoche for Gonzalez. In addition, the loss of second baseman Marcus Giles means the Braves will have an entirely new right side of the infield. Free-agent signee Craig Wilson will help fill in for LaRoche at first base as part of a platoon with lefty hitting Scott Thorman (2000 first-round pick). Outfield prospect Kelly Johnson has been converted to second base and will compete with 24-year old switch-hitting Willy Aybar (part of the return from the Wilson Betemit deal with the Dodgers last July), and 23-year-old prospect Martin Prado in place of the now departed Giles.
Another area of concern could be the starting rotation, where the Braves will hope that southpaw Mike Hampton
can contribute 200+ innings after missing the past year and half while
recovering from Tommy John surgery. In fact the entire makeup of the
rotation has some dubious qualities- ace John Smoltz will be 40-years old in May, Tim Hudson will try to bounce back from the worst season of his career (4.86 ERA), Chuck James will be in his first full year as a starter, and Kyle Davies
(6.38 ERA in 151 career IP) could be about to run out of opportunities.
Unlike past years, the Braves do not have any top starting pitching
prospects that are close to major league ready.
LF Moises Alou, 2B/SS Damion Easley, OF Ben Johnson, Util David Newhan, SP Chan Ho Park, SP Aaron Sele, SP Jason Vargas, SP/RP Jorge Sosa, RP Scott Schoenweiss, RP Ambiorix Burgos
Hasta La Vista
LF Cliff Floyd, 2B/SS Chris Woodward, SP Steve Trachsel, SP Brian Bannister,
RP Chad Bradford, RP Royce Ring, RP Darrin Oliver
The best move GM Omar Minaya made in the offseason was resisting temptation by saying NO to Scott Boras’ ridiculous demands for Barry Zito. Unless your name is Johan Santana,
it is rarely wise to give a starting pitcher a contract longer than
five years, let alone seven years. If you look around the league it is
very difficult to find a starter who has pitched more than seven years
in the majors without sustaining at least one serious injury. Zito, who
has never had a serious injury, is now entering his 8th season and has
pitched over 200 innings for six consecutive years. It’s hard to
imagine a curve ball pitcher like Zito, who puts so much stress on his
elbow everytime he twists an Uncle Charlie, avoiding injury over the
next seven years.
The New York media has tossed some pointed criticism at Minaya for
not bringing in a top line starter to help fill out the Mets’ rag-tag
rotation. The criticism is similar to the 2000 offseason when the Mets
resisted Mike Hampton’s absurd contract demands, allowing him to sign
with the Colorado Rockies where he received the largest contract ever
given to a pitcher at the time (8 years/$123-million). We all know how
that turned out. If Minaya has correctly evaluated the odds of Zito
sustaining a major injury or ever pitching to a level that is equal to
the value of his contract (Giants signed him for 7 years/$126-million),
it might just be the best deal he never made.
Minaya also made a more than decent run at Japanese star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka
when he bid a reported $37-million for the right to sign him (the
second highest offer), and while he came up short, one shouldn’t blame
him for not topping the Red Sox’ ridiculous $51-million posting bid.
So, instead of overspending in a bad market, Minaya chose to
guarantee a total of less than $2-million for three veterans who will
push top prospects Mike Pelfrey, Phillip Humber and recently acquired Jason Vargas for a rotation spot come spring training.
Of the three vets, Chan Ho Park ($600,000 guaranteed) has the
best shot of making the rotation. Last year Park returned to the NL for
the first time in five years and showed that he might finally be
regaining some of the arm strength he lost because of multiple arm
injuries suffered while with Texas. No longer under the security of a
sweet deal (Texas’ deal with Park is another good example of why one
should be wary of doling out long expensive deals to starting
pitchers), Park has lots of motivation to prove he can still be an
Jorge Sosa will probably never again have a season like he
did in 2005 when he had a 2.55 ERA in 134 IP. But, for $1.25-million
he’s a low cost risk that could eat plenty of innings until Pelfrey,
Humber or Vargas is ready.
While Aaron Sele is a long shot at best, his success in the
first half of 2006 with the Dodgers (2.91 ERA in 65 IP) coupled with
the fact that he costs the Mets nothing unless he makes the team
($1-million non-guaranteed) is a prudent no risk signing by Minaya.
The best move Minaya made to improve his 2007 rotation could be his deadline deal last July for Oliver Perez. Towards the end of last season and in the playoffs Perez showed he still has the
dominating stuff that made him one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2004. If pitching coach Rick Peterson can help minimize Perez’s lapses in command, the Mets’ rotation will be a lot better than most baseball pundits are predicting.
