Free Agents Filing at Torrid Pace…

‘Tis the season for teams to decide on what members will remain on the 40-man roster, and which players will not get tendered offers based on existing options, and for other players to test the market.  So, for the next several days, the list of players on the MLB Free Agent list will grow and the number of players officially on the 40-man rosters will likely shrink for a little while.

The Rumor Mill

FoxSports reports that the Cubs are considering a three-way deal to move Milton Bradley.  The Cubs would get Luis Castillo from the Mets, the Mets would get Lyle Overbay from the Toronto Blue Jays, and Toronto would get Bradley.  Other deals suggest the Rays getting involved and offering Pat Burrell for Bradley.  [FoxSports]

The Mariners are looking to keep Felix Hernandez around (which means starting the process of a long-term deal now), but understand that there are many, many suitors for the AL Cy Young candidate.  [SI]

Thanks for Playing!

Carl Crawford remains in Tampa as the Rays honored his $10 million option.  Meanwhile, Brian Shouse and Greg Zaun were both bought out and will become free agents.  [ESPN]

Boston picked up the option for catcher Victor Martinez ($7.1 million), signed Tim Wakefield to a two-year deal loaded with incentives, but declined an option on Jason Varitek.  Varitek has the option to sign for $3 million to be a backup next year, else join the free agent market.  For Wakefield, he’ll have a chance to break the team record for pitching victories (Young/Clemens have 192) and win his 200th career game.  [ESPN]

Free Agent Filings…

The most interesting story is that a Japanese fireballer, Ryota Igarashi of the Yakult Swallows, owner of a 98-mph fastball, wants to play here.  Japanese players have to wait nine seasons before they can come to the states and Igarashi is already 30 but could be a viable late inning pitcher for somebody.  [ESPN]

The Dodgers declined a $2.2 million option on reliever Will Ohman, while Mark Loretta and Juan Castro also filed.  [ESPN/MLB]

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, Yankee World Series heroes, joined the current list of 151 free agents.  Other Yankees on the list now include Eric Hinske, Jose Molina, and Xavier Nady.  [MLB]

Houston’s Jose Valverde, as good a reliever on the market, filed for free agency yesterday.  At least five Astros players (Erstad, Tejada, Brocail) are on the list now.  [MLB]

Octavio Dotel not only filed, but learned he was a Type A free agent, which means the Sox have to offer arbitation if they hope to get compensation should someone else sign Dotel.  [MLB]

Rockies pitchers Joe Beimel and Jose Contreras filed for free agency.  If Beimel is healthy, he’s a good pickup, but I’d be surprised if Contreras gets a lot of interest from teams.  [MLB]

Cubs closer (well, former closer) Kevin Gregg filed for free agency, and – like Dotel – was graded as a Type A free agent, meaning the Cubs have to offer Gregg arbitration to get the compensation draft pick.  [MLB]

Twins infielder Orlando Cabrera joined the list of free agents, alongside Mike Redmond, Ron Mahay, Carl Pavano, and Joe Crede on the list.  [MLB]

Toronto catcher Rod Barajas is a free agent, though he noted that he’d love to stay a Blue Jay.  [MLB]

You know who has a lot of free agents?  St. Louis.  Todd Wellemeyer became the ninth player (Holliday, Ankiel, Pineiro, Smoltz, Glaus, Greene, DeRosa, LaRue) to file.  [MLB]

Gary Sheffield also filed for free agency, trying to find ANYONE who might give him a chance to play.  He’s at eight teams and counting…  [MLB]

Free Agent Discussions

Jerry Crasnick met with a number of executives and put eight questions before them.  Want to see the answers?  [ESPN]

SI’s Ted Keith identifies his list of the ten riskiest free agents.  Well, nine + Rich Harden!!!  [SI]

Old News…

Something else I missed last week…  With several infielders on the horizon (Reid Brignac, Tim Beckham) and Ben Zobrist having blasted his way into the starting lineup, the Rays had less need for Akinori Iwamura.  So, the Rays shipped Iwamura to Pittsburgh for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Chavez probably appreciates the change of scenery, joining a contender, but he’ll need to step up his game to be a contributor.  I like this move for Pittsburgh.

