Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Braves, Red Sox, Cubs getting busy

Let's go already. 

What has been a painfully slow offseason for second-tier free agents is starting to run wild, like a Lindsay Lohan Internet rumor.

The Braves and Derek Lowe have agreed to a 4-year, $60 million deal today and the Mets have dangled a reported 3-year, $30 million offer in front of Oliver Perez's nose.

With names like Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira safely tucked away in pin stripes, it's the rival Red Sox who have started to spend fast and furiously.

Here's a break down of where some of the most active teams stand in their offseason shopping spree.

ATLANTA BRAVES: For some reason, they let John Smoltz walk after 21 years of service, for a somewhat measly $3 million. Boston offered Smoltz $5.5 million, while Atlanta's best offer was $2.5 million. Both had about $5 million worth of incentives, although Boston's were more realistic to reach. 

Either the Braves have suddenly gotten cheap (which doesn't seem to be the case with the Lowe signing) or they know something about Smoltz's shoulder (he's not due back 'til June 1). It's likely Smoltz will end up as an 8th-inning guy, so he probably isn't worth a gamble before the last couple rounds.

The Lowe signing gives the Braves a top-of-the-rotation starter, although some would argue he's not a true No. 1. At $15 million a year, he's probably a tweener between a 1 and 2 starter and given the economy, I'd say Lowe did pretty well. Especially for someone who turns 36 in June. Be wary, fantasy owners, and don't reach for a guy who has been mainly a journeyman who put together a fine contract season in hitter-friendly Dodgers Stadium against a very weak N.L. West. That ERA and WHIP might take a whippin' when you play the Mets and Phillies 19 times a year.

Adam Dunn has been linked to the Braves, but after the Lowe signing, I'm guessing the coffers are a little bare. A trade for current Yankees Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady is more likely. Either guy could be an every-day starter in Atlanta and be a nice 4th OF in mixed leagues.

The Braves still need starting pitching, so don't rule out a revisit to a Jake Peavy trade, but unless the new San Diego ownership brings down the price tag, don't count on it.

CHICAGO CUBS: The past week has been like Christmas Eve around Wrigley. One surprise after the other, mostly good, although we're hoping one or more of Jim Hendry's recent moves doesn't turn into a lump of coal in the stocking.

First, Mark DeRosa, possibly the Cubs MVP last season, was traded for three Cleveland Indians pitching prospects. Hmmmm. This, on its face is very bizarre, especially on a team that is as close to rebuilding as Harry Caray was to buying a 12-pack of O'Douls.

The same day the Cubs signed Aaron Miles, who put together a fine .317 average last year in regular duty for the Cardinals and as scouting reports go, can play every position DeRosa can, plus center field. Still, it's a definite power downgrade (4 HR, 31 RBI compared to 21 and 87), but the company line is Miles is coveted for his left-handed bat (he's a switch-hitter) and the Cubs save roughly $3 million this year. Miles and Mike Fontenot will battle, and possibly platoon, at 2B. Neither is worth a roster spot, unless you're in an NL format.

Of the three Indians pitching prospects, only Jeff Steven (the closer for the USA team in Beijing), who struck out 81 batters in 58 1/3 innings between AA and AAA, is deemed MLB ready.

Days later, the Cubs sent Jason Marquis and almost a million to the Rockies for RP Luis Vizcaino, saving almost $5 million in payroll.

The in-between-the-lines here is the Cubs are setting up another run at Peavy. They've cleared some cap room, opened up a starting slot and added some pitching prospects.

But with both the Padres and the Cubs ownerships in flux, we'll have to wait a couple more weeks, likely, before anything happens.

In the meantime, the Cubs inked Milton Bradley to a 3-year, $30 million deal. Do I like the deal? Not really. Yeah, Bradley led the A.L. with a .436 .obp in 126 games last year, but 106 of those were as DH, and since 2000, he's only played in more than 101 games one other time (141 games with the Dodgers in 2004). Not to mention the Cubs are his 7th team in 10 years. Red flag, anyone? Bradley's not someone I'm willing to pay market value in an auction draft.

Personally, for similar money you could probably have signed rather Adam Dunn, who has played at least 152 games the past five season and sports a career .381 obp. But at least the Cubs can turn the third year into an option if Bradley breaks down bad this season.

Under the radar, the Cubs signed Joey Gathright to a 1-year, $800,000 deal to be an extra OF and late-inning pinch runner/defensive replacement. Not only does Gathright have wheels, he can jump over cars. Seriously.




Another possible signing for the Cubs is Japanese lefty Ken Takahashi, which if this happens, you can almost bet he'll be known as just "Ken" around the Friendly Confines.

Why sign another reliever? Quite possibly, simply to give Kosuke Fukudome some company in the clubhouse. The Cubs have three more years and $36 invested in Fukudome and if it helps make him more comfortable, it might be worth it.

Takahashi, er, Ken, is shown here with a blazing 142-km fastball. OK, it's not that great once you convert, just 88.6 mph, but with a 123-km change-up (76 mph), he looks great ... at least in this Japanese League game:





RED SOX: Finally, the team that seems to be the most active in the past five days is Boston. Almost as if GM Theo Epstein has money to burn after missing out on Teixeira, Boston has signed mostly insurance guys in Smoltz, Brad Penny, Rocco Baldelli and Takashi Saito

If there's one common thread in all these signings, it's that they're all high risk/reward guys under market value given heavy incentive-laden contracts. Each name has plenty of fantasy relevance attached to it and if just two of the four signings work out, Epstein will come out smelling like a rose. If I had to guess, Penny might be the one who ends up with the most fantasy impact in 2009, followed by Baldelli.

MANNY RAMIREZ: This is turning into a two-team game of poke between the Giants and the Dodgers, with Scott Boras the dealer. My guess here is the Giants are not as desperate as the Dodgers and are just making sure they don't get him for a song. Of course, with old-timers Randy Johnson and Jason Giambi in the fold, the Giants may want Manny to help round out the shuffleboard game.

1 comments:

Michael said...

Trevor, the Braves didn't "let Smoltz walk." He chose to go because Boston has the money to be financially irresponsible. The Braves offered him the same $10 million maximum if he pitched. They just weren't willing to guarantee a whopping $5.5 million for him NOT to pitch. I don't see what purpose that would have served. With the trouble they had scrambling their rotation due to injuries last year in the rotation to Smoltz, Hampton, Glavine, and Hudson, I don't see how it would be prudent to make a big committment to a player who's not even guaranteed to pitch at all this season, much less pitch well with any sense of reliability. I will note, though, that Boston plans on using him as a starter, not a reliever.

Don't know what your complaints about Lowe are either. His age seems to be pretty irrelevant given his performance last year and his status as one of three players to have not been on the DL with at least 10 years of service time. Given his killer sinker and Atlanta's stellar infield defense, he should be able to thrive as Hudson has since he arrived in the A.

There IS still money for a big bat like Dunn, but I wouldn't count on them signing Nady. They already got burned recently on a trade of prospects for a player who was going to leave (Nady's a Bora$ client in his last year.)

No way Adam Dunn will go as cheap as $10 mil/yr, and it'll probably take at least four years guaranteed to get him.