Last year only the Chicago Cubs (.253) had a lower batting average vs lefties than the Mets (.254). Replacing Cliff Floyd with lefty killer Moises Alou (Photo on Left) should help improve this glaring weakness markedly. With the versatile Endy Chavez
on the roster, hopefully the Mets will be able to spot the 40-year old
Alou enough so he avoids the injuries that have plagued him throughout
his career. Even with his health concerns, this is a good sign because
at 1-year/$8.5 million Minaya has limited the mets’ overall liability.
The most questionable moves Minaya made this winter concern the
bullpen and bench. The 2006 postseason exposed the lack of punch the
Mets have on their bench. It’s difficult to consider 38-year old
utilityman Damion Easley an upgrade over Chris Woodward, and trading lefthanded reliever Royce Ring for marginal outfielder Ben Johnson
could come back to bite the Mets. Trading Ring, who has shown a wicked
curve ball that works nicely with his tailing fastball, and replacing
him with free-agent lefty Scott Scoenweiss seemed uneccessary.
Besides the fact that Schoenweiss will cost roughly seven times the
amount of money, Ring has a very good chance of being a much better
Letting side-slinger Chad Bradford walk could also weaken a
bullpen that was the savior of the Mets’ season in 2006. Bradford was
the Mets’ best reliever in the playoffs. Maybe because of the
development of prospect Joe Smith, another side-armer, Minaya
felt giving Bradford a 3-year deal wasn’t necessary, but it seems to be
the opposite logic that he used in replacing Ring with Schoenweiss.
The one positive addition to the Mets’ pen is flamethrower Ambiorix Burgos who was obtained from the Royals for Brian Bannister.
Burgos is still only 22-years old and has shown that he has the arsenal
to one day be an effective closer. If Burgos can establish himself it
would allow the Mets to once again dangle Aaron Heilman on the trade market should they need another starting pitcher during the season.
1B/3B Aaron Boone, CF Alex Sanchez, RP Kevin Gregg,
RP Henry Owens, RP Matt Lindstrom, RP Felix Rodriguez
Hasta la Vista
1B/3B Wes Helms, SP Jason Vargas, SP Brian Moehler,
RP Joe Borowski, RP Chris Resop
When analyzing the Marlins one has to look more at internal moves
than external since they are perennially hamstrung by the lowest budget
in the major leagues. To put that fact into perspective, one must
recognize that the Yankees last year paid Alex Rodriguez almost $10-million more than the entire Marlins’ player payroll (just over $14-million).
If one were to rate the job GM Larry Beinfest has done on
player development and prospect acquisitions, he would get an A+. But,
since we are rating the entire organization the grade is C-. One should
not just blame the economic structure of MLB for the Marlins plight.
This is an organization whose revenue continually bleeds red. Their
inability to strike a new stadium deal or exploit the large latin
population in south florida most likely means their days in the
sunshine state are numbered.
First, we must give Beinfest his props. Last season the Marlins produced the NL Rookie of the Year winner, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, and placed five of the top ten players in the NL Rookie of the Year voting: second baseman Dan Uggla, starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, and leftfielder Josh Willingham to go along with Ramirez.
While the Marlins have produced a large pool of talent, they still
have some glaring holes. No NL team had less production from their
centerfield position in 2006 than the Marlins. The best they could do
this winter was to sign feather hitting speedster Alex Sanchez
to a minor league deal. Sanchez hasn’t played in the majors since 2005,
largely because of a suspension for steroid use. The Marlins are
working with him on his bunting and hope he can turn into a cheap
version of Juan Pierre.
Beinfest has done his best to fill the gaping holes in the bullpen,
but because of a lack of funds the additions have been marginal. Since
closer Joe Borowski signed with the Indians, the Marlins will try to plug that role with 2004 first-round pick, lefthander Taylor Tankersley, and converted starter Ricky Nolasco. Beinfest was able to obtain two minor league fireballers from the Mets, Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom, but it cost the Marlins their top lefthanded pitching prospect, Jason Vargas.
Both Owens and Lindstrom throw in the high nineties and are expected to
be given a chance to make the major league roster. Owens did have a
very successful season last year as the closer for Double-A Binghamton,
so maybe he’ll turn into a closer option at some point. Veteran Kevin Gregg
was acquired from the Angels to bring some experience to the pen, but
his arm has logged a tremendous amount of innings over the past few
years and his performance is starting to reflect his overuse.
So, while we give Beinfest an A for effort, the Marlins will find it difficult to improve until they get out of South Florida.
SP Jerome Williams, RP Emiliano Fruto, OF Chris Snelling, C Jesus Flores, 1B Dmitri Young, 1B Travis Lee, 2B Ronnie Belliard
Hasta La Vista
OF Alfonso Soriano, OF Jose Guillen, OF Marlon Byrd, 2B Jose Vidro, C Matt Lecroy,
SP Tony Armas Jr., SP Ramon Ortiz, RP Felix Rodriguez, RP Joey Eischen,
Manager Frank Robinson
What does it say about a team’s offseason when the best player they
obtained was a backup catcher through the Rule 5 draft. The two best
things I can say about GM Jim Bowden and the Washington Nationals is that Jesus Flores will be a definite upgrade to Matt Lecroy at backup catcher, and that they’ve finally recognized that they are a bad team.
