It’s two weeks since the last ‘Rounding the Bases’ column and, despite the Christmas break, there are plenty of transactions to look back on.
The Atlanta Braves resolved their starting pitcher surplus by trading away the best of the bunch from 2009, while the New York Mets came to an agreement with one of the biggest names on the free agent market. Other free agents that found new homes over the period included Mark DeRosa, Jason Marquis, Marlon Byrd, Coco Crisp, Fernando Rodney, Darren Oliver and Kelvim Escobar. The Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays pulled off yet another trade and the Orioles, Nationals and Royals jumped into the free agent market as well.
Yankees reacquire Javier Vazquez
The Yankees may have won the World Series, but there’s no danger of them becoming complacent. They’ve already added centre fielder Curtis Granderson via a trade and brought back first baseman/DH Nick Johnson this offseason and, just before Christmas, they improved their already excellent starting rotation as well. Javier Vazquez toiled through an unhappy year with the Yankees in 2004, posting a 4.91 ERA, but he was outstanding with the Braves last season and he’s been given a second chance to pitch in New York after being acquired in a trade.
Vazquez benefitted in 2009 from moving to the National League and making his home starts in pitcher-friendly Turner Field, so expecting him to replicate that form (2.87 ERA, 238 strikeouts) is asking for too much. However, he’s a quality starter who has made at least 32 starts in all but one of his twelve Major League seasons. Adding him to a rotation that already includes CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte makes for a very formidable group.
Indeed, it’s further bad news for Tampa Bay. They were the Cinderella team of 2008 and have a fascinating collection of young talent, yet the AL East is a ridiculously tough environment in which to compete. The Yankees have improved this offseason, as have the Red Sox with John Lackey and Mike Cameron, while the Rays just have catcher Kelly Shoppach and reliever Rafael Soriano to show for their offseason development plan so far. It’s not getting any easier for them.
The Braves’ side of the bargain
The Atlanta Braves were able to trade Vazquez because they had six starting pitchers to fit into five spots, as well as an offense that needed a boost. There wasn’t an obvious trade available to move Vazquez and bring in a big bat in one go, so we can only evaluate how General Manager Frank Wren has dealt with his starter surplus when a follow up deal or two is completed. The Braves did receive centre fielder Melky Cabrera in the trade (along with two pitching prospects) and he will help; however, he’s not the big bat required either in the outfield or at first base. Vazquez was due to earn $11.5m in 2010 and the Yankees have given the Braves $500k as part of the trade, leaving them $12m to play with. Cabrera earned $1.4m in 2009, when he was eligible for arbitration for the first time, so his raise will probably account for between $2.5m-$3m of that. Troy Glaus is also reported to be joining the Braves as a first baseman on a deal worth $2m, leaving them $7m-$7.5m to spend.
Mets reach an agreement with Jason Bay
The most significant transaction news since Christmas came on Tuesday evening when WFAN announced that the New York Mets had reached an agreement with free agent outfielder Jason Bay. The contract is reportedly worth $66m over four years, with a vesting option for 2014 that would take the deal to around $80m.
The Mets suffered through a miserable injury-hit 2009 and while full seasons from the likes of Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes will greatly improve the team, it was still expected that they would make their customary offseason splash in an attempt to get things back on track.
There’s no doubt that Bay is a quality player and Boston will be disappointed to lose him, but they only wanted him back on their terms: namely a contract covering no more than four years. It’s a similar situation in some ways to when Pedro Martinez left the Red Sox as a free agent and joined the Mets back in the 2004/05 offseason. Boston knew the player well (particularly his physical health) and held firm on their offer, thought to be for two years with a vesting option for a third, while the Mets stretched to four guaranteed years to come out on top in the bidding war. Pedro made 31 starts in 2005, but only a further 48 over the next three years as injuries took their toll, just as the Red Sox suspected might happen.
Bay seemed better suited to an American League team on any multi-year deal as he is likely to be a prime DH candidate 2-3 years down the line. The Mets will not have that option, so they are taking a gamble that Bay can continue to play left field and stay both healthy and effective for the duration of the contract. That gamble is probably not going to pay off in the end. Add in the claims that the Mets were not exactly Bay’s first choice (Peter Gammons was quoted as saying “I think he’d rather be playing in Beirut than Queens”) and it makes you think that while adding a first-class player like Bay should be a good thing, it might not turn out quite as well as the Mets hope.
The Mets also added former Angels pitcher Kelvim Escobar on a one-year deal that guarantees him $1.25m and allows him to add a further $3m on top depending on his performance. Escobar has pitched just five innings in the last two years due to injuries after going 18-7 as a starter with L.A. in 2007. The Mets will use him as a reliever and the contract structure means that they won’t stand to lose much if he breaks down again.
