Monday, December 6, 2010

Miscellany

Per MLBTR:

Kevin Correia signs with the Pirates for 2/8m. I think he could be a darkhouse candidate to put in a solid 2011. Not sure I would've went 2 years.
Aaron Harang's contract is for 1/4m.
Boston interested in Magglio Ordonez as a platoon bat; I wonder if he accedes to a platoon role for 2011? He should. He only hit .750 vs RHP the last 2 years.
Minnesota has offered NPB infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka a 3 yr, 3-4m per deal.
TX does not seem to be interested in Brandon Webb and, given their needs, you would think that other teams have red-flagged him as well, even as high reward project.
Seattle is interested in rehab patients Eric Chavez and Gregg Zaun (labrum), as well as platoon DH guys like Matsui and Cust. And Rich Harden!
Texas not reportedly in on soft tossing late-inning arm Koji Uehara.
Chien-Ming Wang wants a major-league deal.
Rockies interested in Bengie Molina.
Boston and New York interested in Russell Martin.
One wonders if Texas had any interest in Shaun Marcum, who was apparently traded (even to his surprise) because he wanted a contract extension.

Other Notes
While I'm interested in signing Carl Pavano to a 2yr deal, Texas is interested in Jeff Francis. I am too as he is bettter than a reclamation project having pitched 100 innings in 2010 with a solid FIP but his shoulder is still a concern. Francis missed part of 08 and all of 09 due to labrum surgery. He also missed the first ~6weeks of the season with an unrelated "armpit" strain but his shoulder still seems iffy as he also missed a month due to shoulder soreness mid-August to Mid September. His FIP has been good enough to be considered a likely solid #4 starter (~4.4 fip, also his career line, including his rookie year in 2004) when healthy. The last 5 years (2005-2008, 2010): 4.74, 4.38, 4.19, 4.81 (inj), 3.88. So the verdict is still out on his health and a contender really shouldn't dick around with guys like this unless he is plan C and D and you are willing to cut him or trade him if he doesn't pan out even if you lose some guaranteed money.

Speaking of which, it looks like Texas will have to trot out plans C and D during the Winter Meetings, and they might even have to wait until spring training or even July to do so.

Ron Washington mentioned recently that he prefers to keep Hamilton in left field and give Borbon a shot to be a full-time player in 2011. Given that there are no other legitimate options save to move Hamilton to center field full time and sign an elite left fielder, this is the way to go (not really a wise option anyways given his injury history). Should TX be looking for another center fielder or at least a RH platoon partner for Borbon? Absolutely, as he seems like a platoon guy. As the reigning AL champion, TX needs to look to upgrade positions when they can.

TR Sullivan has slightly modified his "unofficial" stance (previously masked as an official one) that the most likely player to be moved into the rotation next year is Alexi Ogando, now saying that only a few Texas "officials" believe this, while Washington says that the option has not even been discussed. Hopefully these aren't the same Texas officials who decided to move Kris Benson into the rotation, send Jennings to the bullpen, and Feldman to AAA in 2009. Meanwhile, Washington says that he wants Feliz to return as the closer and I hope that is what happens. I don't have faith in Ogando as a closer nor do I have faith that Francisco makes it through the season without a couple of DL stays.


I don't think there should be any excuse not to acquire a solid mid-roto starter by the start of the regular season at the latest if Texas proves unable to acquire an elite arm by then. While Texas survived the iffy contributions of Holland, Feldman, Harden, Harrison and the 6 FIP version of Tommy Hunter this year in a weak division, how likely is it that they do so next year, say, if Hunter and Holland et al prove unable to pitch with an FIP below 5? What if they struggle from the gate at the same time that Lewis (31yo) and Wilson (30yo) do so? Both Lewis and Wilson struggled in May last year while Wilson was terrible in June and continued to struggle with walks in July (with a 4.62 bb/9 vs RHH on the year).