When you’re a bad team it makes no sense to pay players like Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro
tons of bucks, but it is of the utmost importance to acquire some young
talent when dealing these money bags away. So, the upside is that the
Nationals got a lot younger while shedding a boatload of salary. The
downside is that Bowden was able to get very few prospects in return
for all the high priced talent he had. How the Nationals could come to
a decision to not trade Soriano last year is hard to fathom. Maybe
Bowden was busy reading the The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" when he stated that he thought he had a realistic chance of re-signing Soriano.
The two prospects Bowden did receive were in the Vidro deal— outfielder Chris Snelling and reliever Emiliano Fruto.
While Snelling has fourth outfielder written all over him, the 22-year
old Fruto has shown he has the arsenal to be a very effective reliever
one day. After struggling with his command mightily in his first few
years in the minors, Fruto was able to harness his dominating fastball
at Triple-A in 2006. The results were encouraging. In 45.1 IP for
Tacoma he struck out 55 men while posting a 3.18 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.
The only other transactions to speak of were the signings of three marginal veterans, first basemen Dmitri Young and Travis Lee along with second baseman Ronnie Belliard. Young and Lee will compete to spell Nick Johnson until he is ready to return from injury. Belliard will compete with Christian Guzman for a lineup spot. If Belliard succeeds it would result in Felipe Lopez moving back to shortstop. They also signed nomadic starting pitcher Jerome Williams.
Once upon a time Williams was a well thought of prospect in the Giants’
system. This will be Williams’ third team in three years. So far the
Giants and Cubs have given up on him, but Williams is still only
25-years old, so the Nationals are hoping the third time around will be
Quick, off the top of your head, how many GMs have the New York Yankees
had since George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973? Now, without
looking it up, how many can you name? O’k, time’s up! If you include
Bob Lemon’s five powerless months in 1979, 17 men have held or shared the GM duties over the past 34 years.
Possibly, more than any other owner in sports, Steinbrenner has
encapsulated the meaning of a win-now team. Three year or five
year-plans are for teams like the A’s or the Twins, but not the best
team money can buy. In fact only two of the 17 men who have worn the
title of GM in Steinbrenner’s tenure have ever lasted more than two
years. And one of them, Gene ‘Stick’ Michael, only exceeded the
two-year mark (1990-1995) because the Boss was suspended from baseball
for two and half years during Michael’s reign. The result, of course,
was the building of the latest Yankees’ dynasty. So, when Steinbrenner
hired Brian Cashman in 1998 you’d
have been hard pressed to find any Yankee diehard who would have
predicted that he’d still be the GM almost 10 years later. In fact, not
only is Cashman the longest tenured Yankee GM in the Steinbrenner era,
he is currently the 7th longest tenured GM in baseball.
Stability = Wins
If you don’t think stability matters, consider the success that the
six organizations have had who have had one GM for a longer continuous
period of time than the New York Yankees. Walt Jocketty (1995-
) is in charge of the reigning World Champion St. Louis Cardinals and
has seven postseason appearances, two NL pennants, and a World
Championship in his portfolio. John Schuerholz (1991- ) led
the Atlanta Braves to 14 consecutive division titles between 1991-2005,
and has five NL pennants and one World Championship during his 16 year
reign. Brian Sabean (1997- ) led the Giants to the NL pennant in 2002 and has four postseason appearances to his credit. Kevin Towers
(1998- ) won the NL pennant in his first year as GM and has led San
Diego to three postseason appearances while continually tearing down
and rebuilding the cost-conscious Padres. No one has done more with less than Terry Ryan (1992- ) in Minnesota where Ryan has led the Twins into the postseason four of the past five seasons. O’k, I take that back- Billy Beane
(1998- ) has done so much with less in Oakland that they came up with
a new baseball term for him, "Moneyball". Beane has led the A’s into
the playoffs five times in his nine years as GM. The lesson here,
stability not only counts, it wins. Of the seven longest tenured GMs in
baseball, five of them led their teams into the postseason last year.
While it’s no secret how important it is to have a steady hand at
the helm when building and maintaining a contender, and despite the Yankees’ unbelievable success
over the past decade, Brian Cashman is just starting to get his due.
How can a GM who was the first GM in major league history to win three
World Championships in his first three seasons, and has led his team
into the postseason in all nine of his years on the job be underrated,
especially in the media capitol of the world? Simple, it has only been
a little over a year since the Boss finally decided to do away with the
infamous "Tampa Mafia".
Tampa Mafia or Cashman?
