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Archive for January, 2008

Pedro Feliz, Phillies Finalize Deal, Watching Santana and Mets

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

                  Pedro Feliz         Johan Santana

He’s not Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera, Garrett Atkins or Ryan Braun, but in signing free agent 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz, the Phillies acquired a regular 3rd baseman.

Feliz, who hit 20 HRs and drove in 72 runs with a .253 BA last season, 100 homers amd 383 runs over the last five seasons, is projected as a substantial improvement over the Phillies 3rd base committee of last season; Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms and Abraham Nunez with a collective .255 BA with 11 homers and 76 RBIs last year.    

The AP report on the deal for Yahoo sports quotes Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro as stating;

 ”We feel that with the acquisition of Feliz, we have helped to solidify an already productive infield.  Pedro is an above average defender who will provide some overall balance to our lineup.”

Philly.com reporter Todd Zolecki notes that;

Feliz led National League third basemen with a .973 fielding percentage last season. The Bill James Handbook 2008 lists Feliz as having the fourth-best range factor (2.91) of big-league third basemen behind Ryan Zimmerman (3.07),  Scott Rolen (2.99) and Jose Bautista (2.92).

The Phillies feel sure that the righthanded hitting Feliz will better his offensive productivity at Citizen’s Bank Park with its’ leftfield and left-center dimensions.  And his defensive capability insures that 3rd base will not require the perenial late-inning defensive replacement — one less move per game for Manager Charlie Manuel to make. 

AP reporter Rob Maaddi notes for Yahoo sports;

Manuel thinks Feliz can benefit from hitting lower in Philadelphia’s potent lineup. Feliz sometimes batted behind  Barry Bonds with the Giants.

Where this leaves Helms is anyone’s guess for he was a major disappointment last season.  Indications are that the Phillies may try to move him as part of a deal for starting pitching help in light of the impending Twins trade of star Johan Santana to the New York Mets.

Meanwhile, Greg Dobbs seems sure to be moved to a utility and pinch hitter role.

On the pitching front, the Phils are watching closely to see if the Mets acquisition of Johan Santana actually takes place.

On Wednesday the Twins agreed to deal Santana to the Mets in exchange for four of the Mets’ best prospects.  But in order for the deal to actualize, the Mets and Santana have to come to agreement as to a long-term deal by Friday afternoon.  Now this may sound like a no-brainer, but the numbers are enough to make anyone blink a few times. 

Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter Paul Hoynes writes;

If the Mets land Santana, it means they’ve agreed to a five to six-year deal that could be worth between $130 million and $150 million.  

For those crying gloom and doom negativity in Philly regarding falling back in the “arms race”, I see three potent young pitchers in the starting rotation in lefthander  Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Kyle Kendrick who, if they live up to anything near potential, will eat up innings and rack up wins. 

If the Phillies can wrap Helms and disappointing Adam Eaton as part of a deal for quality starter and use whatever veteran lefty Jamie Moyer has left in the tank, they will be all over the Mets.

For their part, the Mets, even should they get the Santana deal done, are a less than solid starting rotation.  Since Pedro Martinez is at best questionable due to advanced age and after the nearly two season layoff due to injury and surgery, basically, that old Spahn, Sain scenario seems appropriate — Santana, Maine and two days of rain.

I’ll stick with shortstop Jimmy Rollin’s vintage 2008 prediction — Phillies win 100.  That’s 100 wins, the NL East and to the next levels of post-season play.

Tulowitzki, Pena, Morneau, Cuddyer Get Multi-Yr Deals

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

               Troy Tulowitzki    Carlos Pena    

Colorado Rockies’  Troy Tulowitzki, arguably one of the top five shortstops in baseball off of a monster rookie season was rewarded by the NL Champions with a $31 million, 6-year deal as the Rockies tossed service time to the wind.  It was Tolowitzki’s first full season in the major leagues.   The deal includes a a club option for 2014.

AP Sports Writer Pat Graham reported for Yahoo sports;

Runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year last season, Tulowitzki said he’s just getting over the sting of being swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

However, the team’s success played a big role in committing to a long-term deal.

