With our first busy week of the offseason in the books, the 2013-14 Major League Baseball spending spree is on. We’ve seen Jhonny Peralta and Brian McCann reel in buku bucks by signing long-term deals with franchises that historically view themselves as contenders. Josh Johnson and Dan Haren have managed to nab some pretty pennies from NL West ball clubs, the Phillies made some interesting moves, and of course who could forget the monumental Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler swap. Why don’t we take a quick swing through some of last week’s newsworthy notes:
It’s looking a little clouding in Philadelphia
Much like Charlie Kelly in everyone’s favorite Philadelphia-based television show, Ruben Amaro Jr. envisions himself as a bit of a wild card. After watching his team stumble to 81-81 in 2012 thanks to an utterly disastrous offense, Amaro Jr. decided to spend a fortune on Cole Hamels, a pitcher, while picking up Delmon Young and Michael Young, who can loosely be described as “ballplayers” at this point in their careers. That plan went south on Amaro Jr. about as fast as you might expect and the proud franchise finished below .500 for the first time since 2002. Well, maybe Amaro Jr. feels that 2013 just wasn’t the Phillies’ year, because after the signings of Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz, he seems to have every intention of hitting the replay button.
Look, it’s not that Byrd isn’t a nice player because he is. Same goes for Ruiz. Former pitchers who have played with Chooch have repeatedly praised his pitch selection and his ability to work with a staff. He’s generally seen as a good clubhouse guy and he knows how to work the count with a bat in his hands. But to pay Ruiz and Byrd $42 million guaranteed over the next couple seasons (never mind the ridiculous vesting option on Byrd) is sheer lunacy.
Ruiz subsides on a steady diet of singles, providing very little pop at the plate, and he’s an easy target for fast base runners to pick on. Byrd is one year removed from a .210/.243/.245 slash line and he’s basically the textbook definition of a league average outfielder. Those two so35-and-ups will now join 35-year-old Jimmy Rollins, 35-year-old Chase Utley, and a 34-year-old glorified platoon hitter in Ryan Howard for the foreseeable future. This is a great team if the calendar says 2009. Unfortunately it doesn’t.
If It’s Always Sunny has taught us anything it’s that having a wild card on board usually ends up in fiery destruction. That’s where Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies are headed and he’s the one responsible. After all, somebody had to cut the breaks.
Brian McCann meet the Yankees, Yankees meet a real, live Major League catcher
After spending the better part of last season with Chris Stewart, Austin Romine, and the corpse of Francisco Cervelli behind the dish, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman finally decided that he’d seen enough. That unsightly trio managed to hit an appalling .213/.289/.298 while compiling just 26 extra-base hits. McCann, who played in just 102 games a year ago, accumulated 33 extra-base hits himself (20 of those were homers) and now he gets to take aim at the short porch in Yankee Stadium, which should do wonders for his power numbers.
Brian Cashman was also able to work for a surprisingly team-friendly contract as well. In fact, the contract stacks up incredibly well when compared to contemporary Yadier Molina, who is still owed a guaranteed $73 million over the next 5 seasons, and who is, at this point, considered a steal. McCann, who will be paid $85 million over the next 5 years, has actually played Molina to a draw over the past decade posting an insignificant 1 win above replacement more than the Cardinals’ All-Star since 2005, when he made his Major League debut.
To be fair, McCann’s had a little more of an issue staying on the field, but that may actually work as a benefit going forward. Molina’s got about 1000 innings of extra wear and tear on his knees, which could make the new Yankee the more valuable of the two players going forward. McCann, like Molina, also has an excellent reputation as a pitch framer and that’s a skill that has been proven to age well which should make this deal a big win for Cashman and the Yankees by the time 2018 ends.
The St. Louis Cardinals are currently the envy of the baseball world. They’ve been able to accumulate more talented, hard-throwing starters on one roster than most franchises will have in a decade and they’re able to use their voodoo to turn spare parts into All-Stars (see: Craig, Allen and Carpenter, Matt).
But the one thing that St. Louis hasn’t been able to quite figure out the past few seasons is shortstop. Over the past 3 seasons only the Minnesota Twins have generated less value at the position than the birds on the bat. St. Louis has run through an unappealing gambit of options that includes Pete Kozma, Daniel Descalso, Rafael Furcal, and Ryan Theriot, among others. That kind of incompetence is how you end up signing Jhonny Peralta to a deal that’s worth an estimated $50+ million over 4 years.
The contract, without a shadow of a doubt, should scare anyone looking at it. Peralta hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency over the past few seasons and his recent PED related suspension should raise some eyebrows as well. But as far as improving the product on the field in 2013, it’s pretty easy to say that goal was accomplished. Peralta’s career OPS is 100 points higher than anything the Cardinals have put on the field in the last 3 seasons and according to Fangraphs, he’s doubled as one of the 2-3 best defenders at his position in the league.
Peralta’s presence, coupled with Peter Bourjos joining the outfield and David Freese leaving 3rd, should give St. Louis a better set of defenders next year as well. New 3rd baseman Matt Carpenter will now be able to move from 2nd base back to his natural position at the hot corner where he should stand out as a solid improvement even if he’s just average. According to Fangraphs out of the 75 players who spent time at 3rd in 2013, Freese ranked 73rd in defensive value and his stone glove was the frequent cause of long innings. The Cardinals should be much better off with their new left side of the infield and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the National League.
Padres Pick-up Pitching
This past Wednesday the San Diego Padres and Josh Johnson finalized a one year deal that’s good for $8 million dollars. This is a move that has the potential to be one of the absolute steals of the offseason next year for a variety of reasons.
1. Price – San Diego managed to add a potential top of the rotation starter at an extremely reasonable price. If Johnson throws up a vintage 2010-type season the Padres will feel like they just robbed Fort Knox.
2. Strikeouts – The Padres averaged 7.24 K’s per 9 a year ago, which tied Baltimore for 25th best in baseball. Even at his worst a year ago, Johnson is still better than most. He managed a little over a strikeout per inning pitched thanks to a couple of nasty breaking balls. If he can improve the location on his fastball, a bounce back season is well within reach.
3. Petco Park – A year ago Johnson made a vast majority of his starts in some of the most hitter-friendly parks in the Majors. His home park, the Rogers Centre, ranked among the top 5 best fields for run scoring and many of his starts on the road were in places like Boston and Baltimore. Three of the five ballparks in the NL West are extremely kind toward pitchers and that includes Petco, the toughest place in baseball to score runs. That alone should lead to some improvement.
San Diego is starting to check off all of the boxes of a dark horse contender. Between Andrew Cashner and Josh Johnson they have a pair of hard-throwing hurlers who could easily combine for 30-40 total wins. The rest of the lineup has plenty of young players who still have plenty of room to improve and if their front office can go out and pick up another bat or two, the Padres could sneak their way to 90 wins next year. After all, the NL West is always a wild place.