Free Agent Redux, Part Three
Let’s continue our report on the 2007-08 free agency period by examining the rest of the American League.
Oakland: The A’s added two inexpensive veterans this offseason, and neither was really expected to add much more than leadership to a young, rebuilding club.
Reliever Keith Foulke, lured out of retirement for $700,000 for one season, continues to be a health risk, already enduring one DL stay, but when he’s been active, he’s been very steady, proving he has plenty left in the tank. His hit rates haven’t been this good since he acted as the closer on the 2004 Champion Red Sox, and although his command has slipped since he last appeared in the majors, Foulke looks like a decent gamble in deeper AL-only leagues, especially where holds are tracked.
Another veteran who looked about done but is experiencing a revival in Oakland is DH Mike Sweeney, lured away from KC for $500,000 over one season. Sweeney’s days as a productive fantasy option are over, but he’s enjoyed a slight rebound in his power game and, like a good Oakland soldier, is getting on base at a nice rate, thereby making a liar out of me. Sweeney is slumping a bit now, and is a constant injury risk, but for half a mil, he’s getting the job done.
Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay didn’t land any big-name free agents, but with all the money it saved in thread costs on its uniforms by dropping the “Devil” part of its nickname, the Rays went out and landed five players while re-signing one of their own.
The biggest move the team made was the signing of closer Troy Percival to a two-year, $8 million, a contract that’s proving to be a bargain so far. Yes, Percival is a constant injury risk, but he’s showing better command than he ever has, and that’s helping to solidify the bullpen on a very improved club.
Adding another aging, injury-prone vet, the Rays penned Cliff Floyd away from the Cubs for one year and $3 million. Well, surprise, surprise. Floyd needed knee surgery in April and missed almost six weeks of action. He’s back now, and performing well in a limited role, but if you think this is the end of his injury woes, you clearly haven’t been following Floyd’s career.
Tampa re-signed back-up catcher Josh Paul to a minor league deal, but he couldn’t beat out Shawn Riggans for a job, so was released. Since then, he signed a minor league deal with the Houston organization.
In a further move to bolster the pen, the Rays signed lefty Trever Miller away from Houston for one year and $2 million. Miller’s doing his job, dominating lefties, and is seeing enough action to justify his signing as a solid move.
Another inexpensive veteran spare part brought in was corner man Eric Hinske, signed away from the defending World Champion Red Sox for one year and $800,000. Although he’s beginning to show his usual, buffet-table loving, powder-puff hitting self, Hinske burst out of the gates like a man possessed, tearing the cover off the ball in April and garnering surprising waiver wire interest. In fact, he had never played better and despite his recent slump, Hinske’s current OPS of 875 is a career best. Nice bargain here.
The Rays brought back alumni Mike DiFelice, who was the team’s backstop from 1998 to 2001. A backup for the Mets the last three seasons, DiFelice was signed to a minor league deal, one that proved useful when Dioner Navarro got hurt early in the season. DiFelice came up and hit quite well in his limited time and then was DFAed. Thanks for the .300 average, dude. See ya!
Texas: The Rangers made some risky moves this offseason, bringing in some injury prone, some underperforming and some baggage-ridden players (in some cases, a combination thereof), but to their credit, they did not commit more than one year to any of their four signees, one of which was re-signed from 2007.
Texas’s most controversial move was to sign Milton Bradley away from the Padres for one year at $5.25 million. Not only did he bring with him his reputation for squirreliness (I’m being kind today), but he’s traditionally underperformed and proven incredibly injury prone. In fact, he had knee surgery this offseason (perhaps you recall his blowout last year and subsequent injury caused by his own manager Bud Black, who had to restrain him from removing an umpire’s head), delaying his ability to play the outfield for the club. The bottom line here, is that while a few of his homers have turned into doubles, Bradley has still done a bang up job for the Rangers. If he remains healthy, he’s got a chance to enjoy a career year. Smart move, Texas. So far.
Another risky move was the signing of formerly Everyday Eddie Guardado from Cincy to a one-year, $2 million deal. It wasn’t a huge amount of money to lay out, but Guardado brings with him serious injury issues. At any rate, while his K rate is rather pathetic so far, you can’t complain about the results. And he’s generating recent fantasy interest with talk that C.J. Wilson may surrender the closer role.
The Rangers rewarded swingman Jamey Wright for his strong 2007 by re-signing him for $1 million for 2008. Used strictly in relief this year, Wright has done a respectable job, and is showing better command than he has in several seasons. Still, his current role doesn’t offer much in the way of fantasy value, but is providing a nice boost for the club for a reasonable price.
The one move Texas made that has not panned out was the signing of Jason Jennings away from Houston for $4 million for one season. While it appeared that Jennings had bottomed out with the ‘Stros in 2007, apparently he could get worse. A lot worse. He was 0-5 and getting battered like a stepchild before Texas mercifully put him on the DL earlier this month. Don’t hurry back, Jason.
Toronto: The Jays are another team that focused on short-term deals to plug holes, signing four new players and re-signing another.
The Jays’ most significant addition was shortstop David Eckstein, lured away from the Cards for one year and $4.5 million. Unfortunately for Toronto, this deal hasn’t exactly paid dividends yet, as Eckstein has regressed both offensively and defensively and he’s already suffered what is becoming his annual injury. He’s currently on the 15-day DL because of a hip flexor, and let’s hope when he returns (perhaps next week) he can do a better job of getting on base. Installing Eckstein at leadoff is one of the main reasons an already weak Toronto attack has gotten even weaker this season.
Toronto re-signed biker bar bouncer wannabee/catcher Sal Fasano to a minor league deal, but once Rod Barajas was signed (see below), it was just a matter of time before Fasano be sent packing. And sure enough, near the end of Spring Training, he was released and appears to be done like dinner. Well, you can always try to catch him at your local Hog bar.
Barajas, as mentioned, was brought in to be Gregg Zaun’s backup, a shocking development considering he had all but agreed to a deal with the Jays last year only to fuck them and back out at the last minute. Apparently, the Jays don’t hold a grudge, but of course, after his crappy year in Philly, Barajas didn’t command anywhere near the bucks he was being offered before 2007, settling for one year and $1.2 million. Still, Barajas is setting himself up for a better payday next year as he’s swinging a more potent bat than he’s ever showed before. In fact, he’s eating into Zaun’s PT to an extent. If this trend continues – Zaun slipping, Barajas gaining – we could see a change in the guard, so I’d suggest watching this situation. Barajas makes for a decent gamble in deep AL-only leagues at this point.
A strong year with the A’s in 2007 prompted the Jays to sign Shannon Stewart for $1.5 million for 2008. Stewart, of course, came up through the Jays’ system and was with the organization until 2003. Unfortunately, coming back to where it all began hasn’t exactly allowed Stewart to discover the fountain of youth. In fact, he’s been dreadfully unproductive.
Finally, Toronto penned Armando Benitez to a minor league deal. He didn’t make the team out of Spring Training thanks to injuries, and then hurt himself again while on minor league rehab. Finally, he was brought up a couple of weeks ago, but he’s been shelled in his limited appearances. Me thinks this one-time dominating closer is ready to have a fork stuck in him.
Up next, we’ll switch to the National League.