“The guys on this team are great baseball players, but more than that they are great guys, great people,” Tulowitzki said. “I took that into consideration. I looked at that and said, ‘Wow, if we can keep the core guys together, we have the makings to be something special.”‘

Tulowitzki gets $750,000 in each of the next two seasons, $3.5 million in 2010, $5.5 million in 2011, $8.5 million in 2012 and $10 million in 2013. The Rockies have a $15 million option for 2014 with a $2 million buyout.

Although Tulowitzki finished a close second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, two points behind Milwaukee third baseman Ryan Braun, he wasn’t disappointed. Colorado’s long postseason run meant more to him than awards.

“Braun had an excellent (season). His offensive numbers were unbelievable,” Tulowitzki said. “But the Rockies made it farther than the Brewers. I’m sure he would’ve traded in his Rookie of the Year trophy to get into the playoffs.”

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Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ first baseman Carlos Pena, who languished through the first six seasons of his career, suddenly broke out in 2007 with a huge 46 homer, 121 RBI, .282 BA season.

The Devil Rays rewarded him by finalizing a 3 year deal worth $24.1 million deal upon Pena’s passing his physical.

Pena’s previous high year for homers was 2004 when he hit 27 dingers and drove in 82 runs.  His 46 homers in 2007 was the fourth-highest total in the majors behind Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard and it equaled his combined homer total for the previous 3 seasons.

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       Justin Morneau       Michael Cuddyer

The Minnesota Twins opened up their coffers to the tune of $104 million in multi-year deals with lefthanded hitting 5 year veteran first baseman  Justin Morneau and 7 year rightfielder Michael Cuddyer.

AP Sports writer Jon Krwczynski reports for Yahoo sports;

Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP, received the most lucrative contract in Twins history — an $80 million, six-year deal. Cuddyer got three years and $24 million.

For a Minnesota Twins fan base that has watched Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva leave in free agency and worried about the possible trade of two-time AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana, it had to be a welcome sight.

The first baseman hit .271 with 31 homers and 111 RBIs last year, becoming the first Twins player since Gary Gaetti in 1987 to have back-to-back 30-homer seasons.

The Twins also added slugger Delmon Young in a trade with Tampa Bay, a move that may have been the key to keeping Morneau in Minnesota for the long run.

“If we didn’t make that move to get Delmon Young, I might have looked at it a little differently,” Morneau said. “To bring in him, he’s got a chance to be one of the best hitters in the game. To be in the lineup with him and Joe and now Cuddy, it helps my decision. It showed me that they want to get better and want to win.”

In the meantime, Philly.com’s Paul Hagen reports that the Phillies and Ryan Howard await a February 20th arbitration hearing date with a $3 million gap to bridge.  The two sides hope to come up with a long-term deal before the arbitration date.

Are Ryan Howard, Phillies on Arbitration Collision Course?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

     Miguel Cabrera     Albert Pujols    Matt Holliday

                                Ryan Howard

In recent days, we’ve read about Detroit, who acquired via trade 5th year 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera avoided arbitration proceedings by agreeing to a one year, $11.3 million deal with Cabrera.  We also heard about the  Colorado Rockies, who similarly avoided an arbitration hearing by signing talented leftfielder Matt Holliday to a two year, $23 million deal thus tying him to the Rockies for the next two years until he reaches free agency.

But as the above players and clubs sought to avoid the recriminations of arbitration confrontations, the Phillies and their powerful 1st baseman  Ryan Howard, with the quickest 129 homeruns in major league history, seem headed inexorably for a nasty arbitration collision which could taint their future relationship.  The battle scars of a looming arbitration confrontation could harm the chances of a team that looks poised, after their 2007 charge to the NL East crown, to reach the next levels of post-season in 2008 and beyond.

The gap between Howard and the Phils is $3 million, by far the largest gap of any of the arbitration figures.  In the exchange of arbitration figures between team and player, the Phils offered $7 million and Howard placed his number at $10 million.

