Saturday, January 31, 2009

Free Agent Update Part III

Let's look at starting pitchers and RH bench hitters but first a couple of free agent updates:

1. TB just signed Shouse to a 2yr deal.
2. PHil in on Ohman
3. Rich Hill to Balt. talks ongoing. Update 2/1: SEA also interested.
4. Fogg signs with CO
5. Hinske signs with Pitt.
6. Sweeney signs with Seattle.
7. Varitek signs with Boston.
8. NYY not currently pursuing Cruz.
9. AZD on verge of signing Tom Gordon.
10. Lefty Ken Takahashi (41) has offers from 4-5 teams:
ChiC, NYM, TOR, Balt, Phil
11. Oak really wants Cabrera.
12. LAD still have Wolf and Looper 1/2 as their 5th starter option and
talks are ongoing with both.
13. MN is looking at Ayala
14. Balt is out on Millar despite his desire to return.

Ok let's take a look at FA starter options for the Rangers. There are not a lot out there that are really appealing and not much has changed over the last 2 months or since my previous posts on the matter. As I stated previously, and as has already proven out with the season-ending January surgeries to Benoit and Hurley, 80% of the pitching staff is comprised of chronically injured players, 90% of whom have had prior surgeries. There are just 2 words necessary to sum up this state of affairs: PENDING DISASTER.

So, the reason i have spent so much time detailing FA relief pitchers is that this remains the best/cheapest way to upgrade the pitching staff due to the shortage of desireable starters currently on the market. My recipe for the bullpen would be as follows:
1. sign high risk/high upside guys who are young, could be had for 2-3 year reasonably -priced incentive-heavy contracts, and who could be traded for a decent return by the trade deadline if we are out of the race. These would include:
Chad Cordero and Andy Sisco (10 months removed from TJ)- I would throw in Rich Hill as a trade possibility.
2. Sign a guy capable of pitching the 8th inning if we need him too. This list is short in my opinion as most of the remaining FA relievers are 40yo R/L specialists who should be relegated to a 7th inning role. The guys I like in order of pref:
Cruz, (Cordero), Gagne, Ayala, Ringo, Borowski, (Otsuka)
3. Again, AVOID signing any of these older 7th inning types as we have a bag of those guys: feldman, mccarthy, hunter, gabbard, nippert, rupe, madrigal, Garr, laughter, Strop, moscoso, diamond, mendoza, Bannister, Eyre, Gordon, fukimori, Turnbow, ballard, hyatt, mathis, lueke, B. Jones, Swanson, Batista, Ramirez. Some will be ready to compete for the opening roster, the rest will be ready by mid-season, so, as with 5th-starters, TX has a lot of these back-end guys.
4. Loogies:
Don't depend on the unproven Gabbard/Torres for this role please. My order of pref. would be: First group- (Rich Hill -trade), ohman, beimel, d. reyes, (shouse just signed), (Sisco)
Second group- Guardado, Villone, John Parrish

The likely scenario is that TX signs Guardado and Gagne and I think that would be a significant if ironic upgrade considering we might trade both for the second consecutive year at the trading deadline!

Ok so that was the long way around talking about starters. I would rank the current FA starters in the following order of preference: Sheets, Ol. Perez, Wolf, and Looper. I'm not interested in Pedro Martinez. I think all are worth signing at a price and length of contract with heavy incentives and a team option. I'll go further and say that the rangers have to sign one of these guys to avoid having the worst staff in the majors for the second year in a row. Everyone else on the market is nothing more than a below average fifth starter comparable to the other options on the staff/in the minors.

The other thing I would do is to sign a 5th starter candidate to a minor league contract that keeps him under our control until about 5/15 or so, preferably 6/1. At that point, we would be covered in case we suffer an early catastrophic injury to, say, Padilla or Millwood or Sheets eg, while giving guys like Hunter, Holland, Feliz, Diamond and Moscoso a couple of months to pitch before getting a call-up.

Clearly these are bottom of the barrel guys with only a few interesting names. I guess I really don't care who get's signed as long as 1 (or even 2) get reeled in. IF we don't need them the first 2 months of the season then that means our staff is healthy and they can be granted FA. If we need them, they pitch 5 innings a game of below average stuff but save our staff from overuse, even if we get the loss every 5th game, and hold par until a younger more talented prospect can be called up. I think it is _essential_ to have 1-2 of these guys to start 09.

