09 September 2005

Washed up? Not So Fast...

Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News wrote a piece this week about players who apparently are "washed up". I'm not as ready to throw some of these players to the curb as Rosenthal is, but I won't likely be drafting any of them onto my Fantasy Team next season either.

Sammy Sosa, Orioles
Age: 36
Salary: $17.875 million
Telling fact: Sosa's .376 slugging percentage is the eighth-lowest among AL qualifiers for the batting title.

Rosenthal mentions that Sosa's problems this year have largely been due to injuries, namely a staph infection and a lesion on his big toe. Of course last year it was The Sneeze, and before that it was...well, who can remember? Sosa hasn't played more than 137 games in a season since 2002, and this year's .671 OPS marks the fourth straight season in which he's declined in that stat (and most others, I might add). With that said, neither of these injuries is normally considered career-threatening, and I don't think there's anywhere to go but up from a .671 OPS. Well, I guess there's Christian Guzman, but I think Sosa will retire before allowing himself to sink to that level. Sammy needs 12 homers to get to 600 for his career, and I wouldn't be too surprised if he's got that many by June. Look for Sosa to make some lucky GM look like a genious for signing him to some incentive-laden deal this off season, as he'll cash in on most of them. I just hope it's not Brian Cashman.

Mike Piazza, Mets
Age: 36
Salary: $16.071 million
Telling fact: Piazza's career-low .770 on-base/slugging percentage represents a fifth straight season of decline.

Rosenthal suggests that Piazza's career as a catcher is over, that he should go to some AL team and DH. But I say buyer beware. Here are Piazza's key stats as a catcher and otherwise since the start of 2002:

Non-C 334 .231 .327 .404 .731
As c 1184 .284 .366 .503 .869

For his career, Piazza has hit .313/.374/.556 for a .931 OPS as a DH, but that's in only 160 at-bats, more than half of which came before 2002, when Piazza was perennially hitting .300 or better with 30 homers and piles of RBIs. Recent history suggests that Piazza's best position is still catcher, if only because his offense does not justify being a DH anymore. Besides, Piazza's .771 OPS may be the lowest it's ever been, but he still ranks in the top third in that category among major league catchers with at least 350 at-bats. Rosenthal suggests a change of scenery, and I agree. Colorado, with a young catcher in J.D. Closser but no real backup plan, could use a guy like Piazza next year, if he'll take a salary more in the Jason LaRue/Rod Barajas range ($2-3 million) instead of what he's been making.

Bernie Williams, Yankees
Age: 37 on Sept. 13
Salary: $12.357 million
Telling fact: At the start of the week, Williams had started 76 games in center field, a position he no longer can play effectively.

Well, actually, the statistics don't seem to bear that out. Bernie's about three runs below average for the season, according to Baseball Prospectus. This is just slightly less than Corey Patterson's zero runs, the same as Johnny Damon and Juan Pierre, both at -3, and better than Mike Cameron (-6), all of whom were mentioned by Rosenthal as supposed 'upgrades' on Bernie for next year. Williams' Range Factor is 2.39, better than Cameron, Pierre and Patterson, though notably worse than Damon's 2.98. That 2.39 is almost exactly the same as Andruw Jones' 2.41, and both players have made only 2 errors this season, albeit in about 500 fewer innings for Bernie. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Bernie deserves a Gold Glove, but he may not be as completely washed up as people think. The real problem is his bat, as his .721 OPS is currently good enough for 124th out of 149 players who qualified for the batting title.

It's hard to know with a guy like Bernie Williams whether he needs more or less playing time to get better. Tony Clark and David Delucci, after flopping as part-time players last year, have both flourished this season getting the majority of their team's at-bats at their respective positions. With other players, especially aging ones like Williams, sometimes they need to be platooned to make sure they feel spry when they do play. In either case, it's a sad decline to a great Yankee career.

Tim Salmon, Angels
Age: 37
Salary: $10.15 million
Telling fact: Salmon is likely to miss the entire season after undergoing surgeries on his left shoulder and left knee.

Tim Salmon is still alive??!!? Get outta here!!

Seriously, Salmon hasn't played since the middle of last August, and in limited playing time in 2004, he hit only .256 with two homers. The Angels are a pretty loyal organization, to their players at least, if not their franchise location, so Salmon will probably get a minor league deal next year and a chance to make the major league roster. With talent like Vlad Guerrero and Garrett Anderson in the outfield, not to mention Steve Finley's multi-million dollar salary taking up outfield at-bats, plus young studs like Casey Kotchmann and Dallas McPherson coming up, a move like that can only hurt the team, unless Salmon can return to form, an extraordinarily unlikely possibility. At least he hasn't had to tell people he plays for "the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim", which is still a stupid name.

Bret Boone, unemployed
Age: 36
Salary: $9 million
Telling fact: Boone batted .170 during his three-week stint with the Twins while trying to salvage his career.

