Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lee in Philly? Raise your hand if saw that coming!

Utterly stunned. Speechless. Totally shocked. Amazed. Blown away.

These are all reactions that were had when Cliff Lee announced his signing with the Philadelphia Phillies over the Yankees and Rangers. Ever since this process started, New York and Texas were seen as the only "realistic" landing spots for the ace. Sure, the Nats made their pitch but it wasn't taken all that seriously. As time passed and the winter meeting ended, rumors of a third team, a "mystery team" or "darkhorse" if you will, have been quietly fluttering around. I, for one, thought that a true third contender didn't really exist. If anything, I thought it might be a team that was merely looking to push the price up on the Rangers and Yankees, forcing them to match this "mystery team's" offer. Little did I know, or really anyone for that matter, that the "darkhorse" was real and in fact, the team that would wind up taking the cake.

Its not often that the Yankees don't get what they want. The Rangers have had their share of heartbreak but also success (see: Nolan Ryan). Lee spurned both of these clubs and turned down more guaranteed money in order to return to the Phils. Why would he do this, especially after they traded him away to Seattle almost one year ago today? Because that's where he wanted to play and where he felt like he could win. Not money, not fame, Cliff Lee wants to win a World Series. In an era where players like Jayson Werth get $126 million dollar contracts, Cliff Lee is a breath of fresh air. When traded to Seattle in the winter of '09, he commented how he was disappointed with the trade because he wanted to retire as a member of the Phillies. Well Cliff, that's again a possiblilty. Congratulations.

As for Philadelphia, they have undoubtably the best rotation in baseball. Halladay will still be their ace, Lee will take the two spot, Oswalt the three and Cole Hamels the fourth spot in the rotation. The team is actively trying to move Joe Blanton and his salary so the fifth spot will be up for grabs but probably end up going to developing pro Kyle Kendrick. Despite sending Jayson Werth packing, the Phillies will be the favorites in the N.L. East for sure. Domonic Brown will take over in RF and, unless they find someone to take on Ibanez' salary, Raul will play LF with Victorino in CF. The infield will be the same Howard, Utley, Rollins and Planco. Ruiz wil remain behind the plate and Phillies look awfully good on paper. A few less runs scored, no doubt, but far fewer runs surrendered. Good luck Marlins, Mets, Braves and Nationals. Your fate may already be sealed!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So Far, So Strange?

If you remember a recent post titled, "Hurry Up and Wait (Part 1&2), I tried to pick the likely landing spot of the top players that would (free agents) or might (trade candidates) be on the move. Let's see how I did, shall we?

10. Matt Kemp (CF) LAD
At the time, rumors were swirling that the Dodgers might be tempted to move their young, athletic, embattled center fielder. I promptly squashed this one and I'm glad I did. It seems that about as soon as this idea got off its feet, it disappeared. Wise move on the part of the Dodgers. Kemp could become truly elite if he realizes his potential and, even if he doesn't, he still possess the talent to be well above average.

9. Adam Dunn (1B/LF/DH) FA
When I wrote the previous article, Dunn had just hit free agency. The defensively-challenged slugger made the right call, moving from the National League to the DH-friendly American League. I predicted the right city but not the right team as I guessed the Cubs and Dunn ultimately signed with the White Sox. One reason why I didn't see this one coming was because the White Sox were expected to, and eventually did, re-sign All-Star first baseman Paul Konerko. Because of this, Chicago will have to use Dunn at the DH spot exclusively.

8. Adrian Gonzalez (1B) SD
The long time infatuation that the Red Sox had for the San Diego slugger finally came to fruition. The Sox pulled off arguably the most surprising move of the offseason when they acquired Gonzalez from teh Padres in exchange for three prospects and a player to be named later. While this appears to be a clear-cut salary dump for a small market team, and I suppose it mostly is, the Padres got excellent return in the deal, centered around Casey Kelley (a stellar pitching prospect). They also obtained Anthony Rizzo (a strong first baseman with the major written all over him), almost ensuring that Gonzalez will have a replacement shortly. While I fully expected Boston to make a hard push for him, I predicted that San Diego would once again fail to deal Gonzalez. Needless to say, this one got my attention!

7. Rafael Soriano (CP) FA
It's been widely known that the Rays are shedding payroll this offseason and Soriano was going to be a casualty of this action. My prediction was that Soriano would land in either Chicago (White Sox) or Anaheim. The Angels are clearly out of the mix because of their surprising move to sign a 35 year-old Scott Downs to a three year deal while the White Sox still remain a viable option. Jerry Riensdorf has already shown that he's willing to spend money this offseason (signing Dunn, Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski) and the back end of their bullpen is still incomplete since Bobby Jenks isn't coming back. This one is still up in the air but Soriano's market is shrinking. At this point, I'm betting on the Southside.

6. Adrian Beltre (3B) FA
Similarly to Soriano, Beltre has seen his market shrink following his re-breakout season in Boston. The Red Sox are moving on without him, the Orioles (my pick) went another direction (Mark Reynolds), the Tigers are spending their money elsewhere (Victor Martinez, possibly Magglio Ordonez) and the Cardinals are focussing on extending Pujols rather than signing overpriced, aging free agents. The Oakland A's have been in contact with Beltre and it appears that they are his only option at the moment. The Angels are still rumored to be in the mix but either way, it looks like Beltre won't be getting the cash he expected and he will likely end up back in the AL West, which doesn't suit him well (see Seattle Mariners).