Between 1998-2005 Steinbrenner’s main Tampa consiglieri, VPs Bill Emslie, Billy Connors and Damon Oppenheimer
had so much input that it was rather difficult to know what exactly
were Cashman’s decisions. For instance, while one might be able to
hoist some blame onto Cashman’s shoulders for the Kevin Brown
acquisition (which he supposedly supported), one cannot blame him for
the disasterous acquisition of Tony Womack which he was adamantly
opposed to. Sportswriter Phil Allard retells a humorous long-rumored
story of how the 2005 signing of Tony Womack was one of the final
straws in Cashman’s decision to leave the Yankees if he didn’t get more
authority. Allard writes,
"This was not Cashman’s move. he argued
against acquiring this human out-maker. In fact, Cashman was
dumbfounded when Damon Oppenheimer- who was objecting to Miguel Cairo’s
agent playing hardball- blurted out on a conference call: ‘**** for
that kind of money we could get Tony Womack’. One can only imagine the
silence that followed that phone call."
In Cashman’s first seven years on the job, an overly crowded
conference call was just one of the problems that made organizational
disorganization a common theme. One year former VP Lin Garrett was in
charge of Scouting, then VP Gordon Blakeley, next it was senior VP Mark
Newman, then VP Bill Emslie or was it VP Damon Oppenheimer? It was bad
enough that the Yankees probably had more VPs than the rest of the AL
East combined, to have them all changing hats every year caused mayhem
incarnate. The one thing that didn’t change in this period was the lack
of input provided to probably their best scout and the architect of
their 1990’s dynasty, Gene Michael (VP/Special Advisor to no one). Why
Steinbrenner would eschew the wisdom of his best baseball mind for so
long in favor of guys like Bill Emslie (a former minor league umpire
with no Scouting experience), and Billy Connors (a mediocre pitching
coach who had a 7.53 ERA in a pitching career that spanned all of 26
games) is still rather hard to understand.
As with any power sharing scheme, eventually one side usurped power.
In the fall of 2005, with both the Tampa and New York contingents
bickering, with Cashman’s contract ending, and with half the league
wanting to sign Cashman as their GM, Steinbrenner finally yielded a
morsel of power. Cashman re-signed for three years with the stipulation
that he would finally be given the authority he long sought. Before
re-signing Cashman actually wrote out a "Document of Philosophy"
explaining how he thought the chain of command should be. He re-signed
only after he received full agreement from the Boss that this document
would be adhered to. Had Steinbrenner finally gained some humility? Not
really. The reasons were two-fold. One, Steinbrenner hates to lose
anything, especially an employee so well thought of by the rest of his
peers. And two, the Boss’s health was clearly becoming an issue, and
son-in-law Steve Swindal (heir apparent) was beginning to take on more
responsibility. Swindal and Cashman have always had a strong bond.
Cashman’s Job Rating
When trying to assess Cashman’s GM record between 1998-2005, one must
take into account a few things. First, Cashman, just like his mentor
Gene Michael, has always believed in building from within. Most of the
Yankees’ expensive free-agent signings- Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield,
Jaret Wright… were situations where Cashman acted as contract
negotiator only. Second, the lack of pitching depth in the minor
leagues was more a result of spotty scouting and decisions by
Steinbrenner’s groupies in Tampa to trade away young pitchers. Billy
Connors’ (Minor League Pitching Coordinator) infatuation with
reclamation projects like Aaron Small led to a lack of interest when it
came to signing young minor league free-agents. And third, Cashman has
always been a proponent of giving prospects a shot at the majors before
giving up on them. Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera would probably still be stuck in Triple-A if it weren’t for Cashman.
While it is difficult to assign credit or failure to many of the
Yankees’ moves from 1998-2005, Cashman’s stamp can definitively be seen
over the past two offseasons. If one were to rate him on this short
period of time, one would have to give him a round of applause. In
fact, I would argue that no GM did better this past offseason than Mr.
Cashman. Believe me, as a Mets’ fan, that’s not an easy statement for
me to make.
So, what has Mr. Cashman done in the past year and a half that allows me to assert such a bold claim. Let’s take a closer look:
1. He has rid the Yankees’ of a number of albatrosses and lowered payroll
2. He has rebuilt the pitching depth in the minor leagues
3. He has re-established internal stability
4. He has expanded the Yankees’ committment in the International Market
5. He is in the process of elongating the current Yankees’ dynasty
The Unmovable Contracts
This is a good place to start. The Yankees’ clubhouse has become
overcrowded with more than a few burdensome contracts in the past few
seasons. On the basis alone that Cashman was able to move three of
those ************ while receiving top prospects in return, I’d rate
the Yankees’ 2006 offseason a grand success.