These would include:
Odalis Perez, L. Hernandez, El Duque (who apparently wants to close in 09?), Karl Benson, Jennings, Jon Lieber

Guys recovering from serious injuries:
Mulder, chuck james

Second-half signs:
Schilling, Byrd - both will sign in July and only for playoff contenders likely eliminating the rangers as options

As I stated above, I favor signing one from both lists: 1. either Perez or Hernandez; 2. either mulder or james.

As for RH hitters, this category only has relevance if we can move Catt. If not, there is no space on the roster for another bench player. In addition, I don't really feel like analyzing all the possible options here as it is unlikely to be anyone substantial. It will probably be some 37 yo guy signed at the end of spring training so why expend any ink on the theme. Having said that, some of the bigger names would be: Frank Thomas, Jose Vidro, Aurilla, Nomar, Alou, Millar, Grudzielanek. Aurilla is likely to stay with SFG and they want him back. He's # 4 on the Phillies wish list which supposedly ranks desireable RH hitters in this order: Nomar, Alou, Grudz., Aurilla, Millar. As I stated above, Balt is out on Millar.

It could be that a RH bat is not really a priority anymore. With Cruz/Byrd, Salty/TG, and Vizquel on the bench or variously platooning, a RH is not too high on my list at least...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Free Agents Part II

Ok let's take another look at the RH FA bullpen candidates.

Setup guys
1. Juan Cruz (30)- #1 candidate for a setup role, type A (second rounder for TX). FB/SL guy with a huge heater (94.5ave) and large drop in velo to his slider (81). With Benoit out for the year, CJ Wilson coming over surgery, and Frank Francisco a newbie closer, I think we need another guy capable of pitching the 8th. Has high walk rate to go with a high SO rate and really low hit/9 rate the last 2 years. I would roll the dice with him despite the BB rate for 3.5mill/2yrs/TO third yr.
2. Cordero (27)- setup/closer candidate, FB/SL guy, 90ave velo, former closer, recovering from labrum surgery in July. Reports are varied but it is possible that he could be ready by 4/1 or 5/1 or as late as June. This makes me think that his labrum surgery was relatively minor but who knows if he will be the same pitcher as before. Prefers the Angels or the Mets. gives up lots of homers.
3. Gagne - injured in 08, demoted to setup guy mid-season, but had a nice second half in 26g/3.6 era, so I wouldnt hesitate to sign him if he wants to return.
3. Ayala (31)- setup candidate, missed 06, good career #s, bad 08-gave up a lot of hits. FB/SL/CH guy. Threw his off-speed stuff a bit too hard in 08. Good velo.
4. Isringhausen (36.7) - setup candidate with closer exper., recovering from a torn tendon in elbow I think. FB/CT/CB guy, 92ave velo, needs to throw FB more. He is rumored to be ready anywhere from April to June. Had a poor year but his career #s are good as a closer. Lost closer role in 08 and moved to setup role, likely his fate from now on.
5. Borowski (38)- Setup candidate, closer experience, injured in 08; had a poor year in 07. His hi BABIP meant that he was a little unlucky so I think he might be a good bet to sign to a 1 yr deal and pitch about 4.5era- good enough for this club. Good SO/BB ratio for career. FB/Slider guy. Drop in velo in 08 is not a concern if it is related to injury...
6. Otsuka, if healthy. Supposed to audition for teams end of Jan but that hasn't happened yet.

7th inning guys
1. Al Reyes (39)- injured part of 08; probably a 7th inning guy so may not be a good fit for Rangers, closed 1 yr. Good career #s. FB/SL/CH guy, drop in velo hopefully due to injury, 89 to 87.
2. Rudy Saenez (40) - might be a 7th inning guy and if so not sure if he fits for TX. Big drop in SO rate in 08 and rise in BB rate a concern. Good career #s.
3. Keith Foulke (36)- 7th inning candidate, closer exper,Injury risk (see 05-07). 08 #s not that impressive, gave up 7hr in 31ip; prob. a 7th inning guy. FB/SL/CH guy; oddly, reversed freq of off speed pitches from CH/SL in 07 to SL/CH in 08- can't be a good sign.
4. Brendan Donnelly (37)- Prob a 7th inning guy, FB/SL guy, 5 pitches, decent velo, with dramatic incr in SL thrown vs CH in 08 and he threw the SL harder so not sure what's up with that. Injured 07 and 08 otherwise career #s are good. Had .370 BABIP so that contributed to bloated ERA/Hits #s.
5. Wright (35) - 7th inning candidate, FB/SL/CB guy, good velo. Many Ranger's fan hate this guy or at least the way Wash used him excessively in the 8th inning and/or when the game was on the line. He's a 7th inning guy though and if used that way he is a nice candidate for that role as he can pitch alot of innings - always a requirement when in the TX pen. He did tend to slow his off speed stuff too hard last year, not sure why, but his velo did incr slightly and his SO and BB rates improved a great deal. Not sure what that portends...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Free Agent Analysis Part 1 of 3; Hurley and Benoit

