The baseball offseason is starting to get into full swing, with some lower tier moves going on. Let's run through a few of this weeks.
The Chicago Cubs signed relief pitcher Scott Eyre to a reported 3-year, $11 million contract.
This comes two weeks after signing Ryan Dempster to a 3-year, $15 million contract. Ouch.
Let me repeat that. The Chicago Cubs are going to pay Scott Eyre and Ryan Dempster over $8 million next year, and $26 million for the next three years.
Ryan Dempster will be 29 next year, has reasonably good K/BB numbers for his career, and is coming off two consecutive above average seasons. Much of that 4.83 career ERA was put up as a starter for Florida and Cincinnati, so maybe he's found a home in the bullpen. But at $5 million, that's an awful steep price for 70 or so slightly above average innings. He's a good pitcher, but there are better ways to spend the money. (For example, buying Derrek Lee 5 million Junior Cheeseburgers at Wendy's).
Sadly, none of that ringing endorsement should be echoed for Eyre. He's the classic "lefty-one-out-guy." He's going to be 34 early next year and has a 4.52 career ERA. Eyre has been a solid, if unspectacular, pitcher for the Giants the last four years, but he's not a guy you go building a staff around. He's a last piece of a puzzle, rather than the first, and the kind of player that is always floating around at looking for a spring-training invite.
The Cubs are apparently very high on Rafael Furcal. Without discussing the debatable merits of Rafael Furcal as a franchise player, if the Cubs believe he is, shouldn't he be their first priority? They've now spent $8 million on replaceable parts. If a bidding war starts up for Furcal, wouldn't they rather have the extra couple million to play with to make sure they get their top guy, then worry about filling the bullpen? It's a backwards way to build a team, and it's a good way to find yourself competing with Pittsburgh for fifth place rather than St. Louis for first.
The New York Yankees signed OF Hideki Matsui to a four year contract, reportedly worth $52 million.
Matsui was considered a potential top ten free agent, but most circles agreed that a deal would be worked out. The negotiations were a bit different because Matsui had a clause in his contract that he'd be non-tendered if he wasn't signed to an extension by November 15, and therefore unable to negotiate with the Yankees until next May.
Yes, the Yankees overpaid for Matsui, but the rationale is that they can afford to pay more for their wins than other teams. Which means the issue becomes whether Matsui is going to actually bring them very many wins. He's not a great hitter, but he is a good one, and batting behind guys that get on base will get him his 100 RBI. He seems reasonably athletic and well-conditioned, which tends to lead to aging well, and he has a solid batting eye, though it's something to watch for, as he fell to 56 unintentional walks this past season, down from 86 in 2004. He doesn't strike me as the kind of player who is just going to fall off the table, so chances are he'll still be a productive player in 2009.
Reportedly, he wants to play centerfield, saying he feels more comfortable out there. He rated as an average defensive leftfielder, which comes with the asterisk that, with the sluggers teams put out in leftfield, being average doesn't take very much. He doesn't have great speed, a very good arm, he doesn't take great routes to balls-- so it's easy to understand why the Yankees would consider putting him in centerfield. The Yankees outfield defense certainly hurt them throughout the season last year, and it was made crystal clear in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Angels. With Matsui in leftfield, his flaws will remain hidden. In centerfield, there's a good chance of more of the same-- a lot of doubles in the rightcenterfield gap, and people wondering why their pitchers are putting up ERA's in the 4's and 5's.
Reports out seem to have the Yankees looking at two options for next season. The first is signing Brian Giles, and moving Matsui to center. Giles is a world class hitter, and a solid defensive player. The other option they've discussed is leaving Matsui in left, and having Bubba Crosby play center. Yep, that was the sound of baseball fans around the country chuckling at you. I'm not sure if it's blind faith or total arrogance that would make the Yankee front office think Crosby, who will be 30 next August and has a career OPS of .554, and a career VORP of -5, is a capable every day major leaguer, but either way, it's the type of move that will have them scouting the waiver-wire for someone who can deliver an OPS over .600 by early May.
Moves like that are typical of the way the Yankees have operated in recent years--take note of your star players, and figure that anyone can settle in to the second tier roles-- and are a major reason why they've watched other teams celebrating to end their season the last five years. During their run from 1996 to 2000, the Yankees had star players, but they also won because they had second tier players like Scott Brosius and Chad Curtis playing, rather than guys who would struggle to hit .200 over a major league season, like Crosby or Enrique Wilson. I'm reminded of the offseason of the A-Rod deal. When Aaron Boone went down with his knee injury, they traded for Mike Lamb, now of the Houston Astros. When the A-Rod trade went through, they simply released Lamb. Now, Lamb isn't going to be a guy to carry you to the World Series, but he is a versatile, serviceable player, who certainly helped the Houston Astros in their march to the World Series.
The point here is that there are a lot of players between the quality of Brian Giles and Bubba Crosby who are available. If they are unable to sign Giles for whatever reason, they should take a cue from what they'd have done only seven or eight years ago, and sign one of those in between players. Either that, or they should be prepared to watch the Cardinals or Indians or Athletics popping the cork next October.