If you ask most non-Yankee fans what the Bombers did this offseason,
they’d say they traded Randy Johnson and they’d stop right there. Well,
we won’t. Yes, the Yankees did deal Johnson, and what a great deal for
the Yankees it was. Over the past year Johnson had become more of a
"Big Albatross" than a "Big Unit" in the Yankees’ universe. Not only
did Cashman rid the Yankees of a broken down old version of a once
great pitcher, he shed $14-million from the payroll, and got a usable
major league middle reliever and three pretty good prospects to boot.
For Cashman 24-year old righthander Ross Ohlendorf
was the centerpiece to this deal. Ohlendorf, a 4th round pick in 2004
has had good success at every level he has pitched. An ivy league
graduate, he is a heady pitcher with steely composure. Last season he
pitched in Double-A where he was named to the all-star team. He should
begin this season at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Ohlendorf is a
sinkerballer with a low-nineties fastball and a plus-changeup. He
should be a top the Yankees call-up list if any injuries befall the
major league pitching staff.
Alberto Gonzalez is the other
interesting pick up in this deal. Gonzalez is a 24-year old slick
fielding shortstop who was acquired as a possible replacement for
utilityman Miguel Cairo next season. Look for Gonzalez to hone his
batting skills in Scranton and provide the Yankees with a solid
defensive presence off the bench in 2008.
Righthander Luis Vizcaino is an average reliever who adds depth to the major league bullpen for a year, and 24-year old Steven Jackson is a hard throwing righthander who provides the Yankees with yet another strong arm for the Scranton bullpen.
Just about everyone in baseball figured the Yankees wouldn’t pick up
Sheffield’s $13-million option and he would become a free-agent this
past fall. What chance did the Yankees have of getting any value
trading Sheffield if they did pick it up? With the Bobby Abreu
acquisition, there was no place for grumpy Gary. Who would give the
Yankees anything good knowing that Cashman would then have to trade the
malcontented slugger? The Tigers, that’s who. Cashman correctly
analyzed that there were enough teams willing to meet Sheff’s contract
demands, so he wisely activated the option, took him off the market and
negotiated a pretty sweet deal with the power hungry Tigers.
The prize of the deal was top-50 prospect, righthander Humberto Sanchez.
Armed with a heat seeker for a fastball and a deadly curve, the 23-year
old starter utterly decimated Double-A competition last year. While he
could continue to start, there are rumblings that he could be groomed
as Mariano Rivera’s replacement this season in Scranton.
Righthanded 23-year old Kevin Whelan
was a nice caveat to this deal. Drafted in the 4th round in 2005,
Whelan throws in the mid to high nineties. In his first full season in
the minors, he dominated High-A competition. Whelan will begin the year
at Double-A Trenton and could be Kevin Farnsworth replacement as the
top set-up man either next year or in 2009.
Getting 23-year old Anthony Claggett
tossed into this deal was a real sign that Cashman’s scouting
department is working overtime. Claggett, has a potential devastating
slider that gives him a shot at becoming a very useful middle reliever
in the majors one day. Claggett augments his slider with a
plus-fastball that allowed him to post an 0.91 ERA last season at
A-ball, Claggett gave up a total of 6 ER and struck out 58 men in 59
On the day before the Yankees had to decide whether or not to pick
up the $7-million option of the untradeable Jaret Wright or buy him out
for $3-million, Cashman picked up the option and traded him and
$3-million to the Baltimore Orioles for one of their better middle
relievers, righthander Chris Britton.
After a dominating and steady ascent through the minors, the 24-year
old Britton moved up to the big leagues early last year where he posted
3.35 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 53 IP for the Orioles. The overwieght
Britton is a Brian Bruney clone with a few less mph on his fastball,
but much better control. What makes this such a great deal is that if
the naive Orioles had just waited a day, almost assuredly Cashman and
the Yankees would have bought out Jaret Wright and the O’s could have
signed him as a free-agent and hung onto Britton. Instead Cashman paid
the same $3-million he would have payed anyway AND received a solid
reliever for his bullpen.
The Arms Buildup
After the 2005 season, with his newly attained authority, Cashman made
three very important decisions. First, he made it known to any GM
during trade discussions that top pitching prospect Philip Hughes
was untouchable. Second, Cashman brought Gene Michael back into the
loop. And third, he made a move to consolidate his power when he
replaced Scouting Coordinator of the day Bill Emslie with Billy Eppler
and moved the Yankees’ Pro-Scouting department back to New York from
Tampa. Replacing Emslie with the astute Eppler was the first move in
rebuilding the organizational pitching depth. Cashman recognized that
when rebuilding anything one must know what one has and what one needs.
More than anyone else, Eppler knew the true value of the Yankees’
inventory in the minors. The days of Emslie and Connors trying to
reclaim the potential of oldies-and-not-very-goodies were over. Guys
like Aaron Small and Scott Erickson would now have to buy a ticket like
every other New Yorker if they wanted to enter Yankee Stadium.