Happy Birthday!

His 1961 season put him on the map, and for much of the 1960s, he was a great Tiger slugger – Norm Cash would be 75 today…

Also celebrating with cards and cake (or rememberances):  Jimmy Dykes (1896), Birdie Tebbetts (1912), Gene Conley (1930), Mike Vail (1951), Larry Christenson (1953), Larry Parrish (1953), Bob Stanley (1954), Jack Clark (1955), Kenny Rogers (1964), Keith Lockhart (1964), and Shawn Green (1972)…

Afterthoughts…

For the first time in nearly 30 years, it looks like all 27 members of the U.S. Appeals court will review the “drug list” case, determining the fate of the list of 104 players who allegedly failed the 2003 anonymous steroid survey.  [MLB]

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Both St. Louis and Oakland are Winners in the Holliday Deal

Friday’s hot topic was the trade of Matt Holliday from the Oakland A’s to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for three prospects.  Will this give the Cards a leg up on the rest of the very tight NL Central?

Let’s give this a look see.

In acquiring Matt Holliday, that means that the Cards are effectively replacing what used to be the departed Chris Duncan or the disappointing Rick Ankiel (since rookie Colby Rasmus made an impact on the team and now plays center) with a so-far disappointing Holliday.  As a defender, Holliday is better than Duncan, but not appreciably better than Ankiel in left.  However, he might be about 20 runs better as a hitter – and likely to be more healthy – than the combination of Duncan and Ankiel.  Moving Ankiel to the bench as a fourth outfielder, pinch hitter isn’t a bad thing either.  If Holliday goes haywire upon his return to the NL – hitting like Manny Ramirez in LA or Mark Teixeira in LAA (Angels) last year – it could be better, but you cannot predict .350 and power for two months.

I’m not convinced that this is going to make Albert Pujols a better hitter.  So, stop saying that, sports reporters – Pujols doesn’t need protection and people are still going to be afraid to pitch to him.  It’s just depth in the lineup – and good depth.

What the Cardinals really need is for Mark DeRosa to get hot and make the team forget the Joe Thurston experiment, and for Julio Lugo to break free as the new second baseman, hitting better than Khalil Greene, Brian Barden, and Tyler Green have hit trying to impersonate a shortstop.  Brendan Ryan has been good enough, but if Lugo suddenly finds his form at the top of the lineup, THAT extra 15 – 20 runs would be equally valuable.  In the NL central, forty extra runs in 65 games would be a significant improvement – possibly worth 6 games to the good, and in a race as close as this one, an extra six wins would go a long way to putting St. Louis in the playoffs.

For Oakland, they get three prospects.  What did Oakland receive?

Most analysts are saying the keystone is Brett Wallace, a first round pick in 2008 who has stormed through A, AA, and now AAA for St. Louis.  At Memphis, Wallace was hitting .293 with a little power (which I believe will continue to improve), and until recently had always shown patience at the plate.  His OBP in two minor league seasons is .390, though it was over .400 at every stop until Memphis.  Oakland’s current third sacker, Eric Chavez, is rehabbing and may not return to his prime.  He’s 32 and will have missed more than two seasons worth of games in the last three years.  So – this addresses an important need for Oakland in 2010 and beyond.  In fact, Wallace’s stats make you think of Eric Chavez in his prime, which would be great for the A’s over the next five or six seasons.

Shane Peterson is a 21 year old outfielder who has shown some speed and a little pop in his bat since being drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft out of Long Beach State.  His numbers remind me a little of Juan Encarnacion, hopefully with a little bit better speed.  As of today, I think he projects out as a good fourth outfielder and if he could add a little power to his frame, would be a nice addition to someone’s lineup.  At 15 – 70 – .275, he’s probably the bottom edge of where you’d want a starting outfielder to be, but if he got to 20 – 80 – .290, he’d be very nice.