Given the lack of proven depth in the rotation going into the year, the risks of relying on Lewis and Wilson to repeat as quality #1_2 starters, and the huge injury problems in the lineup, Texas is going to have to spend some money and give up some prospects, probably more value than they want to or that is merited, in order to compete for a pennant in 2011. Do they believe this? I'm not sure. Will they rely too heavily on unreliable young players with uncertain ceilings when they should be more attentive to acquiring proven veterans to solidify their team? Should Texas even consider moving Feliz to the rotation this year when Holland and Hunter are your 3/4 guys, neither of whom has pitched a full season yet? Should we believe that the Tommy Hunter that we saw in the second half and during the playoffs (pitching high in the zone, a regression of his changeup), will be the 2011 Hunter? Will this finally be the year when people stop calling Tommy Hunter an "innings eater"? Is Tommy Hunter good enough to give you 200 innings over the next few years with and FIP in the 4.8-5.1 range? Some have done it; he probably will not.

If Texas eschews overpaying in prospects to acquire an above average or elite player now, won't they be overpaying even more to do so in July (though there will be more options) given that you'll get merely 1/2 season out of the player? Maybe Texas can wait until July to acquire an ace or elite position player but then maybe it will be too late if the LAA and Athletics are good enough and fortunate enough and Texas is not. Time will tell. Ok so I'm rambling on a bit breathlessly, and maybe a bit to impatiently. I still think there is a legitimate question here: Does Texas have to change its approach a bit to be annual pennant contenders, now that they can legitimately be thought of that way and have money to spend? If this were Detroit, New York or Boston, Holland and Harrison and Feldman and Hunter probably don't even make the rotation. They might not even make the big league staff, unless it was in the bullpen, and more likely, they end up in the AAA rotation. Maybe you don't even hear speculation about Ogando or Feliz being considered for a rotation spot during the offseason.

With respect to Greinke, how much do you really overvalue your prospects, when you refuse to part with them for a player who will give you 10-14 WAR over two years at a decent salary and two compensation picks? How many years do you think it will take all of the prospects involved to accrue that many wins (Whatever combination of Scheppers, Holland, Hunter, Moreland, Borbon, Perez, Beltre)? If your window for success is only, say, 3 years, those players probably fail to rack up that many wins over that time anyways and are therefore unlikely help you win a championship with the 30 year old core that TX has to win with. I say make the deal if those players won't help you win a pennant during the next 3 years. If you win one with Greinke, who would then regard their prospect haul as an overpayment? Not me. If Texas, also changes their draft, j2 and free agent philosophy to pay for elite talent each and every year, who can say that they won't have a better minor league system, with more major-league ready talent than they do now, not even factoring in all the A-ball talent that they have now? Do the deal for Greinke.

If Texas is going to be a perennial player, should we continue to praise them for being effective bargain hunters for fringy veterans, or signing RECPROS (reclamation projects), forgetting the fact that Texas is often too loyal to these types, far beyond reason, from opening the season with them at all to sticking with them far too long? I don't think that it would be too much to argue that Texas might have to ditch some old self-conceptions, outdated organizational narratives, and small-market practices given their status as an elite team.

Thinking about Texas' approaches to the draft and player development are a little off topic but things that the organization should be thinking about in my estimation (I might take a look a Texas' draft philosophy and relative success compared to other clubs in a subsequent post). Given the complete barrenness of the upper level of the minors this year, this might also include revisioning their approach to the draft, where solid upside college players are eschewed for more risky high schoolers, whose likely ceiling would not end up being any better. For example, I really like Minnesota's approach to valuing starting pitchers in the draft. They seem to take the common sense view that a solid #3 starter from a college program (Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers), who might take only 1-2 years to develop and break into the bigs, is a low risk, high reward option. Texas normally goes the high risk, high reward option and one could argue that this hasn't paid off all that well, though they do have Hunter and Borbon around, selections heavily criticized by many at the time, both having fringe average ceilings it would appear. Would you rather have Wimmers or Skole right now? Wimmers, no question for me (and at the time) especially if signability was paramount.