Boone's not that old, so his potential to become a reasonably productive player once again will have almost entirely to do with whether or not Jose Canseco's allegations of Boone's steroid use are true. If they are, then Boone's rapid decline might be due to sudden changes in body chemistry, and he may be able to retrain himself to perform with out the drugs, much as Jason Giambi seems to have done. If not, however, then Boone's just getting old a little sooner than we expected. Boone may be the best bet on this list to return to respectability next year, though it should be noted that 'respectability' will probably look something like .260 with 18 homers.

Bobby Higginson, Tigers
Age: 35
Salary: $8.85 million
Telling fact: Higginson was 2-for-26 before undergoing right-elbow surgery in May.

Bobby Higginson is still alive??!? Just kidding. Bobby hit .077 in ten games this season before going back on the DL. Hit hit approximately .240 with no power in 2003-04, and hit .282 with no power the year before that. He hasn't had anything you could objectively call a "good" season for a starting right fielder in this millenium, not since his 2000 campaign in which he hit .300 with 44 doubles and 30 homers. I'll be very surprised if he's ever able to produce numbers half that good in any season in the future. Maybe any two seasons.

Nomar Garciaparra, Cubs
Age: 32
Salary: $8.25 million
Telling fact: At most, Garciaparra will appear in only 63 games.

OK, so Bret Boone isn't the most likely player on this list to rebound next year. Nomar is four years younger than most of these other players, and his inneffectiveness clearly has everything to do with his injuries the last two seasons. He played only about half a season's worth of games in 2004, but he still hit over .300 withh a slugging percentage near .500, and is hitting .327 with a .946 OPS in the 28 games since he returned from the DL this season. Rosenthal quotes a GM who suggested that Nomar will make "between $2 million and $8 million" next year, which is a lot like saying that the Cubs will win somewhere between "50 and 100 games" in 2006. Look for some team to get a bargain at the low end of that range, as few GMs will want to venture more than $4 million on a guy who hasn't been healthy for a full season since 2003.

Frank Thomas, White Sox
Age: 37
Salary: $8 million
Telling fact: Thomas appeared in only 34 games.

Thomas is probably the saddest case on this list. A two-time MVP who once looked like a lock for the Hall of Fame, his injuries seem to have undermined his candidacy. I don't happen to agree with that school of thought, but many people, people who have a lot more influence on that decision than me, do. The Big Hurt played like a man on a mission during the two months he was off the DL, "swinging hard in case he hit it" as they say, and smacking a dozen bombs in 105 at-bats while hitting only .219. That approach will not do as much damage to his career batting average as it will on his quest for 500 homers and a sure place in Cooperstown.

Richard Hidalgo, Rangers
Age: 30
Salary: $5 million
Telling fact: Hidalgo has batted .221 while playing his home games at Ameriquest Field, one of the best hitter's parks in baseball.

Frankly, any idiot who signed Richard Hidalgo to any kind of deal over the major league minimum deserves whatever he gets. Hidalgo had hit .256 with only 4 homers in almost 200 at-bats with Houston last year before he was traded to the Mets, where he hit .228, albeit with more power. Since he started playing regularly in 1999, Hidalgo had hit below .240 more often than he's hit over .275, and he doesn't walk enough or steal bases to compensate for hitting so erratically. He is only 30, but it seems he's a better bet for another .220ish average than he his for another productive year. At least he'[s not in the midst of a multi-year deal that's keeping some team from signing a player they need.

Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles
Age: 40
Salary: $3 million
Telling fact: Palmeiro is 2-for-26 since his suspension for testing positive for steroids.

Calling Palmeiro 'washed up' might be a little premature with only 26 at-bats as evidence. He was hitting .280 with 18 homers through the end of July, when he was suspended. He's not young, but will likely come back and help some team in a limited DH/1B role next year. Teams will take a chance on him if only for the opportunity to be the beneficiary of one of the few 600th Career Homers in history.

Juan Gonzalez, Indians
Age: 35
Salary: $600,000
Telling fact: Gonzalez had only one at-bat this season due to a right hamstring injury.

Well, I got to see Juan-Gone play...in Rochester, just before he got called up to the majors and promptly got himself placed on the DL again. Another former two-time MVP, Gonzalez has a hard road back to any kind of major league career. He hasn't had a remotely healthy season since 2001, but still has enough upside if he can stay healthy that he's probably worth another minor league deal plus incentives like he got from the Indians this year. While he may be 'washed up' at least the Indians were smart enough not to break the bank finding out whether he was or not.

Though Rosenthal didn't mention them, I would add a few more names to the potentially wased up list, including...

...Vinny Casilla, who's hitting only .250 with 11 homers, had to go on a "tear" to et to that, with four homers in August, after zero in July. Unfortunately for him, Colorado can't use him, because that seems to be the only place where Vinny even looks like a major league hitter.

...Tino Martinez, who somehow managed to hit 10 home runs in May, bu hasn't his more than 3 in any other month this year. That's not going to get it done for a major league firstbaseman. Well, maybe for the Devil Rays.

...Steve Finley, hitting only .215 with nine home runs this year. He's making eight million bucks for each of the next two years, Angels fans.

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