Wow!! Rangers' injury bug strikes in the off-season. So, about 2 weeks ago I posted this tidbit on my fav Texas Rangers blog,

".. this "our staff is healthy" this year mantra from JD is BS. The truth is that this staff is walking another injury tightrope this year like last year and an ugly implosion is more likely than not."

So, about a week later Hurley and then Benoit both go under the knife for labrum surgery, with Hurley's being career threatening (12-18 months rehab)and Benoit's less so but mucking up his FA year in 2010 (we can prob. resign him at a bargain rate though). Normally, you might consider such a prescient insight as, well, like a gift. When you are talking Rangers' baseball however, injury is the _rule_ rather than the exception.

So aside from saying this fucking sucks, let's take a look at what the likely options are going to be for the Rangers to rectify their ever-worsening pitching mess. Whatever the likelihood they sign with TX,I think it might not happen until just prior to camp as they hold out for the best offer. Actually, let's start with FA news that impacts the rangers first:

1. Pettitte resigns with Yankees for about 5.5 mill plus incentives
2. Garland signs with the AZD for about 6.3 mill
3. Lyon signs with Detroit
4. Springer signs with Oakland for 3mill.
6. LAD: Still in talks with Wolf with Looper as their b/u plan. Intersted in Reyes and Ayala.
7. Mets: Still seem to favor Perez with the phoneline open for Looper and Sheets. Still seem interested in resigning Pedro Martinez.
8. Milw: only interested in Sheets on an incentive-only contract
9. Glavine likely to resign with Atl and appears set to pitch a/o 4/1
10. MN broke off talks with Gagne though they seem to have agreed to a 3mill contract before MN withdrew offer; interested to see what happened...
11. SEA acquires Aardsma off a waiver-claim trade; not sure if rangers were interested; got him for an A- LH starter with decent #s...
12. Garcia signs a nice contract with NYM that could bring him to 10mill/incent.s
14. Benson's workout went so-so according to one scout and TR sullivan reports that TX is not interested (though why they are more int. in Jennings I have no idea)
15. Oakland is reportedly interested in Looper - count me among those who hope they lose out on him - pitched 178/4.78 in 07 and 192/4.18 in 08. Oakland also interested in Shouse and Sisco (recovering from TJ)
15. Looper seems to be everyone's backup option: LAD, Oak,Balt, Cubs
16. Cubs reportedly not interested in Peavy after acquistion of Heilman
17. AZD interested in Gordon.
18. Mulder has an open workout for scouts about feb 5th.
19. Phillies have int. in these RH hitters: Nomar, Alou, Grudziel., Aurilla, Millar; SF also likes Aurilla.
20. Wells will consider signing a minor league contract with STI.
21. Fogg: Co, Balt, Nats have interest
22. Colorado is interested in Beimel for less than 3mill.

Free Agents:
Well, let's start with a need that preceded the 2 injuries, the LH role in the bullpen. It appears that (1.) Ohman wants to resign with Atlanta, they want him too and have the money so you can likely cross him off the list. He likely wants to stay in the NL too, so even if Atlanta doesn't resign him, you prob. won't see him in the AL. (2.) Shouse - I have heard nothing on him. He is likely to sign with an NL club. Actually, I read on MLBTR that Oakland might have some interest even after signing springer for 3mill. (3.) D. Reyes is holding out for at least 3mill per and the LAD are interested. Beimel (4.) is out there, and Detroit is out on him after resigning Lyon, but his asking price might be too high and he might prefer the NL. CO has some interest for around 2.5 per. (5.) Guardado is probably the Ranger's fall back as he seemed to like his time in TX and if you sign with us your are guaranteed to make it to a playoff team - just not us. His stuff is slower than molasses and he depends on control so as much as I would like to see someone who can break 90, I can live with him as a specialist, but not as a setup man or closer. (6.) Villone - serious control issues but his other peripherals are good; could get blasted in AL unless he is restricted to pitching to lefties alone. (7.) Andy Sisco- missed 08 after TJ surgery but should be ready for ST (that would be 15+ months out). Former 2nd round pick who is well worth taking a flyer on as he could be better than anyone on this list and he is not even 25 yet.

