Monday, December 29, 2008

MLB Hot Stove Update

There have finally been some free agents signing with teams other than the New York Yankees this past week.

Willy Taveras
signed with the Cincinnati Reds for a two-year deal as of December 27th. Taveras should become the Reds new lead-off hitter, and will give this team a speed infusion and a threat on the basepaths, since he stole a league-leading 68 bases last season, despite a measely .308 OBP. He gives the Reds an everyday centerfielder as well, and his AVG and OBP should go up in the friendly confines of Great American Ballpark, as well as his Runs scored.

The Tampa Bay Rays signed Joe Nelson in an effort to help bolster their bullpen, for one year and $1.3M. Nelson spent last year with the Florida Marlins as a primary bridge to the back of the bullpen and Kevin Gregg. He had an ERA of 2.00 through 54.0 IP, allwoing just 42 hits, and an OPP AVG of .207, while striking out 60. The concensus opinion is that the Rays went after him to be an insurance policy for Troy Percival who is coming off of back surgery. We will see whether or not last season's success for Nelson was just a fluke, as his prior two seasons in the American League are unimpressive, with an ERA of 4.43 in his only full AL season in 2006.

The San Francisco Giants are looking to bolster their pitching staff, evidenced by the earlier signing of Bobby Howry, and their efforts continued as they signed Randy Johnson to a one year deal, with $8M guaranteed and the potential to reach $13M based on performance and award bonuses. Johnson gives the Giants a formidable rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, Barry Zito, and Jonathan Sanchez. The Big Unit also gives them a rotation with three Cy Young award winners, the first since the Atlanta Braves of the 1990's when they had Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz. I would look for Johnson's numbers to improve in the friendly confines of AT&T Park, as well as facing the dull offenses of the NL West once again. Plus, signing him to a one year deal should not blow up in the face of the Giants like Zito's contract did, ultimately it's a grea signing for the Giants though they still need a power bat.

Mark Hendrickson agreed to a deal with the Baltimore Orioles this past weekend. The 6'9" lefty spent last season with the Florida Marlins, posting a 7-8 W/L record in 19 starts, a 5.45 ERA in 133.2 IP, and a 1.69 K:BB ratio. The main point of this signing is to add a veteran presence to the rotation for the O's, as well as allowing their piching prospects more time to develop in the minor leagues rather than being rushed up to the Major League level. While Hendrickson only made 19 starts, appearing 17 times in relief, I think he should see more starts in Baltimore regardless of his numbers. They simply do not have the pitching depth to try and replace him, especially with Daniel Cabrera now in Washington. I would have to clasify this signing as a bandage, until the pitching situation can heal itself.

Finally, the Boston Red Sox have signed C Josh Bard to a one year, $1.6M deal. The Sox also signed Brad Penny to a one year, $5M deal with $3M in incentives. Bard seems to be a possible insurance policy for the catching situation in Boston, as Jason Varitek cannot catch forever. Bard had a previous stint with the Red Sox where they used him to catch Tim Wakefield, which did not turn out so well, resulting in a trade for aging Doug Mirabelli. Should Bard stay healthy, he has shown that he can hit respectibly and do an acceptable job behind the plate. Should Varitek resign with the Sox, 'Tek will most likely handle Wakefield while he splits with Bard for the rest of the rotation. As for Penny, he is a low-risk, high-reward type of signee for the Sox. Coming off a season of forearm and shoulder pain that clearly affected his performance, Penny will be looking to bounce back. Over the course of his career, Penny's ERA has been reliably between 3.00 and 4.50, in addition to getting roughly 30 starts per year, and roughly 150+ IP. He is not a strikeout machine, but will tally some up here and there. He offers depth to the Red Sox rotation, which would now look like: Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lester, Penny, Wakefield and would allow Justin Masterson to stay in the bullpen in middle-relief or setup. Plus it means the Sox don't have to rush Michael Bowden or Clay Buchholz to the Majors to help fill out either the rotation or the bullpen.