The redefining of the scope of responsibilities, would continue as a
hierarchy became clearer. Damon Oppenheimer’s responsibilities would
now be confined to what he does best, the running of the June draft.
Billy Connors would now just concentrate on coordinating the minor
league pitching programs. Bill Emslie would now take care of um, um…
shining George’s shoes?
In 2006, two of Cashman’s first moves were to sign young minor league free-agent pitchers Jose Veres (26-years old) and Darrell Rasner
(25-years old and former 2nd round pick of the Expos). Both were
immediately plugged in at Triple-A and both were able to fill in
effectively for the major league Yanks towards the end of the season
when injuries mounted. Cashman also jumped on a good scouting report
from Eppler to sign 24-year old minor league free-agent Brian Bruney
during the summer of 2006 after the D’backs released him. Bruney became
one of the Yankees best relievers during the pennant race. These were
the type of under the radar moves that the Yankees were unable to act
on during the Emslie, Oppenheimer/Connors’ era.
2006 also marked the first time Cashman would have the unquestionable
final say in the June amateur draft. Continuing in his quest to rebuild
the organizational pitching depth as quickly as possible, Cashman
authorized $7-million in signing bonuses as the Yankees drafted 14
pitchers with their first 18 picks (including 6′ 9" top high schooler Dellin Betances and first-round picks Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain– photo on right). In all the Yankees drafted 26 pitchers. In July, Cashman signed one of the top pitchers from the Dominican Republic, Hario Heredia, during the international amateur free-agent signing period.
If you add the signing of Andy Pettite and Japanese free-agent pitcher Kei Igawa to the drafted pitchers (26), the meaningful minor league free-agent pitchers (3), the traded for pitchers (7), and the international amateur signing (1), Cashman has added 38 new arms to the Yankees’ organization since last spring. That’s 8 new pitchers on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, 12 new pitchers who will pitch at Double-A or above, 1 top-high schooler, 2 first-round draft picks, and 1 gem from the Dominican Republic.
By 2010 when Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Myers,
Luis Vizcaino and possibly George Steinbrenner are gone, it is not a
stretch of the imagination that the Yankees could have a pitching staff
brimming with prospects from their own farm system.
The Calm Within The Storm
One of the hardest tasks for a Yankees’ GM has always been to withstand the great pressure from the Boss and his brass to trade their best prospects in search of the missing link. As the trade deadline approached over the last two seasons, fans as usual
were barraged with articles of possible all-star additions as the
Yankees made their traditional World Series push. The name that
appeared most in these articles was Philip Hughes. While there
was much debate within the organization as to whether to trade their
top prospect, especially after he had suffered an arm injury the year before, the one voice that stayed constant in this matter was
that of Brian Cashman. The organization’s leading proponent of
‘building from within’, Cashman resisted all attempts by other teams that wanted to pry Hughes away. His patience payed off when he out-waited veteran GM Pat Gillick all summer and was finally able to obtain Bobby Abreu from the Phillies without having to part with Hughes or any other top-pitching prospect.
Cashman has continually shown this type of strong hand through all the Yankee
bluster over the past two failed postseasons. After the latest defeat
in Detroit, while journalists like Bill Madden
(Daily News), WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog and most of the New York
media were predicting the guillotine for the heads of Alex Rodriguez
and Joe Torre, Cashman deftly calmed the waters until the storm passed.
Assuaging the always media-conscious Boss was a grand feat that should
not be overlooked. Convincing Steinbrenner to keep Torre and lay off
A-Rod not only maintained the internal stability of the clubhouse, it
kept the Yankees from taking two steps backwards. There was no way the
Yankees could have gotten equal value for the best third-baseman in the
AL, and firing a skipper who has the full respect and support of his
players would have caused a collective clubhouse depression.
Make no mistake, Cashman does not make decisions based on loyalty
alone as the Bernie Williams situation proves. If trading A-Rod and
firing Torre would have actually improved the Yankees, they’d be gone.
The attitude that George Steinbrenner has cultivated within the
Yankees’ culture might best be described by this quote from legendary
British football (soccer) manager Bill Shankly, "Some
people believe sport is a matter of life and death. I’m very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that." The poise Cashman has shown in the
midst of this type of atmosphere could be his greatest strength. In a
land where he is in charge of giant egos, where those under him have
all held important roles within the organization, many of whom were
once his boss, he has provided a voice of clarity and confidence. While
Joe Torre has been given much credit for being the salve in the
clubhouse, it is time to give Cashman credit for being the calm within
the storm of the front office.
There really is no stone Cashman won’t turn. In the next week or two, Cashman will become the Marco Polo
of baseball as he leads a small contingent behind the Great Wall. The
Yankees will become the first MLB team to venture into China. The
purpose of the visit, to strike an agreement with the government of the
world’s largest population to train and develop prospects for a future
in the Major Leagues. Cashman has recently stated that he hopes to have
players from China playing in their lower minor leagues by 2010.