The third prospect was another first round pick: Clayton Mortensen, who was taken in 2007 out of Gonzaga.  He’s not a bad option, having shown improvement in 2009 pitching in AAA for Memphis.  He was in AAA for fourteen starts last year, seventeen starts this year and his H/9 rate is down a full hit, his strikeout rate has improved, and his walk rate has gone from 4.7 to 2.9 per nine innings.  And, despite pitching in the PCL, he’s had decent success keeping the ball in the park.

Look – the A’s were only going to get two more months of Holliday.  He’s a free agent at the end of the season, so assuming Oakland wasn’t planning to sign him, they might have received two decent draft picks as compensation.  Instead, they got the equivalance of three high draft picks, and got three picks that have shown improvement and potential.  So, I’d have to grade the trade as a very positive one for the As, and one that could have a significant impact as early as 2010.

And, for St. Louis, they added someone who could help finish the job and win the NL Central – and, if he signs, could pair up with Albert Pujols for a couple of playoff runs over the next four or five years.  If he LEAVES, the Cards get two more early round picks – which makes up for two of the three they lost.  So, it’s still potentially positive for St. Louis.

All in all – I think it’s a great deal for both clubs, though I’d lean slightly in favor of Oakland.

In Other News…

The Cubs lost Ted Lilly to the DL for two weeks with an ailing shoulder.  Kevin Hart will likely take his starts, and fortunately Ryan Dempster is nearly ready to return.  Justin Berg arrives from AAA to help in the bullpen.  If you were wonder, Berg is nice, but not a prospect.  [MLB]

Texas starter Vincente Padilla was diagnosed with H1N1 – swine flu.  He’ll be fine – already feels better – but out for a few more days.  According to ESPN, Padilla is the fifth Ranger to come down with the flu in recent days.  [ESPN]

 Welcome Back!  Alex Gonzalez returns to the Reds from the DL.

Minor Leaguer Suspended 100 Games; Two New Centerfielders Remind Me of Former Cubs

Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee’s first round draft choice in 2006, will serve a 100 day suspension following a third failed drug test. In a previous suspension, Jeffress admitted a weakness for marijuana. Jeffress is regularly listed on the top prospects lists, especially after fanning 102 batters in 79.1 innings at Brevard in the Florida State League. He’s been wild in a stint with Huntsville in AA – and apparently we know why. 

Mike Lowell’s treatment for an aching hip includes having fluid drained and an injection to help relieve inflammation. Boston MAY place him on the DL, but the team is waiting to see if the treatment helps any. This is the same hip on which Lowell had surgery last October. 

The Los Angeles Angels are back in first place, seem to be on a good roll, and now are getting pitchers back on the mound. Ervin Santana may be next, as he continues to pitch in the bullpen and in rehab outings. With good fortune, Santana could be back for the weekend.

Meanwhile, Oakland falls to the cellar in the AL West, and this next bit of news won’t help any.  Rookie Josh Outman isn’t going on the 15-day DL, it’s the 60-day version. He’s scheduled for surgery on his injured throwing elbow. Outman has been solid this season and represents a big loss to the A’s rotation.

Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran is looking for a second opinion on his ailing knee. Options may include microfracture knee surgery.

Khalil Greene returns to the DL to treat an anxiety disorder. Mark DeRosa just took his job, Greene wasn’t hitting (1 for 17 with five strikeouts at one point), making errors at his new position (he’s a shortstop playing third base), and his season batting average meets the Mendoza line. I’d feel stress, too.

The Chicago Cubs placed Aaron Miles on the DL with a hyperextended elbow, and recalled centerfielder Sam Fuld. Based on his AAA numbers, I wouldn’t think that Fuld is a threat to stay with the team full time. He’s not bad – contact hitter, draws some walks, but no power. While he has good speed, he’s not stealing 60 bases for you – though he doesn’t get caught often. His stats look like those of former Cub Bobby Dernier. In his best season, he might help you out – but he’s already 27 and you’d think if he were going to contribute, the Stanford grad would have gotten here by now.

