One of the main ideas behind this column was to keep a track of all the “who’s gone where” stories over the offseason. Up until now there has been little to report, but that changed this week as a key part of the free agency process was completed and several teams started turning discussions into actual signings.
The ‘key part of the free agency process’ mentioned above occurred on Tuesday when teams made decisions on whether to offer their free agents arbitration.
In football (soccer), a team will only receive compensation when a free agent leaves ‘on a Bosman’ if he is aged 23 or under. That compensation is in the form of a fee, set by an independent panel if the two sides cannot come to an agreement. In baseball, age isn’t a factor, but clubs only receive compensation for a departing free agent if he is particularly valuable and they have offered a new contract to the player. Their value is determined by the Elias Sports Bureau who rank all players using a series of different statistics, with the best players being classified as Type A, the next best as Type B and the rest remaining unclassified. Type A and B free agents return compensation to the team that loses them. The compensation comes in the form of a pick, or picks, in the next amateur player draft (June 2010).
The new contract will be a non-guaranteed, one-year deal for an unspecified amount that, if the offer is accepted, the team and player (and his agent) then have to agree on. If they can’t find a common number, both sides have to submit their figure and the salary will be determined by an arbitration panel that has to choose one or the other. That’s why the process of offering the new contract is commonly referred to as a team ‘offering arbitration’.
Figgins to move from one AL West team to another?
Although it’s not confirmed just yet, it’s being reported that the Seattle Mariners are on the verge of signing former L.A. Angel Chone Figgins on a four year/$36 million deal. Figgins has been a key player for the Angels since he became an established member of their team during the 2003 season. Losing someone who epitomizes the way the team tries to play will be a blow; losing him to a division rival will make it all the more painful. The Angels hoped to bring Figgins back and there is still a small chance that they could improve their contract offer, but all signs point to him becoming a Mariner in what will be a very useful addition to their team.
While Figgins is commonly seen as a guy who can play various positions, he has played third base for the majority of the past three seasons and that’s the position the Mariners want him to fill, taking the place of Adrian Beltre. The latter was offered arbitration by the M’s and it’s thought that they will wait until he officially declines, he has to make his decision on Monday and is not excepted to accept the offer, before completing the deal. Figgins will give Seattle an outstanding defensive left-side of the infield along with Jack Wilson, as well as a potent top of the batting lineup alongside Ichiro.
Polanco returns to the Phillies
Like the Mariners, the Philadelphia Phillies had earmarked third base as their main fielding position to fill this offseason after they declined their club option on Pedro Feliz. Figgins and Beltre were both linked with the reigning NL champs, but instead they decided to bring back Placido Polanco, who played for the Phillies between 2002 and 2005.
Polanco had been playing second base for the Detroit Tigers; however he has plenty of Major League experience playing at the hot corner and they can expect him to do a steady, if not spectacular, job there over the next three years. The Phillies are likely to slot Polanco into the number two spot behind Jimmy Rollins, moving Shane Victorino down the order to a role arguably better suited to him. The contract is worth $18m, which is a fair commitment without being particularly rich, and the Tigers’ decision not to offer Polanco arbitration means that the Phillies will not have to give up a draft pick for signing him. Philadelphia already has a core of impact players and sizeable financial commitments to them, so they were not looking for a star signing. What they wanted was a good every day player to fill a spot and that’s what they’ve got. The familiarity between Polanco and the Phillies should also make it a very easy transition for all concerned.
Braves upgrade their bullpen
The Atlanta Braves have a surplus of starting pitching, but their bullpen needed work over the offseason due to the probable departures of free agents Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. General Manager Frank Wren has wasted little time in filling those spots this week by signing Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito. The pair have been signed on one year deals worth a guaranteed $7m and $3.2m respectively.
Both relievers ended 2009 with the Red Sox. They only offered arbitration to Wagner, so the Braves stand to lose one draft pick and will get some back from the team(s) that sign Gonzalez and Soriano in any case. Clearly there is the risk of injury here as both are veterans who have spent time on the DL in recent years, particularly in the case of Wagner. He did impress when he returned from Tommy John surgery at the end of the season with the Mets and Red Sox and Saito also pitched very well in Boston. So the injury risk is counterbalanced by experience and strong track records and as the Braves have only committed themselves to single year deals, that strikes me as a gamble well worth taking. All they need now is an addition or two to the offense and Atlanta could pose a real threat in the National League next year.
Red Sox acquire Marco Scutaro
Shortstop has been a revolving door in Boston since 2004. Alex Gonzalez’s decision to join the Toronto Blue Jays last week left one obvious candidate to be the next person to take over the position, regardless of the rumours earlier in the week about a possible position move by second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Marco Scutaro figured to be a good match for the Red Sox and it made a lot of sense for the two sides to come to an agreement on a two year/$12.5m contract. 2009 was the best season of his career and at 33 years old, it’s more likely that his performances will decline rather than continue to improve. As with Polanco, he’s a solid pick-up made by a team that was looking for such a steadying presence.
Scutaro admitted in the press conference to announce his arrival in Boston that he had turned down a slightly better offer to join a team that could challenge for the World Series. I was surprised to discover that it was the A’s who made that offer. ‘Scoot’ became a fan favourite in Oakland during his four years with the club and it would have been nice to see him back in green and gold, but there’s no denying that the A’s are still in rebuilding mode while the Red Sox should be contenders for the foreseeable future. Scutaro’s decision to select less money to go to a winner is admirable.
- The A’s missed out on Scutaro, but they did complete a ‘shoulder shrug’ trade with the Cubs. Oakland acquired Aaron Miles and Jake Fox for Jeff Gray, Matthew Spencer and Ronny Morla. Fox could prove to be a decent acquisition. Miles performed poorly in 2009 and the Cubs had to agree to pay $1m of his $2.7m 2010 salary to complete the deal.
- Several catchers found new homes this week. The Tampa Bay Rays made a trade with Cleveland to acquire Kelly Shoppach, while the Milwaukee Brewers signed free agent Gregg Zaun on a one year/$2.15m deal. The Mets (Chris Coste), Phillies (Brian Schneider), Cardinals (Jason LaRue) and D-Backs (Carlos Corporan) all brought in back-ups off the free agent market. The Mets have also reportedly come to an agreement with free agent Henry Blanco.
- Alex Cora opted to sign a new $2m deal with the Mets.
Expect more deals to be completed, plus an avalanche of rumours, next week as the teams all meet up for the annual Winter Meetings, taking place this year in Indianapolis.