Since 2005, he has not only expanded the
Yankees’ international search for gold but also the budget for young
talent. While the Yankees have had one of the best international
divisions among baseball organizations for quite some time, and though
they have had great success in developing the likes of Alfonso Soriano,
Wily Mo Pena, Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera in
recent years, their signing bonus budget has not reflected that
success. Cashman has increased the emphasis on the signing of youthful
prospects rather than just spending for players who are close to major
league ready. In 2006 during the International Amateur free-agent
signing period Cashman authorized over $4-million dollars in signing
bonuses for 8 Latin American free-agents all under the age of 22-years
old. So, as the Yankees continue their search for the next Hideki
Matsui or Orlando Hernadez and bring in guys like Kei Igawa, they are
signing international teenagers at a much higher rate than ever before.
For the past two seasons Cashman has scored big in the teenage
market by signing possibly the two best Latin American
hitting-prospects in baseball. In 2005, he signed then 17-year old
Venezuelan outfielder Jose Tabata, and this past July he authorized a $2-million bonus to sign then 16-year old Venezuelan catcher Jesus Montero. Adding Cuban defector, 24-year old first baseman Juan Miranda
was another nice move. Besides Montero and Miranda, the Yankees signed
seven international amateur free agents this past July, including the
aformentioned Hario Heredia.
Extending The Empire
Between 1921-1964 no team in the history of baseball dominated the game
like the New York Yankees. In that 44-year period, the Yankees were in
29 World Series and won 20 of them. Since 1995, the Yankees have begun
a new dynasty. They have been in the postseason every year since then
(12 times). They have been in 6 World Series and won 4 of them. Anyone
who thinks this latest mini-dynasty is coming to an end, think again!
While it is impossible to plan for a 44-year dynasty, Cashman and the
Yankees are combining their enormous funds with excellent scouting and
the wisdom of patience. In 2010, most of their current mega-deals will
be over. Only Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez (who can opt out of contract after 2007) and newly signed Kei Igawa are presently under contract
through 2010. While Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jorge
Posada, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettite
will be long gone by then, the Yankees are in great position to still
dominate. And that domination could easily last until 2015 and beyond
with the next herd of prospects on the way combined with the available
cash that will be in the budget for free-agents. While it is always
dicey to project the potential of prospects so far in advance, just for
fun I’m going to take a crack at it. How does this 2010 roster look to
Yankee fans who like the ‘build from within’ philosophy:
1B- Eric Duncan (Keep an eye on Juan Miranda though)
2B- Robinson Cano
SS- Derek Jeter
3B- Alex Rodriguez
LF- Melky Cabrera
CF- Austin Jackson or Free Agent
RF- Jose Tabata (photo on right)
DH- Free Agent
Util- Alberto Gonzalez
1- Philip Hughes
2- Chien-Ming Wang
3- Tyler Clippard or Free Agent
4- Ian Kennedy (photo on right)
5- Kei Igawa (W/Dellin Betances starting in 2011)
CL- Humberto Sanchez
SUP- Kevin Whelan (photo on right)
SUP- Joba Chamberlain
Midd- J. Brent Cox
Midd- Chris Britton
Long- Ross Ohlendorf
Lefty- Free Agent
*Other Pitching Prospects On The Way
Obviously, in the next few years there will be some trades,
free-agent additions, and injuries, but the most important point to
realize is that Cashman is putting the Yankees in a position where they
won’t have to rely on other teams to garner their talent. He is
building a minor league system that is filling up with quality and
quantity. If a Joba Chamberlain’s elbow gives out, there’s a Hario Heredia, or an Anthony Claggett right next to him. If the
Yankees see a good trade prospect, they have the numbers to deal from
instead of everyone and their mother just asking about Philip Hughes.
If the Yankees need to plug in one or two areas they can still buy the
best free-agent to do so, but they will have the leverage so they’re no
longer held hostage by agents like Scott Boras who love to peddle their
middling talent to the Yankees for contracts that last way too long.
The days of Jaret Wrights and Carl Pavanos donning pinstripes appear
to be over. The Yankees are approaching the next decade with even more
firepower than they possessed in the mid-nineties. And with Cashman at
the helm, I wouldn’t bet against this latest Yankee dynasty dominating
the majors for a long time to come. If Steinbrenner was smart, the next
long-term contract he would issue would be to Brian Cashman.
The color BLUE represents players who probably will, should be, or could be on the Yankees’ roster in 2010.
The color RED represents a position that might need to be filled by a free-agent in 2010.