Update 2/1: Shouse signed with TBR. I also want to add Rich Hill as a Lefty bullpen guy who can also pitch to RH batters so he would be much more than a Loogy. I make him my #1 option to compete for a bullpen spot with the hopes that he gets his head straight and move back into the rotation. He can be traded for right now for a bag of bones. Also, bringing up the rear of the list is another inexpensive possibility, John Parrish, who pitched in AAA last season but does have ML exper.

OK next entry: Starters, RH Relievers and RH bench hitters

Friday, January 16, 2009

Free Agency: Relievers, misc. updates

A few updates. With Mike Young accepting his fate last night, I think it is unlikely that the rangers sign a FA shortstop. They are kind of pressed into a corner after telling Young that Andrus is ready so must give him the job. It would be a PR and locker room disaster if he bombs in spring training and they brought in a stopgap vet. They might bring in a vet utility guy around the end of spring training if they are not comfortable with Duran and/or Arias playing shortstop. I like Counsell in that role but I bet he signs before spring training.

It looks like the rangers are one of 3 teams in on F. Garcia. The chisox just signed Colon so they may be out. These leaves the mets and they are rumored to be interested in a #3 type guy like Oliver Perez, so it appears that the Rangers might be in the lead for his services. I would welcome that signing instead of Jennings as a veteran injury retread. If he is healthy, I like his chances to have a decent season after 2 injury-plagued years.

Brandon Lyon apparently has a 2 year offer on the table for about 4mill per year which is a lot more than I thought he could get and puts him out of reach of the rangers. Juan Cruz's status remains up in the air as competitive clubs (like LAD) do not wish to lose their draft pick to sign him. This could put a team like the rangers in contention if the price is right however the price will likely be too steep as he is an elite setup guy with closer exper.

However, there would be no downside to signing him to a 2-3 yr deal as he is a quality setup guy relatively young and offers the rangers an opportunity to roll out a nice bullpen staff to bolster their shitty starting staff. The other thing to consider is that Benoit may or may not be healthy and is a FA after this year. IF Benoit is not healthy the bullpen is in trouble and will have to move MAdrigal into a more prominent role(he pitched the 7th and/or non-save situations last year) which in turn moves someone else into the 7th inning role with less talent (unless Turnbow turns it around).

Randy Wolf, who I really like and who could have a very nice 09, seems to have an aversion to Midwest teams. At some point he had a no trade clause in his contract that comprised most Midwest teams so his preference for E/W coast teams would seem to eliminate him from the Rangers' radar. He is holding out for a 3yr/30mill contract but no one is biting. MLBTR suggests that the mid-rotation starters still on the market might have to settle for 1yr deals in the 8mill range.

Clubs are waiting out the decent starters on the market hoping to lowball them with 1 year offers. Jon Garland just refused a 1yr/4mill offer from the Diamondbacks. I hope the rangers are out their lowballing the remaining starters as well trying to snag a back rotation guy. The only other guy that I like out their (besides sheets of course) is Looper. I wouldnt really consider anyone else save for a Jennings type guy on a minor league contract/STI if they don't get Garcia. Byrd is a guy that the rangers might sign before the season starts as he wants to sit out the first half to spend time with his family. He is a worse than league average #5, but depth is depth, and cheap depth is better. However, I suspect he will wait and sign with a playoff caliber team who is down a starter due to injury.

Cordero and Isringhuasen, 2 rehabbing closers who might not be ready until June1, each have reportedly narrowed down their choices to 4 teams. Half the league is interested in both, including the rangers, but they want the opportunity to close. Not sure how they can go to a team on June 1 and expect to have the opportunity to close but whatever. The rangers could offer that possibility to them with FranFran being an inexperienced closer and I have not problem with that as I doubt that they can wrestle the job from him. That would make them quality setup guys on a team that needs to upgrade their bullpen so I hope the rangers can snag one of them.