Looking for a little offensive spark, the Texas Rangers called up centerfielder Julio Borbon from AAA Oklahoma City. Borbon is a burner – 53 steals between A+ and AA in 2008, and already 19 steals in AAA this year. He was a late first round pick in 2007 out of Tennessee. He looks like the next Juan Pierre or Henry Cotto (if you remember that far back). Doesn’t strikeout much, makes a lot of contact, and maintains a decent batting average – but isn’t going to slug his way out of a paper bag. 

Joe Posnanski and Bill James have an interesting discussion about the age 33 and what it means to hitters. This is the kind of stuff you need to think about when making fantasy draft picks.

Cards Add DeRosa, Cleveland Fire Sale Starting in June?

The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Mark DeRosa from the Cleveland Indians for reliever Chris Perez and a player to be named later.  DeRosa will help fill some offensive holes on the Cards, for sure.  With an injured Troy Glaus, the Redbirds have tried Khalil Greene and Joe Thurston at third – which hasn’t worked out.  Thurston is hitting .230, while Greene is at .205.  DeRosa will likely spend most of his time there.  However, DeRosa can play four other positions, including corner outfield spots that have been manned by the disappointing Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick.

Since the Cards have gotten solid starting pitching from four rotation spots and have three or four decent relief options, including converting Ryan Franklin from a failed starter (12 – 31 with Seattle in 2004 and 2005) to a stunning closer (18 for 19 in saves with an 0.93 ERA), Chris Perez – a future closer – was expendable.  This seems like a very good move for St. Louis.

For the Indians, it looks like stage one in what surely will be a sell-off.  Could Kerry Wood be for sale?  Perez has closer stuff – his major league numbers show 72Ks in 65.1 innings – though he could improve his control and hasn’t been consistent as a closer when given save opportunities.  At a minimum, he’s going to be an eighth inning option and could be groomed for closing in 2011 or sooner.

On the Crime Watch…

FoxSports is reporting that Dodgers relief pitcher Ronald Belisario was arrested on suspicion of a DUI.

J.C. Romero was apparently heckled for his steroids use, and so he allegedly grabbed and shoved a fan.  Robert Eaton was brushed off by other Phillies players when he asked for autographs, so he asked Romero to “get him some steroids.”  After a second steroid comment, Romero went after Eaton.  Sounds like two idiots hooking up for an intelligent conversation.  Anyway, Romero’s outburst does little to dissuade people that those on the juice have anger issues.

Is Ken Rosenthal a Journalist?  Or Just a Well-Paid Blogger?

Just a couple of weeks ago, the fine professional journalists of FoxSports went after a blogger for trying to disprove that Raul Ibanez’s hot start for Philadelphia was tied to PEDs.  In short, the blogger said he didn’t have enough data to suggest that it COULDN’T be PEDs, but didn’t say that Ibanez was using.  “Unprofessional!” the smart people on TV called him.

Now, Jeff Pearlman writes for Sports Illustrated that A-ROD’s poor performance now that he’s done using steroids suggests that he wasn’t all that good without them, that Manny may return to hitting like a middling 37 year old outfielder.

I’m not arguing about the premise, but merely asking the question that many people wonder about with the democratization of information provided by internet access.  Is the only difference between a real journalist and a pretend journalist merely who pays his salary?

Welcome Back!  Houston activated Geoff Blum from the DL, Eric Milton returned to the Dodgers.

Hurry Back!  Toronto optioned reliever Brad Mills to AAA Las Vegas.  He’ll be back soon enough.  Seattle’s Adrian Beltre heads to surgery to remove bone spurs from an achy left shoulder.  He’s expected to miss six weeks.

Ready for the Draft? Hamilton Set for Surgery, Others on the Mend

Major League Baseball readies for the draft – and you can get updates in any number of ways, including Twitter (@MLBDraft).  The MLB.com site, for which I am a shameless plug (it’s a great site, really), will have updates and commentary.  And, MLB TV (if you have a premium cable outlet) will have wall-to-wall coverage on its flagship station.