Mark DeRosa joins the Giants
The San Francisco Giants took the first step towards reshaping their offense by signing Mark DeRosa. He was one of the main position players available in a thin free agent market, below the top level of Bay and Holliday, but was mainly being considered as a fall-back option by several teams. He even mentioned this in the press conference to announce the deal stating: “I just was tired of being a lot of teams’ Plan B … I understand I’m not hitting third or fourth in the lineup and knocking 40 balls out of the yard. But I wanted to go to a place where I felt comfortable and the team wanted me and needed me”.
The Giants offered him that opportunity and in doing so grabbed a good veteran player on a relatively low-risk, two-year commitment worth $12m overall. However, it needs to be followed by several other additions to really help the Giants. On its own, it’s merely papering over the cracks of their pedestrian offense, while the pitching talents of Lincecum and Cain continue to go to waste. The article on the Giants’ official website about DeRosa’s signing listed Adam LaRoche, Adrian Beltre, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Church and Xavier Nady as potential new recruits, although the reported signing of Juan Uribe won’t make a huge difference to the team’s fortunes.
Cubs sign Marlon Byrd
One of those potential signings will definitely not be joining DeRosa in San Francisco. Marlon Byrd signed a three-year deal worth $15m with the Cubs on Thursday. After shoving Milton Bradley out of the door in a trade with the Mariners, the Cubs needed to add another outfielder and Byrd looked like exactly the sort of guy GM Jim Hendry would go for. Much like Bradley, Byrd had a career year in Texas just before becoming a free agent. Players who have career years at the age of 31/32 aren’t a great bet to match it again, particularly when that career year comes in a good hitters ballpark. Still, he’s a solid player both at the plate and in centre field and is a decent addition at $5m per year.
Washington Nationals sign Marquis
The Nationals have been busy adding a few players over the last two weeks. Their main acquisition has been free agent starting pitcher Jason Marquis on a two-year deal worth $15m. He had a very good season with the Rockies in 2009 and will add a veteran presence to a young pitching staff that at some point in 2010 is likely to include star prospect Stephen Strasburg. The move is virtually certain to end one impressive sequence for Marquis: he has reached the postseason in all ten of his Major League seasons so far. I guess the Nationals could jump past three out of the Phillies, Braves, Marlins and Mets and sneak a Wild Card spot. To say that is unlikely would be an understatement.
Washington also has reportedly agreed a one year/ $3.5m contract with former Pirates closer Matt Capps, although that hasn’t been officially confirmed as yet. They have also brought in several players on Minor League deals, including former Philly Eric Bruntlett and reliever Eddie Guardado.
AL West moves
All four American League West teams have made moves over the last couple of weeks.
Left-handed reliever Darren Oliver became the latest free agent to leave the Los Angeles Angels by signing with the Texas Rangers on a one-year deal with a 2011 option. The veteran lefty was drafted by the Rangers back in 1988 and has played for the club in eight different seasons, most recently as a starter in 2001, during a nomadic career that has taken him to eight different teams. Oliver has been very effective for the Angels out of the bullpen over the last three seasons and was arguably their best reliever last year.
The Angels lost one reliever and added another as they signed Fernando Rodney on a two-year deal worth $11m. The former Detroit Tiger pitched in a career high 73 games in 2009 and amassed 37 saves from 38 opportunities; however, there were several warning signs to go alongside those numbers. Rodney has struggled to stay healthy in the past, appearing in just 38 games in 2008 for example, and his impressive save conversion rate last year clouded the fact that his ratio of strikeouts per 9 innings fell to 7.3 (his lowest since his debut in 2002) while he continued to walk a lot of batters (4.9 per 9 innings). Have the Angels paid for save totals over effectiveness?
Not to be left out, the Mariners and A’s also made some signings. Seattle and Toronto traded Brandons, with Brandon Morrow moving to the Blue Jays and Brandon League joining the Mariners. Meanwhile the A’s signed free agent outfielder Coco Crisp and re-signed pitcher Justin Duchscherer. ‘Duke’ missed all of the 2009 season after undergoing elbow surgery and then revealing that he was suffering from clinical depression. He’s decided to stay in Oakland and all A’s fans will be rooting hard for him.
- The Philadelphia Phillies have agreed a two-year deal with reliever Danys Baez
- The Baltimore Orioles signed free agent third baseman Garrett Atkins on a one-year deal that will pay him $4m in 2010, with an $8.5m option (or $500k buyout) for 2011. Atkins has gone steadily downhill since his excellent 2006 season with the Colorado Rockies, having the worst Major League season of his career last year. The Orioles are hoping that a change of scenery will get him back on track, otherwise $4m and a valuable roster spot will be thrown away.
- The Kansas City Royals signed outfielder Brian Anderson on a one year/$700k contract. The former White Sock did a decent job for the Red Sox in 21 games at the end of last season, but his career batting line of .227/.290/.370 doesn’t suggest he’s a strong bet to keep that form up. More likely, he’ll be another OBP drain on an offense that doesn’t get on base much as it is.
- The Arizona Diamondbacks signed second baseman Kelly Johnson, a decent bounce-back candidate after an injury-hampered 2009 with the Braves, and reliever Bob Howry.