OT: PLEASE don't sign Gagne.

Not sure if the rangers have any part-time RH hitters on their radar; there has really been no scuttlebutt at all. Frank Thomas, Sweeney, Vidro...?

Basically the only activity that one should expect to see from the Rangers is the signing of a Lefty specialist. They've shown interest in all the guys still out there just like all the other clubs in the league: Beimel, Ohman, Reyes, Shouse and Guardado. I really don't favor bringing back Guardado's subpar stuff but he will likely be the guy as they price is sure to be right. Any one of these guys will be fine and I have listed them in order of preference. All had good seasons last year.

OK I guess that is it for today...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Minors Trends in 09

FYI: The trends discussed below for the Rangers' minor league system in 09 can be seen on my roster projections that I posted in excel format for my first post at this blog - check it out.

There are a couple of interesting trends that I think you will see this year as a result of the profound depth/quality of the Rangers minor league system. For the first time in at least 10 years, the upper levels of the system will not be populated by journeyman players. AAA and AA will now be populated almost entirely with prospects that have a chance to break in with the club in some capacity, as starters or role players or injury replacements. Those journeyman vets that have been signed to minor league contracts will be fighting for their jobs with younger versions of their former selves who, in all likelihood, will beat them out for roster spots. By contrast to last year, the age of the journeyman and org guys has decreased quite a bit, as we don't see the 30-35 yo guys being signed as much as the 26-29 yo signs, so the change has already begun. Irrespective of age, these types of players will find it hard to make the roster in 09 and beyond.

The second trend that I see in the system, is that older reliever prospects (25-28)who have come up through the system will find it increasingly difficult to make upper-level rosters as younger more talented pitchers, who now make up the core of the system, will displace them earlier than before. Due to the system depth, you will increasingly see the talented starters limited to 2 good pitches groomed more quickly into reliever roles. Most of these types will start out in the system as starters to give them every chance to stick in that role (and that is indeed the rangers' philosophy) but the system depth will now allow decisions to be made earlier and more wisely about a prospects future role in the org.

I think this benefits the rangers and the pitchers alike because it prevents them from toiling around in the system masquerading as starters and repeating each level as the rangers are forced to keep them in unsuitable roles year after year due to a weak system. I am thinking in this instance of Zach Phillips and Michael Schlact as the most recent exemplars of this situation. But I think it also applies to guys like Mike Ballard, Jared Hyatt, Mike Mathis, Tatusko, Swanson and Bannister. These talented 2-pitch guys or 4-pitch soft-tossers would then have the opportunity to move through the system more quickly and make it to the big club sooner to provide the team with a more consistent supply of talented relievers. The effect on older prospects in the system will be pronounced, as the 24-28 ptichers who have been pegged as relievers since they entered the system, principally as seniors, will be displaced by younger reliever converts with better stuff.

The guys I am thinking about here are, Turner, Lueke, Laughter, Falcon, Dennis, Giles, Sattler, Slusarz, Stewart, JB Diaz and Kometani, all between 24-26yo.

One area where you might see a sudden influx of high-celing relief pitchers who will provide needed arms to the rangers bullpen are the closer/setup roles. The system depth will now allow the likes of Beau Jones, Evan Reed, Fabio Castillo, Moscoso, Kiker, Diamond, Tim Murphy, Pimentel or Font to convert to dyanamic reliever roles if the system depth and their makeup determines the switch. Populating the rangers' staff with these kind of big-time bullpen arms would make for a nasty bullpen and give the rangers options that they havent had for a decade.

As of now, all of the above-mentioned prospects, save B. Jones, are projected to be starters for their respective teams, but that could quickly change depending on how the younger prospects progress and are promoted, and of course, on how these upper-level guys continue to develop. My own feeling here is that by season's end, Diamond, Kiker, T-Murph, and Reed will be moved to relief roles, some of whom could see arlington by September. I think they leave Moscoso and Castillo as starters for this year to see how they look but eventually Castillo will be moved to the bullpen as well, probably next year.

Another interesting trend that we saw last year and that might expand this year is the split starter system. Before he left, Adair commented that when he looked at the Rangers' system he saw about 27 legit starter candidates. This essentially means that at each level there is a full rotation of legit starter prospects. To accommodate this depth, the rangers had to keep many pitchers at extended until a roster spot opened, start them in relief or implement a split-starter system where 2 starters were slated to pitch on the same day, about 4 innings each. 2009 will surely see the split-starter approach and it might have to be expanded to include the Bakersfield highA roster. It will be interesting to see how the rangers manage the situation for sure.

