I'm currently working on a Phillies (Philadelphia, not Reading. And not horses.) preview, but it's gonna take a little while longer. In the mean time, it turns out, teams keep signing players without regard to my needs, so I hafta comment on some of these:
1) The biggest name of the remaining free agents Ivan "to suck your bank account" Rodriguez signed with (get this) the Florida Marlins, for $10 million dollars. I'm pretty sure that nobody saw this coming, as all indications I'd read right up til yesterday had I-Rod going to Baltimore for something like 3 years at $18 mil. Reminds me a little of the opening scene in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, where the business men opposite Mr. Erstwhile James Bond are so proud of themselves for "finally getting [him] to sell something" right up until he mentions to them that they'll have to explain to their bosses how they paid $30 million more than anyone else was offering. They're deferring all but $3 mil of the salary, without interest, but it's still a lot of money for a 31-year-old catcher who hasn't been healthy for a whole season since 1999. What I don't understand is why they let Kevin Millar go, who's been a healthy productive hitter for the last few years, reluctant to splurge by spending $3million or so in arbitration, but now they're gambling three times as much on Pudge. The ESPN story says that,
"He replaces sluggers Cliff Floyd and Preston Wilson in the middle of the lineup and will help develop Florida's young and talented starting rotation that includes right-handers A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny and Josh Beckett."
And of course, he will help to develop the young pitchers, but then so would Tom Lampkin, so I don't see that as a particularly valuable skill set. Rodriguez can hit, but hey, Mickey Mantle would have a tough time replacing two players in a lineup, especially when one of them is as good as Floyd. Wilson had his difficulties last year, but can still be a productive hitting OF when healthy. And speaking of health, getting more than 110 games out of Pudge in recent years has proven to be a challenge already. Plus, he's not getting any younger, and there's not really any significant opportunity for him to DH in the NL, either, so I'll be surprised if that pattern of missed games changes this year. But even if he is healthy, he doesn't make up for Juans-the-Terrible (Pierre and Encarnacion), or for Todd Hollandsworth, or Alex Gonzales, or a weak bench.
Of course, Marlins owner-du-jour Jeffrey Loria is saying all the right things:
"We were dealing with a great and special opportunity to sign a special player. ... We feel like, for our team, this is a special year, and a special season, and he warrants it."
A special player? Certainly, and in more than a Stuart-Smalley-sense of the word. But a special year? Maybe, if by "special" you mean that this may be the first team in decades to field three regulars with an OPS under .600. (Todd Hollandsworth .618 OPS, Juan Pierre .594 OPS away from Coors in 2002; Alex Gonzales .623 OPS combined 2000-02. Yuk.)
Jayson Stark got it right, for once, that this is a great deal for Rodriguez. I just don't see what sense it makes for the Marlins. At least it's only a year.
Ivan Rodriguez is shown dragging the sack of money the Marlins just gave him back to El Tiemplo de I-Rod in South Miami.
No Fair Ortiz-ing
Speaking (writing) of oft-injured sluggers getting one year deals, David Ortiz. This was expected, since Millar spurned the RedSox for Japan, but this quote from Boston's fledgling GM, Theo Epstein,
''David has shown the ability in the past to also hit left-handed pitching, not every year but he's shown he can do it.
The upside is him as an everyday player.''
This quote is interesting for two reasons:
1) Epstein is part of the new wave (have you heard how young he is?) of GM's in MLB, who have a little better understanding of statistics and how to use them than, say, Allard Baird. So he realizes and even admits an apparent shortcoming of his newest player, but chalks it up (appropriately, I think) to a one-year-blip.
And the other reason...(drumroll)
B) ''The upside is him as an everyday player.'' This is really funny, when you think about it. Let's look at some other ways this could have been phrased:
* "The best we can hope for is that he doesn't get himself benched."
* "We're looking forward to not having to release him."
* "He's aspiring to be average."
* "We don't have any delusions here. Mediocrity is his goal."
* "Gosh, I sure hope we don't hafta platoon him."
* "We're looking for 'flashes of adequacy' punctuated by bouts of not-sucking."
* "Hey, he can't possibly hit as badly as Tony Clark did, right?"
I'm open to suggestions here, folks.
He's Lieber, Not a Fighter...
Who can afford to give $3.5 million to a guy who probably won't even pitch for them in 2003? Why, the Yankees, of course. Jon Lieber has signed with the Yankees, who had to go out and get another starting pitcher, after paring the corps down to a paltry seven with the trade of Orlando Hernandez to the ChiSox last week, right?
Seriously though, this is an investment in the future. Lieber had Tommy-John surgery in the summer, and likely won't pitch again until late in 2003. If history is any indication, (and if it isn't, then why the heck do we spend so much effort keeping track of it?) Lieber will need until at least 2004 to get back to form. But that's what the Yanks are counting on. And if he comes back close to the form he's displayed recently, they'll have themselves a guy who can pitch 180+ innings of better than league average ball, and never walks anybody. Almost. Lieber's 7.25 K/BB ratio in 2002 would have been second only to Curt Schilling, if he'd pitched 20 more innings to qualify for the ERA title. And being a finesse pitcher, maybe he won't have to wait as long as a Kerry Wood-type to get his fastball back. And that $3.5 million investment will turn out to be a bargain. So the Yankees' 2004 rotation could look like this:
1) Mike Mussina
2) Andy Pettitte
3) Jeff Weaver
4) Jose Contreras
5) Jon Lieber
...or some up-and-coming rookie like Julio DePaula.
You could do worse.
This presumes, of course that Lieber rehabs fully, Contreras doesn't suck and Pettitte re-signs, but it would seem that these are all reasonable possibilities. After 2003, Rocket will likely retire, Boomer may sign elsewhere if he doesn't retire, and Sterling Hitchcock will probably go The-Way-of-the-Whitson, an underachieving, overpaid pitcher that Yankee fans will not soon forget.