Ultimately, the top question is whether or not the Nationals want Stephen Strasburg (they do – he throws 102 with pinpoint control of at least three pitches), and whether or not they can pay for him (Scott Boros is his agent).  Jerry Crasnick (ESPN) thinks this could be one of the great wars in Player/Team negotiations.

Having thought through this, I think the Nationals should sign him.  And, at that point, babying the investment goes out the window.  Strasburg gets three starts in the minors at AA and if he wins, he goes right into the rotation.  His contract should be based on major league innings – he cannot receive the full salary if he’s not on the major league roster.  Then, once Strasburg arrives, he gets USED and ABUSED.  He pitches every fourth game, and the Nationals get every inning humanly possible out of that arm.  I’d make him throw 300 innings by his third season – the Nationals need to get moving and in a hurry, there’s no need to treat him like a prospect – especially if he’s getting established player money.  He wants ace money, he walks in and pitches like an ace.  Or he doesn’t get paid.

I think that’s a fair trade.  If Strasburg wants every penny that the Nationals can afford to give, Strasburg has to give the Nationals every inning he can afford to give.

Additionally, if he FAILS – and the annals of draft history are paved with failure at the top pick – it could set back the amount of money given to hyped draft picks, which would be good for everyone involved.  Nobody, including Boros, will be able to ask for tens of millions and get it because of the “Strasburg incident.”

Josh Hamilton will have surgery to repair a partially torn abdominal muscle – no fun – but could be back after the all-star break.  In addition to the hole in the lineup, what fun will be the Home Run Derby without the guy who set the Derby on fire last season?  No matter who  plays, there will be a loss of production – sort of – no replacement will be as good as Hamilton was last year, but Hamilton has been more than ordinary so far this season fighting off injuries.  And, Hamilton really can’t cover centerfield as well as most centerfielders.

Texas is also losing starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy to a stress fracture in his throwing shoulder – the second time this has happened since 2007.  Taking McCarthy’s spot in the rotation for at least one turn will be Doug Mathis, a Texas farmhand who has decent control but not much of an out pitch.  He’s been lights out in Oklahoma City in his last four starts, though, so he’ll get a shot.  Mathis isn’t a BAD pitcher, but he was smacked around some in 2008.  And, he’s been hurt in the minors on at least two occasions.

Other DL trips include: Casey Kotchman (ATL), Calf; Eric Milton (LAD), Back; Luis Perdomo (SD), Knee.

On the Mend? Evan Longoria was back in the lineup for the Rays.  Hanley Ramirez plays through a sore groin for the Marlins, Miguel Cabrera is back for the Tigers.  Jose Contreras returned to the White Sox from Carolina.  Guys heading to rehab trips include: Khalil Greene (STL); Donald Veal (PIT); Pat Burrell (TB); Robinson Tejada (KC); Rich Harden (CHC) heads to Iowa.

Barry Bonds has another legal issue to deal with.  His wife filed separation papers; a divorce is imminent.

Broadway comes to the Mets, Rockies clear (out) Hurdle

The first manager to fall is Clint Hurdle, replaced after an 18 – 28 start, which makes you wonder how Manny Acta keeps his job in Washington (13 – 34) or similar slow starts in Oakland (18 – 28) or Houston (19 – 27). Or, how about the teams that are disappointing – like Cleveland (21 – 29).

Interim manager, Jim Tracy, won his first game.

The Yankees won, taking over first place in the AL East, getting contributions from a variety of sources, including Jorge Posada. Andy Pettitte left in the sixth with a sore back – he’s day to day for now. Mariano Rivera got the save, making them the greatest combination win/save duo in history. Cue Tim Kurkjian.

Hanley Ramirez isn’t ready to start, but he did pinch hit for the Marlins last night.