Just as a final note, yesterday, some of the minor league roster attrition that I predicted has begun: Ryan Turner, Ueno, K. murphy and Lejuan Hill were cut. The soft-tossing lefty Turner will likely be replaced by the younger lefty Evans in High A. Also of note, Hunter Harrigan was re-signed likely to add depth to the short season teams but he could see time in Hickory if Santana does not return to catching.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rangers free agent options

I just wanted to put up my rankings of the free agents who might be or should be desirable to the Rangers at this late stage of the winter hiatus.

Third Base
1. Crede still ranks as the best bet at 3b despite concerns with his back. His career UZR at 3B is 39.6 so his defense alone would be an enormous updrade. If he puts in 90-100 games there, coupled with Duran, Metcalf or a Vet utilityman, I think the position will be greatly improved defensively and offensively. Crede can be protected much like Bradely was last year by avoiding back-to-back days on the turf, or holding him out altogether, and giving him frequent days off. Given Young's projected move to 3B, he is likely no longer an option for the team.

2. Counsell ranks high in my estimate for his excellent defense at 3B. He has the ability to switch to a super-sub role at mid-season with his above-average defense at 2b and slightly above average defense at SS. His offensive production would be a drag but if he is signed it would likely be as a Shortstop if Andrus fails to win the position in spring training and he would move into a valuable utility role at mid-season when Andrus is brought up. His career UZR rates for each position are outstanding: 2B- 19.7; 3B- 27.4; SS- 14.2.

1. Omar Vizquel provides plus defense at SS even at 40yo. His career UZR rating is 36.3. Some have suggested that he would be an excellent tutor for Andrus including being a fellow VZ. However, that would only be if Vizquel were a utility guy on the roster when Andrus takes over a mid-season (and in spring training). I don't think Vizquel would be willing to occupy a utility role an any club at this point as some team will sign him and pay him as a starter. I think it unlikely that he would sign with the Rangers.
2. Counsell- see above. His defense at multiple positions is excellent and his low batting average and age makes it likely that he would not mind eventually moving to a utility role when Andrus is ready. He is a guy I would like to see here.
3. Juan Uribe - I dont think the he fits the rangers needs which is an excellent defensive player. His OZR for SS is 10.5 and for 2b is 8.3 and he profiles as a guy he a club signs for average to slightly above average defense and a productive bat. The rangers don't really need that in their offense and he doesnt really profile as a utility guy yet at this point in his career. Like Vizquel someone will pay him to start.

Starting Pitchers
1. Sheets - the Rangers should jump all over this guy. He merits at least 10 and not more than 15mill per year and in this market and with his injury history, the rangers could sign him for 12-14 which would include incentives to protect them from injury and to reward him for health. He may sign a 1 year deal to prove his health and hope for a bigger payday and an improved market next year. My stance on this guy is that he could help the rangers contend for the division if everything falls into place this year and the rangers are going to need someone to replace Millwood and Padilla next year should both leave or are traded. He is the perfect guy and it would be a good investment this year and next if he stays healthy. If he doesnt stay healthy this year, the rangers still get an ace for the time he is on the mound and it gives the rangers added depth to forestall the inevitable disasters of a rotation decimated by injuries while giving our young prospects time in the minors. There really is no downside to signing him and the rangers should not view his addition to the staff as an opportunity to dump salaries either; signing him is just good baseball acumen.
2. Wolf- Wolf had elbow tendinitis in 04 and TJ surgery in 05 finally returning to the mound in the middle of the 06 season. To date he has had no problems with the elbow. However, in mid o7 he had shoulder stiffness and eventually had a cleanup procedure done that shut him down for the remainder of the season. He was a little worse than a major league average starter in 07 and slightly better than average in 08. Wolf seems to be healthy now and could pitch another 190-200 innings of 4.30-4.70 ball in 09. I am leaning toward slightly better than average 4.30/190 innings and as a lefthander, I would take that on this staff as a 4/5 starter.
3. Garland, Looper - Both slightly worse than league average but both capable of throwing 190 innings. As #5 guys, who put up innings, and have no significant injury history I would not hesitate to sign either. Looper is a 2 year starter after having a nice career as a reliever. Went from worse than league average in 07 to better than league average in 08, 4.13/200ip. He is worth a shot.
4. Freddy Garcia - I always favor signing a veteran injury retread starter every year who might agree to stay at AAA until June 1 just in case we have a major injury. I think he is the best of the lot and I prefer him over jennings who is a bad #5 in his best year. Garcia has been injured for 2 years but tossed 200 inning seasons 7/8 years with the Mariners.

