Thursday, December 14, 2006

Moves you may have missed. Or not cared about.

You folks have probably read all that there is to read on Alfonso Soriano and Daisuke Matsuzaka, so there probably isn’t all that much more I can add to the discussion. There have been some lesser moves that may make a difference in 2007. And moves that may not.

Atlanta acquires reliever Rafael Soriano from Seattle for starter Horacio Ramirez.

Normally, it’s a good idea to pick up a starting pitcher in exchange for a reliever. This is one of those exceptions, and John Schuerholz may have quietly picked up one of the biggest steals of the offseason. Three years removed from arm surgery, Soriano threw 60 innings in relief for Seattle, with a 2.25 ERA, 65 strikeouts, and only 21 walks. Perhaps the Mariners were scared off by the season ending concussion, and feared that they may have a Matt Clement situation. However, all reports are that Soriano is throwing comfortably, and Clements demise seems to be as much about arm trouble as it was the Carl Crawford liner off the side of the head in 2005. Only three years ago, scouts named Soriano the most likely reliever to become the next Johan Santana, making the transfer from little known setup man to stud starter, because of his spectacular stuff. The Braves seem set on having Soriano in the bullpen though, which is fine as well—he’s immediately the most talented reliever they’ve had since John Smoltz. With the problems the Braves have had a closer since Smoltz moved back to the rotation, Soriano is a great bet to assume the 9th inning role, and score at least 35 saves. Fantasy players take note, this is one of your sleepers for next year.

If the Mariners did feel Soriano was a risk, perhaps it would’ve made sense to try to acquire an innings eater type, who could rack up a solid season in Safeco Field. However, Ramirez is likely a bigger injury risk than Soriano, while not being nearly as good a pitcher. Ramirez has failed to reach 80 innings in two of the last three seasons with a variety of arm troubles. The season he stayed healthy, he had a 4.63 ERA in 202 innings, with only 80 strikeouts, 67 walks, and 31 homers allowed. Safeco will help depress that homer number, but in the more patient American League, teams like the A’s and Rangers who he will see several times will take advantage of his inabilility to put people away. Those poor K/BB numbers in the NL are likely to translate even worse into the AL.

So, while both players may offer the same injury risk, Soriano offers the reward of being an elite closer, while Ramirez, at best, isn’t likely to replace the production of Gil Meche. Another poor move in what has been a pretty awful tenure by Mariners GM Bill Bavasi.

Royals sign pitcher Gil Meche for 5 years, $55M.

Almost every offseason, a really really bad team signs a player who isn’t good to a huge contract, and there is a glut of stories praising them for being willing to show fans they care by being willing to spend money. It’s all a crock. Fans don’t really care, during the season, whether or not their team has spent money. They care whether or not their team is winning.

Signing Gil Meche does not show a commitment to winning. It shows a commitment to spending money. In four years since his return from injury, Meche has not had a park-adjusted ERA above league average even once. On the ERA+ scare, where 100 is average, he’s scored a 97, 86, 85 and 97. Meche turned 28 in September, and pitchers suddenly figuring it out at his age is exceedingly rare, unless they’re put with a Leo Mazzone or Ray Miller level pitching coach. Meche is often compared to Jason Schmidt, who DID figure it out at roughly Meche’s age, so I suppose there is hope, but the comparison with Schmidt againt the comparison with the hundreds of similar pitchers who didn’t figure it out at the same time is a pretty strong weight to the negative. The silver lining is the huge jump in his strikeout rate this year, from 5.2 per 9 IP in 2005 to 7.5 per 9 in 2006. If his ERA can begin to follow that improvement, Meche may make the jump to slightly above average pitcher, but the Royals are betting against huge odds that Meche will make such a significant improvement.

Of course, a slightly below average starter is a HUGE improvement for the Royals, whose rotation last year was somewhere in the neighborhood of abysmal. So, the thinking goes, if they have the money, why not spend it to improve their team? Which may be fine, but why commit to five years? If the Royals had signed Meche for a two-year commitment on the chance he breaks out, it wouldn’t be a big deal, as they wouldn’t be tying up funds for the future. But as it is, if Meche doesn’t make that leap, don’t you think they’d want that money to give an extension to Alex Gordon, baseball’s #1 prospect, if Gordon is anything close to the player he looks like? The problem isn’t the $11M on Meche in 2007, as maybe they don’t have any better use for that money. The problem is that $11M in 2010 and 2011, when they should be hoping to be competitive.

Cubs sign Jason Marquis to a 3 year, $21M deal.

Now, this is a deal that looks more reasonable on the surface, but actually may be just as bad as the Meche deal. According to, Meche and Marquis are actually each others most comparable players, and both are the same age (Marquis is actually a month older.) The problem is that Marquis is clearly going in the wrong direction. While there are some signs with Meche to at least consider him worth betting on, In the last three years, Marquis has gone into a tailspin. His ERA has gone 3.71, 4.13, 6.02. His K/9IP has gone down: 6.2, 4.3, 4.4. His K/BB have gone down: 1.97, 1.44, 1.28. And his HR/9IP have gone up: 1.2, 1.3, 1.6.

Marquis is heading backwards in a hurry, and the fact that he’s going to a much worse pitchers park could make things ugly. I’m talking mid 7’s ERA ugly. This is all made worse by the fact that Marquis apparently isn’t all that nice a guy. He badmouthed Mazzone on his way out the door in Atlanta, got progressively worse every season under Duncan, and moaned about not being on the playoff roster for the Cardinals, despite the fact that one of the biggest reasons they won the World Series was the decision not let Jason Marquis pitch in the playoffs. Forget the fact that $7M isn’t all that much money in today’s market. All things considered, I’d take a chance with just about any Triple A journeyman over Marquis. He’s the Cubs headache now.