Khalil Greene went on the DL with an anxiety disorder. I have that – seriously – and I didn’t miss 15 days (or more) of work. When you make that kind of money and hit .200 with little to show for it, I guess you can. I’d be feeling anxious in his shoes, too… Returning in his place is outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

The last player to miss time with anxiety was Dontrelle Willis, who was slapped around pretty good last night…

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto left last night’s game with dizziness again. Hopefully this goes away soon. He may land on the DL this time, though.

Nick Punto pulled a groin (hopefully his own) and lands on the DL for Minnesota. Coming back from AAA is Alexi Casilla, who has been a good major leaguer before. Here’s to putting it back together.

Houston’s Kaz Matsui is out with a strained hammy.

White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin has plantar fascitis and will go on the DL. My running partner, Mike Coe, has been fighting that for months. Yuck! Dewayne Wise returns from the DL to take his spot.

In a rare May trade, the Mets sent C Ramon Castro to the White Sox for (sort of) prospect pitcher Lance Broadway. I always liked Castro and thought he should play more, but he’s a career backup. He can hit and hit for power. Broadway is a former #1 pick (2005) who hasn’t really found his groove.

Corky Miller loses his backup status in Chicago.

Dodger Will Ohman returns from the DL, but Texas prospect (and darned good pitcher) Matt Harrison goes to the DL with inflammation in his shoulder. Hurry back!

On the mend? Indian pitcher Joe Smith and Mets infielder Alex Cora, also Texas pitcher Tommy Hunter.

Look for David Dellucci and/or Daniel Cabrera to decline AAA assignments and become free agents.

2009 Season Forecast: San Diego Padres

Done while eating a Turkey Melt at my desk:

San Diego Padres
2008: 63 – 99 Last in NL West
Runs Scored: 637 Lowest in NL
Runs Allowed: 759 7th in NL and most in the division.

This, of course, despite the fact that the park is a cavern, making everyone’s ERA about a half a run better than it would be anywhere else, and making hitters look worse. Padres and their opponents scored nearly 170 runs in road games more than in home games, the biggest discrepancy in the NL.

OFFENSE:

The good ones are better than you think – Adrian Gonzales is awesome, Jody Gerut and Brian Giles were very good. Chase Headley wasn’t bad, Kevin Kouzmanoff is tolerable. Nick Hundley, Tadihito Iguchi, and Khalil Green were atrocious – even after you cut them slack for the park. Few part timers were any good.

DEFENSE:

Average at best. The middle infield was below average (Greene, Iguchi, Gonzales), and except for Giles (who is old and immobile), the outfield was pretty good. Okay team efficiency, didn’t make too many errors. The catching was the second worst in the NL – Josh Bard and Hundley were bad and couldn’t stop the running game.

PITCHING:

Jake Peavy and Heath Bell are great. Chris Young and Trevor Hoffman were average at best, as was Cla Meredith. The rest were below average, including Greg Maddux, Randy Wolf, Cha Seung Baek, and Josh Banks. The bullpen had holes. They need a serious upgrade.

CHANGES:

Greene to St. Louis, David Eckstein in to play 2B. Jody Gerut moved full-time (since moved), more Chase Headley is good. Kevin Correia added from SF, Josh Geer added from AAA to rotation. Hoffman allowed to go to Brew-Crew, Bell now closer. Rookies all over the bullpen (Luke Gregerson, Edward Mujica, others).

OUTLOOK:

I don’t see how this is better. I guess a full season (never happened) of Chris Young is good. Headley and Gerut full time is better. Luis Rodriguez or Everth Cabrera, the new SS, has GOT to be better than Greene played last year. Okay – maybe 30 runs better for the pitching staff, but the defense isn’t getting better and the offense isn’t really BETTER as much as it’s not going to be too much worse unless Giles loses it and Hundley can’t improve. Correia wasn’t that good in SF, and he doesn’t have the other numbers to help out. I’ll predict 650 scored and 740 allowed. That’s still just 71 wins.

The two nice win streaks look good, but they had a 4 – 19 stretch in between. Figure that things balance out, and the they’ll start hurting when they leave the NL West to play other teams. But, as it stands, the 24 – 23 record they have right now is a mirage.