In a recent unscientific Philly.com online poll of Phillies fans, 46.7% of those who answered the poll question; “Who is right, the Phillies or Ryan Howard?” answered that Howard is worth $10 million and another 23.5% placed Howard’s worth in excess of $10 million — that’s 70.2% who vote that Ryan Howard is entitled to $10 million or more in pay for 2008.  29.8% of those polled indicated that the Phillies’ offer of $7 million is appropriate.

Inquirer staff writer Todd Zolecki wrote recently;

The Phillies’ offer matches the largest amount a team has offered a player who is arbitration eligible for the first time. The St. Louis Cardinals offered Albert Pujols a record $7 million in 2004.

Pujols avoided arbitration when he signed a seven-year, $100 million contract extension.

Howard could be seeking a similar extension, but he cannot become a free agent until after the 2011 season, so the Phillies feel no immediate pressure to get a multiyear extension done. Howard, 28, hit .268 with 47 home runs and 136 RBIs last season. He was the National League’s rookie of the year in 2005 and its MVP in 2006.

If the case is heard, the arbitrator will pick one of the two figures. There is no middle ground, unless the Phillies and Howard agree to one before the hearing.

So how can Howard potentially make less this season than somebody such as Phillies pitcher Adam Eaton, who went 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA last year? Eaton pitched so poorly for the Phillies that he failed to make the team’s postseason roster, but he will make $7.635 million this year.

It’s simple: service time.

In baseball, service time means everything.

Major-league service time determines when a player can become eligible for salary arbitration and ultimately a free agent, which is where the big money is made. Players cannot become free agents until they acquire six years of service time. They generally cannot become eligible for salary arbitration until they acquire three years of service time.

Howard actually has two years, 145 days of service time, but he qualified for arbitration as a “Super Two” player. Super Two players rank in the top 17 percent in the class of players who have more than two but fewer than three years of service time.

The reason Holliday’s average annual salary is more than what Howard is seeking is again based on service time. Holliday has four years of service time. Players with less than three years, like Howard, have little say in what they get paid, no matter how good they are. Howard made $355,000 in 2006 and $900,000 in 2007.

The $900,000 that Howard received last season was a record for a player with one-plus seasons of major-league service time. It also equaled the record-setting total for a player not eligible for salary arbitration. Pujols received $900,000 from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, when he had two-plus years of service time.

Howard thought he deserved more.

The Phillies talked with Howard’s agent, Casey Close, about one-year and multiyear deals last year, but never came close to an agreement. So the Phillies basically put two one-year offers on the table: the $900,000 deal for a renewal and a higher figure for an agreement. Howard thought the higher figure wasn’t enough and rejected it.

Philly.com columnist Bill Conlin considers it unwise for the Phillies to enter an arbitration contest with Howard.  He writes;

The Cardinals averted a possibly messy arbitration with Pujols in 2004 by giving their young star a 7-year extension worth $100 million.

And whaddya know? After Howard filed for arbitration last week and numbers were exchanged, the Phillies’ offer to Ryan by crack negotiator Ruben Gillbuckle was the identical $7 million the Cardinals paid Pujols in 2004, the first year of his deal.

Howard agent Casey Close countered with a $10 million figure. Will the Phillies go to a hearing next month and say all the negative things about the chief stoker in their potent engine room that are said when this potentially divisive process is presented? Even though the $3 million difference is the biggest spread between all arbitration figures submitted, there are strong indications the Phillies would lose.

The Braves just avoided arbitration with Scott Boras client  Mark Teixeira by signing their first baseman to a 1-year deal worth $12.5 million.

If the Phillies can argue that Teixiera’s 63 homers and 215 RBI the past two seasons trump Howard’s 105 homers and 285 RBI, then we need to send whoever prepares their case immediately to the Middle East as a dove of peace.

The back-channel message is that trouble looms, with bruised feelings and Phillies hold-that-line, Whartonian resolve a predictable result.

Plain and simple . . . It appears Ryan Howard, joined at the dollar sign to Albert Pujols, wants a deal of that length and weight, not to mention more than the $85 million Chase Utley contract.

And so the clock ticks down through the remainder of January to the February arbitration hearings.  The Phillies have to weigh sticking to their money-guns against possible ill-will, tainted future relations with their main power-source and possible harm to the team.  Hopefully, prudence and realism as well as team responsibility and the will to win will mark a win-win deal with Ryan Howard.