My basic position on the starting rotation for 08 is that 1 vet and 1 injury retread should be signed to prevent a repetition of the complete implosion of the rotation and the bullpen (and the season) in 08. I also believe that that quickest/cheapest way to improve the pitching is to significantly upgrade teh bullpen given the rangers understandable reluctance to sign FA starters for 09. Given the injury history of the entire staff, relievers and starters alike, no coherent argument can really be formulated to argue _against_ signing some vets at affordable prices for short-term contracts (unless they are type A caliber FA) so that we can (and we will) fall back on quality minor league depth to prevent another disastrous pitching implosion.

Lets look at the injury profiles for ML/AAA starters to bolster this point. Millwood, McCarthy, Gabbard, Padilla, and Mendoza are chronically injured. Harrison had shoulder problems early and late in his minor league career but they were not serious. Hurley is coming off an injury and was shut down last season. Diamond is recovering from TJ and ankle surgery and will pitch his first full season after it in 09. Two pitchers also face increase injury risk next season due to an increase of more than 60-70 innings from the previous year: Hunter and Feldman.

Holland is the only guy competing for a rotation spot next year who does not have injury concerns. That is simply astonishing and the Rangers have to address this risk by signing a veteran 4/5 guy or two and sheets if they can.

Now let's look at the bullpen. Franky is healty after TJ surgery in 05. CJ is coming off of shoulder surgery and is also a former TJ guy. Benoit was shutdown due to shoulder stiffness last year and his full recovery for 09 is uncertain. Josh rupe has been chronically injured during his career. Mathis and AJ murray were shut down last season and AJ is chronically injured and might be done. Garr experienced some shoulder issues last year as well but came back to pitch the last 2 weeks of the season. Willie Eyre is coming back from injury and Bannister was injured for 2 years before his comeback last year.

This leaves only Madrigal, Nippert and likely Francisco as the only healthy guys in the bullpen for 09 (and maybe throw in Turnbow).

This staff is a disaster waiting to happen unless everying goes perfectly and it doesnt do the team or the rookies any good to have another season like 08. Some wise signings are necessary. Allowing the rookies to get their innings and improve in AAA will not hurt their development and will allow the rangers to remain competitive until they are ready at mid-season and perhaps even allowing for some upgrades at teh trade deadline for a run at the division. The rooks are sure to get their innings due to the inevitable injury problems that will arise in 09 so I just don't buy the argument that signing a few vets for the rotation and the bullpen will forestall their development.

I will rank free agent relievers in my next post

In short, Madrigal

Young's move to 3b and other notes

Young's move to 3B appears written in stone. The Rangers' brass believe that Andrus is ready to start at shortstop on the big club as of opening day or sometime mid-season at the latest. The implications are of course that Young needs to spend a couple of months preparing for the switch and learning the intricacies of 3B before the season starts so that he does not have to make the switch mid-season leaving him no time to prepare. If Andrus proves unable to win the SS job in spring training, this will prove problematic to say the least, as the Rangers will be forced to bring in a journeyman to fill his spot and I am sure he will be none to pleased with this eventuality. A couple of guys to look at should the need arise would be: Vizquel, Counsell, and Uribe; Cora just signed today so he is out of the mix. IMO Counsell would be the best option because he can be switched to a utility-man role with his ability to play above-average defense at SS, 2B and 3B. He projects to hit in the .235-.240 range.

Having said that, Young's move has some beneficial implications for our minor league depth. While Vallejo was projected to split time at SS/2B with Lemon in AA, an Andrus promotion would like project Vallejo at AAA, splitting shortstop duties with Arias (if he is healthy enough to play shortstop anymore). IF Arias is not healthy, or at least only healthy enough to play 2b, this would likely mean that Vallejo becomes the FT shortstop at AAA.