I also like the idea of signing players who fall a round or two due to their bonus demands and while Texas didn't have the budget for that before (ie, giving a 4th round pick a 7-figure bonus), they do now, and the reward can be high. One might also consider taking a serious look at Texas' failure to effectively evaluate, draft/sign, and develop position players (who started with the club) over quite a few years now. Or one could take a look at the flawed development of catchers in the system. Was Saltalamacchia an anomaly? Did they really think Teagarden was more than a platoon player with horrible bat speed? Did they really think that MaxRam had the skills to stick at catcher, even if only as a backup? Should they have kept Manny Pina? Is there a systemic problem in the organization? I'm not sure, maybe. And can there really be any defense for acquiring low-character guys, like DGut or MiggyV? Its a complete contradiction of their high-character rhetoric.

On the international free agent front, Texas has to improve their presence in Korea and has to be willing to enter into the 2million dollar bonus range if it wants to improve its chances of hitting on elite international talent. Seattle and Oakland are willing to do it and Texas should venture into that rarefied air as well. Two million also seems to have been a hard limit outside of the top 15 picks of the draft but why shouldn't they be willing to pay that kind of bonus to an elite player who falls into their lap in the third round? Think big right? If you want to gather elite talent each and every year, to play or to trade, you have to pay for it.

Just a speculative note on Feliz. In 2009, we heard that Texas was committed to Feliz as a starter in AAA and then they unexpectedly moved him to the pen after a string of very effective starts, his best stretch of the year (this came, in part, after he switched to a split-finger grip on his changeup, a pitch which astounded at the Futures Game less than a month later). Most people thought this move was premature, and maybe, in retrospect, Texas should be criticized for it. But it is possible that Texas moved Feliz to the pen early due to concerns about his shoulder, which bothered him early in the season. After the season, there was speculation that Texas would send Feliz to winter ball (confirmed later by JD himself) to get more innings and work on his secondary pitches in order to compete for a roto spot in 2010. This never happened. Why?

It is possible that Texas was still concerned enough about his shoulder to simply shut him down during the off-season, which seems smart if that was the case - why take a chance, when, at minimum, he was a lock for the bullpen, but only iffy for the rotation. So 2010 comes and goes after Feliz dominates as a closer and again fails to make an appearance in winter ball to get stretched out and work on his secs amid an avalanche of (likley unfounded) speculation that he would be moved into the rotation in 2011. Does Texas' decision to keep Feliz out of winter ball offer a clue about their intention to move him to the rotation or not? Or has Texas ever believed that Feliz needed to be "stretched out" during winter ball in order to compete for a rotation spot?

Given that Texas seems to have protected him arm in 2009, and never really intended to have him compete for a rotation spot in 2010, I don't think holding him out of winter ball again necessarily offers up a clue to what their intention is in 2011. I think that the best decision for a contending club would be to keep him in the pen for 2011. However, as we have seen with Scott Feldman and CJ Wilson, it does not seem necessary to stretch a player out over the off-season in order to have them make an effective transition from the bullpen to the rotation. As some others have written, pitching every other day in a full time bullpen role seems to allow a pitcher to make that transition without much problem. So if Feliz's exclusion from winter ball does not seem to preclude a move to the rotation next year, as the # of innings pitched does not seem to correlate with such a move with him any longer, the main question that Texas has to answer then is in what role would he have the most value?

Given the composition of the bullpen and the rotation at present, even if an ace is acquired, I don't think there is much question that he is most valuable as a closer. When would the move be a good one assuming that Texas has faith in his command of 3 pitches and ability to reliably execute a game plan over six innings for a full year? As long as Texas is a contender I say the move is a good move if there is another option at closer and that there are 3 above average starters in the rotation plus an "innings eater" to bolster the back of the rotation. Hopefully Texas has those elements in place in 2012 and Feliz can move to the rotation at that time. He'll pitch most of the 2012 season at age 24.




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