5. Jayson Werth (RF) FA
Coming off a big season, Werth was expected to cash in big time and he certainly didn't disappoint. The Washington Nationals added the outfielder with a seven-year, $126 million contract. Considering that Werth is 31 and is just now playing exceptionally well, it appears that the Nats overpaid big time for a slugger who will undoubtably underachieve in the latter half of his contract. Somehow I predicted this one correctly, but I never expected him to receive the deal he got. Of course, neither did anyone else. Seven years is just too much for someone his age and the Nats will likely pay the price.

4. Prince Fielder (1B) MIL
Similarly to Kemp, I predicted that Fielder would be dangled but not traded. Indeed, talks around Prince have fallen off almost completely and the Brewers are saying that they won't be moving the slugger even though he is about to hit his contract year and an extension is unlikely. Expected Prince to be with the Brewers until at least the trade deadline.

3. Zack Greinke (SP) KC
Trade rumors around Greinke remain in play but I predicted that he would stay put and he is still a Royal, at least right now. Should the Yankees lose out on their number one target, Cliff Lee, they will likely make a big push for the Royals' ace. The Yankees are the only team that appears to be willing to part with the pieces to make a deal for Greinke an actual possibility. I got this one right, for now...

2. Carl Crawford (LF) FA
With speed to burn and a flare for making flashy plays, I couldn't see Carl Crawford going anywhere besides the Anaheim Angles. Apparently, neither could the Angels since they were shocked when the deal they were working out with Crawford fell through in the eleventh hour and he jumped across the AL East and wound up with the Red Sox. Boston was known to be a candidate but I expected them to pursue Werth more than Crawford. This deal, added to the earlier trade for Gonzalez, makes Boston the clear winner of the winter. Can they transfer that to the diamond?

1. Cliff Lee (SP) FA
The biggest fish in the pond is still swimming at the moment. Lee hasn't made a decision yet and it has baseball holding its collective breath. It appears to be a two team race with an unknown "darkhorse" lurking in the background. Currently, the Rangers and Yankees have the upper hand and it is believed to be between these two, as I guessed it would be. My prediction was that he would choose the Rangers and I still hope he does for a few reasons: it seems like a better fit for him (he's a country boy) and he wouldn't be pitching for Team Evil. Yes that means I would have to watch him carve up my Mariners a few times a year but I want to see some Fexlix Hernandez v. Cliff Lee matchups! I'm sticking with my prediction: the Rangers will lock him up with a seven year deal worth somewhere in the $155-165 million range.

Overall, I have four correct predictions with a chance to make it six (if Soriano ends up with the White Sox and Lee picks Texas). Not bad, I have to say, despite some earth-shattering deals that appeared to be longshots (Gonzalez to the Red Sox, Crawford in
Boston also). The winter is one of the best times to be a baseball fan!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Werth's Worth, Jeter Gets Nasty and Pujols for President?

Wow, what a start to the Winter Meetings as the Hot Stove is absolutely roaring right now! The biggest deal to go down and the biggest name to land a big deal, Jayson Werth, got settled early on. Werth agreed to a seven year deal worth $126 million with the Washington Nationals, marking the biggest splash the Nats have ever made and the third richest outfielder contract in MLB history (although Carl Crawford's eventual deal with probably be larger). The crazy part of this deal is the fact that it is seven years in length, which is rather long for anybody, let alone a 31 year-old outfielder who has really only had one truly great season ('10) and one other that could be classified as quite good ('09). This could be a great move for the Nats if Jayson continues to post huge seasons through his mid 30's and doesn't decline sharply after the age of 35. If he fizzles, he will be impossible to trade because his salary is so massive, a la Vernon Wells. Mix this with that fact that he is blocking Bryce Harper's defensive position and will likely have to move to left field and we are left scratching our heads. Do the Nats really have a plan or are they just trying to sell out the park every night? Hopefully the answer is both. Likely its not.

Derek Jeter had to end up a Yankee in the end and everyone knew it. In fact, Jeter said he wanted to stay in pinstripes all along so this wasn't really any mystery. So why did things get nasty between him and the Yanks? Jeter's value has been declining, especially in 2010, but he didn't want to take a paycut when he re-signed. Derek had been making roughly $22 million for the last five years and was reluctant to let that number go and early rumors indicated that he wanted to continue making A-Rod money. The Yankees knew they had no competition to re-sign him so they were more interested in paying him based on his current value rather than his past value. The pair settled on a more "reasonable" number around $17 million per season for three years with a player option for a fourth. Jeter has made no bones about it that he is rather upset that the negotiations became public. This is really his own problem, though, since he was so unwilling to back down from his huge demands until the Yanks went public and used his image against him to get him back to a workable contract. Sorry Derek, but this is what most guys have to go through. Here's to guessing that Jeter hated his first (and presumably) las time being a free agent.

While it may have been laughable that Jeter expected to continue making A-Rod money, one player that also expects those dollars and actually deserves them is Albert Pujols. The Machine has been consistently raking for nearly a decade and playing Gold Glove defense as well. He's signed through 2011 and the Cardinals almost have to keep him in St. Louis, much like Jeter had to stay in New York. He's an icon with the Cardinals and it would be just plain weird to see him play anywhere else. A-Rod signed a 10 year, $275 million contract in 2007 and there's no reason to believe that Pujols won't get something close to that. In fact, Pujols has been consistently more productive than A-Rod over the course of the last decade. The problem with that is that Pujols occupies a much larger portion of the Cardinals payroll than does A-Rod with the Yankees, making it difficult for St. Louis to put enough players around Albert to keep them contenders. Pujols is easily worth $25-$30 million per season and I'm guessing he gets something in the neighborhood of 8 years and $230 million. Whenever it happens, it will be a well-deserved deal despite its gargantuan size and when it goes down, the people of St. Louis will undoubtably dance in the street and chant "Pujols for President!"