Friday, January 13, 2006

Quick Hits

I haven't updated in quite some time, so I figured I'd throw some random notes from the last couple weeks up there.

Cincinnati Reds sign P Grant Balfour to a 1-year contract for 340,000.

Balfour is hardly front-page news, and pitching for the Reds, the impact will be minimal. It's compounded by the fact that he is likely to miss the first half of 2006 after missing all of 2005 with reconstructive elbow surgery. Still, considering the going rate for useful pitchers, finding one that is above league average for the league minimum is an inspired move. In 65 innings over his last two years, Balfour has a 4.27 ERA, pitching in one of the tougher pitchers parks out there, translating to an ERA+ of 110. He's also struck out 72 batters in that time. His record is really only tempered by control concerns (he walked 35 in those two seasons). While the sample size is small, he has a history of success in the minors as well, notably in 2003 when he had a 2.41 ERA and a 87/16 K/BB ratio at Triple A Rochester.

Balfour has an injury history, but what is the risk vs. reward here? If he can't come back, or can't pitch as well when he does, the Reds will be merely out of the league minimum salary, and it's not like giving him the innings to find out is going to cost them in the standings in a big way. If he does pitch well, it's a complete bonus, and he will still be Reds property through 2008. An inspired signing by a franchise that has a recent history of overpaying for below average talent. Also, a strange nontender by the Twins, who, as a "small-market" team need to be on the lookout the most for cheap talent.

Sammy Sosa is in discussions with the Nationals about a one-year contract.

Anyone here want to try and think of a worse fit than a declining slugger whose single remaining positive is his ability to hit baseballs out of the ballpark, and sticking him in the worst home run hitting park in the majors?

Don't be too surprised if the Nationals great luck from 2005 turns completely around and they are looking up in the standings at the Marlins this coming September. Their chances rest on the health of Nick Johnson, and how many at-bats they can give Ryan Zimmerman.

Kevin Millar signs a one-year, $2.1M contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

On the one hand, he's a slow, poor defensive first baseman who is clearly in his decline phase. On the positive, he's a guy who can still hit a fastball. His value is no longer as an everyday player, and Terry Francona's insistence on playing him every day very nearly cost the Red Sox a playoff spot. On the other hand, in a division that seems to be stocking up on fastballers, Millar has a place, if Perlozzo has some ingenuity. As part of a standard righty/lefty platoon, Millar will be useless--he historically hits righties much better than lefties. If they can platoon him with a guy who can hit the softtossers in the league, play a good defense, and run the bases acceptably well, then Millar could actually help the Orioles. Interestingly enough, that description applies to Jeff Conine, also recently signed by the Orioles. They're not going to combine to be Albert Pujols, but with the Orioles getting big offensive production from sources that other teams do not (2B and SS), they merely need to be passable at 1B. If the cards break well, Conine and Millar are more than passable.

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