Carl The Cabbie
With the signing of Barry Zito by the Giants, the cream of the free-agent market has poured out of the carton. But, before we toss away the carton, let’s take a closer look at the residue as the Hot Stove simmers down. While teams make final repairs to their remade teams, and agents tighten the screws on needy GMs, the Last of the Mohicans get ready to dip their pens in ink. Admittedly, Roger Clemens and David Wells are more than residue, but since it’s pretty clear where they’re headed, they’re not as free as the rest of the bunch. If you didn’t guess it from that last line, in this entry we will review the remaining starting pitchers left on the market.
Roger Clemens– Rest assured that Clemens will be the last of the
Last of the Mohicans to sign. At 44-years old Clemens has seemingly
inherited the Nolan Ryan gene. At this rate Clemens could be waiting
until his kid Koby breaks into the majors before he retires. With the
Big Unit on his way to Arizona and buddy Andy Pettite signed in the Bronx, it seems
inevitable that the Rocket will end up back in Pinstripes come May or
David Wells– I really think Boomer was all set to sail off into the
sunset, until he saw the Santa-like contracts being handed out to
pitchers this offseason. The final straw in his decision might have
been when Jason Marquis garnered $21-million from the Cubs. With the
D-Backs soon-to-be acquisition of Randy Johnson and the mega-signing of
Barry Zito, it appears that Wells will head back to San Diego and give
the Pads a southpaw for their rotation. 2003 # 1 pick Tim Stauffer will
probably have to wait one more season before getting his crack at the
Jeff Weaver– At this time of year there’s always at least one Scott
Boras’ client hanging around waiting to squeeze the last dime from some
desperate GM’s pocket. This year that man is Jeff Weaver. With Clemens’
and Wells’ destinations pretty much a far gone conclusion, Weaver is
the last best healthy pitcher out there.You can bet your bottom dollar,
or in this case top dollar, that if Walt Jocketty or Omar Minaya even
mention Weaver’s 5.76 ERA last season, all they are going to hear about
is how magnificient and dominant a postseason he had in 2006. That
short 5-start run (3-2, 2.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) should net Weaver about an
extra $6-8 million on his new contract. While his top suitors- the
Mariners, Mets, and Cardinals would like to go no further than one-year
and an option, it’s a good guess that Weaver receives at least two and
possibly three-guaranteed years somewhere in the range of $8-10 million / per year.
Tomo Ohka– If the Mets or any other team want to sign a pitcher of
the same age and with similar production to Weaver, they can obtain
Ohka for half the cost. Over their 8-year careers, Weaver has a 4.58
ERA with a 1.34 WHIP, while Ohka has a 4.04 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP.
Because of his familiarity, Ohka will most likely stay in the National
League. The Mets and the Nationals are the two leading contenders for
Ohka, while the Reds, Cardinals, Astros and Giants should also take a
look as they try to fill out their rotations. Because of the paucity of
starting pitching on the market, a multi-year contract is possible, but,
expect Ohka to sign a one year deal with a limited option in the $4-5
Tony Armas Jr.– Once upon a time Armas was thought well enough to be
traded with Carl Pavano for Pedro Martinez. But because of a string of
arm injuries since 2002, Armas’ stock has plummeted. The good news is
that Armas is still only 28-years old and was able to throw more than
150 IP in 2006 for the first time in four years. If a team is looking
for a high-risk / high reward pitcher, Armas could be their man. A host
of teams will be sure to have Armas in for a physical. It has been
rumored that if they don’t sign Weaver or Ohka, the Mets could sign
Armas. Whoever signs him should be able to do so for 1-year in the $1-3
*Mark Mulder– While he probably won’t be ready to pitch until May or
June, if Mulder returns to his pre-injury abilities he could be the
steal of this free-agent market. But, because of the amount of damage
done to his shoulder (torn labrum) that is a big IF! Add in a history
of back woes that might have led to his shoulder problem in the first
place and the IF just got bigger. GMs Jon Daniels and Mark Shapiro
appear to be willing to take the gamble, as both the Rangers and the
Indians have two-year guaranteed offers on the table worth between $7-8
million with incentives that could double the contracts. Though he had
success with Chris Carpenter who recovered from a similar rotator cuff
injury, Cards GM Walt Jocketty seems hesitant to guarantee more than a
year. Will Mulder recover like Carpenter or are we looking at Steve
Avery all over again? This is the million(s) dollar question? My guess is Mulder packs up his saddle bag and heads to Texas to compare scars with Eric Gagne.
If the Mariners fail to sign any of the above names, it has been
rumored that they could go after John Thomson. The Twins could also be
interested. Because of his success as a closer in the WBC last season,
Chan Ho Park could end up in someone’s bullpen if he doesn’t land a
starting gig. Steve Trachsel, Mark Redman, Ramon Ortiz, and Jason
Johnson are the definition of inning-eaters— guys who indubitably
make your team worse but can pitch 5 or 6 innings. Unfortunately, if
you are a Twins’ or Devil Rays’ fan, your team will probably end up
with one or more of these pitchers.
Carl the Cabbie