With Vallejo moving to AAA, this opens up another spot for another relatively unheralded prospect, Renny Osuna. With Lemon projected to eventually move off of shortstop completely due to his defensive shortcomings, both he and Osuna will like split time at both positions. The move also allows Metcalf to provide depth at 3B in AAA in case of injury and Frostad to occupy 1B full-time this year rather than moving between 1B/3B/C/DH like he did in AA.

It would still appear that the Rangers would need to sign a utility MIF journeyman to play SS if Andrus wins the position in ST. Duran hasn't played SS in 2 years, so while it is clear that he can play the position, he will need to spend all of spring training working there to get his chops back. He is a natural 2B and played 3B for his entire stint in winter leagues so he should be fine at both those spots. Another option would be Arias, who was a plus defensive shortstop through the 2006 season but his mysterious shoulder ailment has prevented him from playing the position for 2 years.

If the Rangers have confidence that Duran and Arias can play SS this year then signing a journeyman will be unncessary. However, we will have to see how this plays out over the course of spring training. If it doesn't work out, expect the Rangers to sign a vet the last week of spring training.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Off-season hand wringing and the Rays model

There is lots of hand wringing these days regarding the lack of trades/signings that the rangers have made this off season. There is still plenty of time left obviously and it should come as no surprise that the Rangers were not players for any of the big-time free agents; the Rangers publicly stated that they wouldn't be signing any big names. But as luck would have it the recession has dramatically reduced the value of the majority of free agents and as a consequence the Rangers can be viable players on a few guys like Sheets, Pettitte, Garland, Cruz, Lyon, Wolf and Beimel to name a few. Texas and SF appear in line to sign Crede who would be an excellent defensive upgrade at 3b for the rangers even if he only plays in 80 games allowing us to mitigate the effects of using a metcalf/Duran platoon for the whole season. A right-handed bat that might be of interest (should Catt be traded) might be Juan Rivera.

While the Rangers might get lucky and fulfill their SP, RP, and Position needs this off season with some guys whose asking price has been depressed due to the economy, the best way to make this team competitive for 2009 and 2010 is by trading some of their minor league depth. While upgrading the team's needs via free agency will make the team more competitive in 09, the below average starting rotation will prevent the team from being playoff bound and we are stuck with them for another year (or 1/2yr at least). The only way the Rangers can compete for a wild card spot next year is if they begin upgrading by trading away prospect depth (and present players on the roster) for major league ready talent (under some years of team control one would hope). Judging from the lack of trades that Daniels has made this offseason, it appears that the Rangers recognize this and are continuing to seek highly-regarded prospects in trade, waiting on teams to meet their price. It looks like this might not happen until July, and that is ok, as it means the Rangers could be well on their way to competing for the playoffs in 2010.

Looking at the way the Rays built their team the last 5 years suggests that merely having minor league depth is not the secret to building a perennial contender but rather how you use your minor league system. Daniels hasn't yet pulled off any big trades giving away prospects for elite ready talent, but I think you will see any # of them before the trading deadline if not a few by 4/1. If we look at the Rays as currently configured, we can see that the foundation of their approach to developing a playoff contender has been oriented to trading prospects for young major league ready talent under some team control. Here is a breakdown of they types of moves they have made the last 3-5 years:

Draft- Shields, Sonnanstine, Price
Trade- Garza, Kazmir, Jackson, Gibson, Morland, Ryu
FA - Zambrano, Benson, Hendrickson

Draft - Hammel
Trade - Balfour, Bradford, Wheeler, Howell
FA - Percival, Nelson, Miller, Reyes

Draft - Upton, Longoria, Crawford, Perez, Baldelli, Dukes, Young, Gathright
Trade - Bartlett, Navaro, Aybar, Joyce, Gross
FA - Pena, Hinske, Iwawara, Burrell, Floyd

As can be seen most of the 2008 team was acquired or signed rather than developed internally. In general, the Rays seem to focus on building a bullpen through trade and Free Agency which makes sense as they can be signed to the least onerous contracts save for the closer. Through 2008 their rotation consisted of 3 young starting pitchers acquired via trade and have 2 from their system (3 with Price being ensconced in 09 and Jackson traded away). They eschew signing free agent starters in general. As for position players it is about an even split between the draft and external acquisition.

This is a nicely balanced approach that seeks to use their system depth to obtain ready/near ready elite position players and starting pitchers, spending money on the bullpen, drafting elite high school hitters, and refusing to sign FA starters to onerous contracts. I hope that Daniels is paying attention to this approach...I think he is...