Lidge, Madson and Phillies Avoid Arbitration

Friday, January 18th, 2008

               Brad Lidge     Ryan Madson

Closer Brad Lidge and middle reliever Ryan Madson avoded baseball’s salary arbitration mechanism by reaching agreement on one year deals with the Phillies.

For Lidge, a recent trade acquisition from the Houston Astros, the deal means a $1 million raise and for Madson, who saw limited action last season due to right shoulder strain, a $300,000 bump.  They both also have performance bonus incentives in their deals.

This leaves only utility infielder Eric Bruntlett, who also came over in the Lidge trade, and powerful 4th year 1st baseman Ryan Howard remaining on the Phillies’ list of arbitration-eligible players.

Regarding Howard, Philly.com’s Paul Hagen wrote earlier this week;

Howard continues to be the knottiest case. Negotiations on a multiyear deal broke down last year and his contract was renewed for $900,000. He figures to make at least $7 million next season, his first year of arbitration eligibility.

MLB.com’s Ken Mandel recounts previous Phillies’ efforts to sign Howard to a long-term deal;

The Phillies explored the possibility of a long-term contract with the slugger last offseason before renewing him for $900,000.

Philadelphia will try that route again this time. But even if they don’t agree on a multiyear deal, Howard can’t become a free agent until after the 2011 season.

In an earlier column, Mandel noted that the Phils had no urgency to sign a long-term deal with Howard but, that the would like to emulate the long-term deal reached with 2nd baseman Chase Utley before last season.

Mandel indicated that either by way of a long-term deal or via a 1 year deal, Howard will get a hefty raise over last season;

Howard will get a pay increase from the $900,000 he earned last season. For comparison, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera got a salary bump to $7.4 million from $472,000 in 2006 with the Marlins. Also, Howard will be the first baseman on Opening Day 2008 and likely well beyond that.

I just hope that there are incentives to severely reduce strikeouts in whatever deal the Phils reach with Howard as well as mandatory meetings with Hall of Fame former 3rd baseman Mike Schmidt on that issue.

Free Agent Lieber, Cubs Close One Year Deal

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

                Jon Lieber          Jon Lieber

Free Agent pitcher Jon Lieber, a 20 game winner with the Chicago Cubs in  2001, rejoins the Cubs in a one year, $3.5 million deal with another $ 4 million in incentives. 

His 20-6 season in 2001 was the pinnacle of his career having pitched 232 1/3 innings and ending with a 3.80 ERA in 34 games.

Lieber underwent Tommy John surgery in 2002 and missed the 2003 season but has been free of arm problems since.  After spending the 2004 season with the New York Yankees, he signed a 3 year, $21 million deal with the Phillies and carried the staff’s most wins in 2005 with a 17-13 mark and 4.20 ERA.  In 2006, he slumped to 9-11 with a 4.93 ERA and in 2007, he was sidelined through most of the season with a ruptured tendon in his foot which required surgery and finished 3-6 with a 4.73 ERA.

While the Phillies may be glad that the nearly 38 year old Lieber is gone;  Phillies Nation’s Tim Malcolm surmises that “his best days are likely behind him — maybe in Chicago he’ll redeem himself a bit…”, the Cubs seem glad to feel that they’ve bolstered their starting pitching through his acquisition.

Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan repports the view of Cub management toward the acquisition;

“It gives us more depth with our starting pitching,” manager Lou Piniella said. “He’s experienced, a really good competitor, a good guy in the clubhouse and well-respected. He can come to camp and earn a spot in the rotation.”

“We’re really happy to bring back Jon Lieber,” general manager Jim Hendry said. “I think it makes a lot of sense. We’re trying to get as much volume as we can, depth-wise, into the rotation to make it more competitive in camp… You like to have seven or eight type of starters available (in spring training).”

Lieber will compete with Ryan Dempster for the No. 5 spot, with Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall also on the periphery, assuming neither gets traded. Kevin Hart is likely to be given a chance to make the team in middle relief or long relief, Piniella said.