When Birds Fly: Eagles Trounce Cowboys for Final Playoff Spot

Last week, the city of Philadelphia, myself included, was left wondering whether our Birds actually could fly. That brutal loss to the Washington Redskins didn't exactly help matters. We saw head coach Andy Reid fail to manage the clock properly once again, to the point that we wondered "How many beers would a fan have to have downed to manage the clock WORSE than Andy Reid?". The calls for Andy's head, as well as a trade of our franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb went back to their usual ferocity of the previous weeks.
But all of that changed Sunday, as we watched the stars align across the NFL to give our Birds one last chance to steer themselves into the Playoffs. We prayed that those hapless Oakland Raiders could beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Tampa Bay. We hoped that those pesky Houston Texans had one last fight in them to beat the Chicago Bears. Finally, we reluctantly hoped that those New York Giants could just beat the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome.
30 Minutes before Eagles-Cowboys in Philadelphia, the stands of Lincoln-Financial Field were unusually empty. The mass of fans with tickets were all huddled around various T.V. screens in the parking lots, and in the pub across the street, watching to see if this game would actually mean something or not.
Sure enough, the Oakland Raiders scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to topple the declining Bucs, and the Houston Texans eked out a seven point win over the Chicago Bears, giving our Eagles one last chance for the second straight week to control their destiny.
In case you haven't heard, they took advantage of it by routing the egotistical Dallas Cowboys 44-6.
The game sent the residents of the tri-state area into a frenzy: we got the best of both scenarios, by not only beating the Cowboys but also by keeping them out of the playoff picture and seeing ourselves get in.
It also warmed all of our hearts to see the shots of all of the cliques along the Dalas sideline, with every super-ego shouting at somebody else, blaming them, and then returning to a small group of their buddies to whine even more. Truly, they had nobody to blame but themselves.
They turned the ball over way too many times, and while players like Marion Barber and Jason Witten battled through injuries to give this team a win, we saw Tony Romo once again choke in the late season big game.
We saw this egotistical team of maniacs known as the Dallas Cowboys fumble the ball four times, their starting quarterback threw a lovely pick-six to Sheldon Brown and as sacked three times, and saw their prized mid-season acquisition of Roy Williams look lost out on the football field.
Now, we go from a week's worth of funeral and death related headlines for our Eagles to headlines showcasing destiny, and awakening. Now we get to go to Minnesota and play the Vikings. Now we get another chance to see the Eagles finally win the big game.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Will All of the Yankees' Spending Buy Them a Playoff Spot?

The New York Yankees are back to their old ways again. A Steinbrenner is once again at the helm as the team attempts to buy every impact player they lay their sights on, throwing out millions of dollars more than any other team can match. So much for Brian Cashman letting the kids learn on the fly.
Just look at their most recent spending spree: CC Sabathia $161M, A.J. Burnett $82.5M, and Mark Teixeira $180M. Add it all up, and the Yanks have spent roughly $423.5M, in an economic recession, on just three players. Granted, they had a lot of bad contracts coming off the book after this past season, but that still does not diminish the "wow factor" that comes with spending almost half-a-billion dollars on just three players.
This George-like spending reminices back to the early 2000's, when the Yankee dynasty came to an end thanks to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins. Since the Yanks stopped winning, George told Cashman to do what ever is necessary to get the Yankees back to winning. What followed was one of the great George Steinbrenner spending sprees that would ultimately not help out the Yankees one bit.
They gave Carl Pavano his $39.95M over four years, during which he went and promptly pitched a grand total of 26 times for the Yanks. They gave Jason Giambi $120M over seven years, and while he put up pretty consistent numbers in the regular season, he along with the rest of the Yankees seemed to get the "October flu" and disappear. Bobby Abreu's contract was taken on after he was traded by my Philadelphia Phillies, all $64M plus a $16M club option for the '08 season.
So sure, they saw Pavano, Giambi, and Abreu's contracts expire and breathed a sigh of relief, because they can now go spend boatloads of money on three other players in a vain effort to get back to the promise land of October Championships.
But, once again the Yankees are not buying the right people if they want October success. Gone are the winning ways of Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, and the young Mariano Rivera. Just like they did in the early 2000's, the Yankees have gone out and spent an insane amount on players who have not won in October, when everything matters the most.
Mark Teixeira has not been on the winning side of any October Postseason Series in his Major League career. A.J. Burnett is a guy who, before the '08 season, has started 30+ games just once in his career: his previous contract year of 2005 with the Florida Marlins. CC Sabathia has made a grand total of five Postseason starts, with a cumulative ERA of 7.92 in just 25.0 total innings pitched, and a strikeout : walk ratio of just 12:11.
The Yankees' spending of late has completely gone back on Brain Cashman's idea of building from within, and it's not like the Yanks are bringing in proven winners either. They are bringing in the big names, with the big dollar signs, all of whom lack any good signs of October success.
Though for $423M, I think they could at least try SOMETHING else rather than go out and outbid everyone by at least $20M (ex. CC Sabathia), such as bringing in proven Postseason winners, instead of adding more of the likes of A-Rod to their team.