Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 8, 2010
BASEBALL: Hot Stove Roundup (NL East)
Thus far, the Mets have been playing it cautious, as befits a team in their position. The latest moves are a mixed bag: new backup catcher Ronny Paulino is probably a downgrade from Henry Blanco defensively, but Blanco's age and decaying bat made it important to bring in a younger backup who can hit a little (Paulino batted a weak but not completely punchless .265/.323/.384 his last two years in Florida) and step in to play every day in case anything happens to Josh Thole. Paulino made more sense than bringing in Russell Martin, who still needs another shot to play every day but shouldn't be taking time from Thole.
The other latest signing, DJ Carrasco, is a righthanded reliever with no particular strengths; either Alderson sees something that's not in his numbers, or he's just stockpiling arms.
Pedro Feliciano, who declined arbitration, will be a tougher call. Feliciano is undoubtedly valuable; over the past five years he's averaged 82 regular season appearances a year with a 3.09 ERA (ERA+ of 136), averaging 0.7 HR/9, 3.8 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9. He was a bit off this season, his K rate down slightly to 8.0 but his HR rate also down to 0.1 (just 1 HR in 62.2 IP), but mainly scuffling with his control (4.3 BB/9, 3.4 if you leave out intentional passes). I'm not worried enough to want to dump him, but at age 34 and having averaged 89 appearances a year the last three years, there's enough mileage on Feliciano that he becomes a much less reliable investment if you have to outbid somebody who wants to throw a whole lot of money at him for a 3 or 4 year deal.
Then there's the rumor that the Mets may be shopping Carlos Beltran to Boston (presumably this would not end with him sharing an outfield with Mike Cameron again). This is a classic In Alderson We Trust deal - I'd be terrified if Omar Minaya was shopping Beltran when his market value is at its lowest ebb, but I'm not as worried that Alderson will get fleeced, and while I like Beltran and expect his bat back in 2011, he really is less valuable to the Mets if he's not back to his old self as a center fielder, his relationship with the organization isn't the best, and his contract's only got one year left anyway. Dealing him could open some more flexibility in the outfield.
(UPDATE: Scott Boras on Beltran: "His plan right now is to be a New York Met. He has a no-trade clause. If anything were brought to him I think it would depend on what the situation were." I think we can all translate what that means, given the source).
I know I tend to be biased against guys like Jayson Werth, a guy who was basically an unheralded backup outfielder until he seized an everyday job in August 2007 at age 28; there's no doubting he's been a star-caliber player the past three years and no rational reason why Werth can't follow the Raul Ibanez career path. But still, giving the man $126 million over 7 seasons from age 32-38 seems like madness. His road batting line the last three seasons is .270/.374/.481, making him 35th in the big leagues in slugging on the road over that period (minimum 600 PA) but 20th in OBP. That's a valuable commodity right now, combined with solid defense and baserunning, but the Nationals are a rebuilding team with more corner outfielders coming down the pike, and the odds that Werth will be anything but an albatross at that price by the fourth year of the deal, when he's a 35 year old first baseman, seems slim. Worse yet, while it appears the deal may have been made in part to mollify Ryan Zimmerman, who was bent out of shape about the departure of Adam Dunn, but when Zimmerman's deal is up in 2014, will the Werth contract let the Nationals spend the money they'll need to keep him?
You can't argue with the price of Dan Uggla (a sold-high Omar Infante and Mike Dunn), for a second baseman who came into the league as a prime power bat and added patience, hitting .264/.361/.493. I'd be more jealous of the Mets missing out on that deal, but it will still cost the Braves a lot of money to sign Uggla to a long-term deal and he may not really be a viable second baseman in his thirties (he'll be 31 next season). That's less of an issue for the Braves, since they're moving Martin Prado to the outfield but could move him back if he gets healthy and Uggla's glove fails.
If Javier Vazquez can't make it in Florida, he can't make it anywhere. His $7 million price tag is a risk for a guy who saw his velocity fall off last season at age 34, at least for a team as budget-conscious as the Marlins, but Vazquez is durable and a fly ball pitcher who should eat innings and could bounce back somewhat.
By contrast, if Vazquez is well-suited to a spacious park, John Buck, the Marlins' new free agent catcher, is not; the value of Buck's .271/.309/.487 batting line in 639 plate appearances the past two seasons is almost entirely derived from his 28 homers and 37 doubles, while his 166/29 K/BB ratio is a constant threat to send his average back to the .220s.
Lowered expectations would seem to be the theme of the Marlins' deals generally, as toolsy 24 year old underachiever Cameron Maybin was packed off to San Diego for Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb, two decent bullpen arms with no similar upside projections, and Andrew Miller and his 5.84 career ERA to the Red Sox for Dustin Richardson. Maybin and Miller may have reached their natural need-a-new-team stage in Florida, but that's two fewer guys with any hope for sudden improvement on a roster that could use some hope.
(Nothing really to add on the Phillies thus far besides the departure of Werth)