But whatever Lieber has left in the tank, the Phillies apparently decided that a repeat of a nearly 5.00 ERA is not a luxury they can afford.   Hopefully, he doesn’t come back to haunt the Phils either during the regular season on in the post-season play.

Trades, Free Agents and Arbitration

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

          Scott Rolen      Chad Cordero      Troy Glaus

It’s Wednesday night, about 12:15 AM and I’m finally getting the chance to do some housecleaning on this blog.

There have been a number of transactions; nothing major or earth-shattering, but yet newsworthy.

Firstly, the Phillies and rightfielder Jason Werth avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $1.7 million deal early in January.

MLB’s Ken Mandel recalls Werth’s 2007 stats and explains baseball’s arbitration mechanism;

Werth, 27, can also earn more through performance incentives. The right-handed hitter batted .298 with eight homers and a career-high 49 RBIs in 94 games in his first season with the Phillies. Werth also had nine outfield assists.

A player with between three and six years of Major League service is eligible for salary arbitration, while a certain percentage of players with between two and three years of service are classified as a “super two” and are also eligible.  [Ryan] Howard falls into the latter category.

The teams and players will exchange salary figures after Jan. 15. Like most teams, the Phillies prefer to settle cases without what is typically an unpleasant, sometimes divisive hearing.

The Phils haven’t had an arbitration hearing since 2001.

The Washington Nationals and their closer Chad Cordero beat the arbitration clock with a 1 year, $6.2 million deal reported on January 11. 

Cordero, a 5 year veteran with career stats of 128 saves, 287 strikeouts vs 114 walks in 316 1/3 innings and 2.79 ERA with a 20-14 record made nowhere near what the other Cordero made via free agency. Francisco Cordero, also a closer,  inked a 4 year, $46 million deal with the  Cincinnati Reds via free agency.

Francisco Cordero, a 9 year veteran has career stats; 177 saves, 528 strikeouts and 231 walks in 506 innings and a 3.29 ERA with a 26-27 mark.   Francisco was 0-4 with 44 saves and a 2.98 ERA in 2007 while Chad was 3-3 with 37 saves and a 3.36 ERA last season.

Veteran centerfielder Mike Cameron passed his physical and finalized a 1 year, $7 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Cameron, a gold-glover in the field, has been mediocre with the stick sporting a lifetime .252 average over his 13 season career.  In 1,560 career games, he’s struck-out 1,500 times.

Further, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy informs that;

Cameron must serve a 25-game suspension to start the season for testing positive for a banned stimulant, and when he returns the Brewers will insert him into the center field slot previously occupied by Bill Hall, who will start the season back on the infield at third base. Hall will be ousting National League Rookie of the Year third baseman Ryan Braun, who will move to left field to replace departed free agent Geoff Jenkins [signed by the Phillies].

Finally, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Toronto Blue Jays pulled the trigger Tuesday on a swap of third baseman.

Scott Rolen, who started his career in Philadelphia and was thought by the Phils to be Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt’s defensive re-incarnation, has seen his career go up and down in St. Louis after standout 2003 and 2004 seasons.  Rolen was hampered in large part due to large part to a left shoulder injury that has required three operations.  In 2006 he had a fine season hitting 22 HRs with 95 RBIs and a .296 batting average in 142 games for the Cards who went on to defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  Rolen starred in the series for the Cards going 8 for 19 with 3 doubles, a homer and 5 RBIs.  He and Cards manager Tony La Russa have clashed repeatedly over the past 2 seasons.

Rolen heads to the Blue Jays in exchange for 10 year veteran third baseman Tony Glaus who has hit for power but who saw his stats plummet in 2007 due to a left foot injury which required surgery.

AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom translates the deal in money terms and gives background on Rolen’s recent seasons with the Cardinals;

Rolen has three years and $36 million to go on an eight-year, $90 million deal signed in 2003, while Glaus is due $12 million this year with an $11.5 million player option for 2009.

La Russa often said he’d never seen a better defensive third baseman, but Rolen’s offense has declined since a collision with Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi in May 2005.

The last three years, Rolen has missed 176 games. Most Cardinals wanted La Russa back for a 13th season, and Rolen was one of the lone dissenters.