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.