Free Agent Redux, Part Two
And we’re back with the second part of our look at how MLB teams did in their free agent signings this offseason. Part One can be found here.
Kansas City: The Royals were somewhat active in the second tier free agent market, penning a pair of arms and an outfielder.
Jose Guillen was lured away from the Mariners for $36 million over three years and promptly landed in hot water with a drug-related suspension that was ultimately rescinded. That was followed by a crappy start in KC, but he’s since turned it around and has flashed some very fine power this month. Guillen is striking out too much for my liking, and overall, I’d label him a disappointment so far, but given his recent turnaround, I’d be willing to suspend judgment for another couple of months.
KC also signed lefty specialist Ron Mahay away from the Braves for two years and $8 million. We had predicted that he could get a multi-year deal, and this was a smart move as Mahay has been remarkable consistent in this role for the past couple of years. I’m always surprised he doesn’t get any love in deeper AL-only leagues. Mahay’s arrival helped improve a bullpen that was already pretty decent.
The Royals also added some depth to their rotation by signing Brett Tomko from the Padres for $3 million over one season. This wasn’t an awful move if they planned to use him strictly as a long man/spot starter, but as we’ve discussed, he’s not particularly good as a starter, but is even worse as a reliever. Unfortunately, he’s been used almost exclusively as a starter and being way too hittable and unable to strike out enough is a recipe for disaster for any starter. Hopefully, KC will rectify this shortly and limit Tomko’s ability to hurt the team.
Los Angeles: The Angels only made one free agent move, but it was a biggie, as they landed one of the most sought after players on the market in Torii Hunter (five years, $90 million). Coming off one of his best seasons ever, Hunter started 2008 like a house on fire, but has cooled since. He’s been durable the past couple of years, so that’s great news, but Hunter’s power has dipped with the move west. Since spanking a pair of dingers on April 7, he has managed just one long ball. The answer to our pre-season question is a resounding “no” so far.
Minnesota: The Twins added a couple bodies, but neither one would fall into what I’d call the ‘sexy’ signing category.
For some reason, Minnesota gave a multi-year deal to third baseman Mike Lamb, getting him away from the Astros with $6.6 million over two years. Worse yet, the Twins believed Lamb was a full-time answer for them at the hot corner. Were they seeing something we all missed over the years? This has been an axe I’ve been grinding for a while; Lamb is fine in a part-time role, but his struggles against lefties were pretty well documented (notwithstanding last season’s excellent performance against southpaws, albeit in a very small sample size). The results have been predictable as Lamb has lived up to his name at the plate and his power, especially, has gone into the tank.
The Twins’ other addition was Livan Hernandez, summoned out of the desert for a year at $5 million. His career has been in free fall for a while, and he looked about a hop, skip and three-run homer away from being done as a starter, so I thought this wasn’t exactly the best use of resources for a rebuilding team. Well, colour me wrong – so far. We all know he’s an innings eater, which isn’t a bad thing to have on a young team, but somehow he’s won six games already. That’s gotten him some love on the waiver wire, but be afraid, be very afraid. The massively improved control is very impressive indeed, but with a strikeout rate that’s completely fallen off the cliff and a hit rate that just keeps rising, it’s just a matter of time before Hernandez blows up. And you definitely don’t want to be around when that happens – he’s a pretty big dude, and it’s going to be messy.
New York: As always, the Yankees were among the most active teams on the free agent market, re-signing five players and bringing in two new ones.
Choosing to bring back catcher Jorge Posada, coming off a career year at the age of 36, was definitely a risky move, especially since they gave him a four-year deal worth $52.4 million. Expecting him to come close to duplicating his 2007 success seems a major stretch, and it certainly won’t happen this year thanks to a shoulder injury that knocked him out at the end of April. Posada is getting closer to returning, but will probably need a rehab stint before suiting up for the Yanks again. Posada hasn’t played enough this year to fully judge the merits of this deal, but the early returns – especially in his walk rates – weren’t promising.
The Pinstripers also elected to bring back Posada’s backup, Jose Molina, after he performed so capably last season. But two years, even at a modest sum (pocket change for the Yanks, at any rate) of $4 million, seems like a stretch, with back-up catchers generally being a dime a dozen. Thanks to Posada’s injury, Molina has already surpassed his at bat total from 2007, but with his .200 BA, he hasn’t been able to hold a candle to Posada offensively.
Lefty Andy Pettitte was brought back for another year at $16 million, and although he began the season on the DL, he’s been mostly effective (especially in comparison the team’s younger starters). His strikeout rate has bounced back somewhat, and he’s getting more ground balls than he has in recent years – a great combination that should ultimately force his ERA down from its slightly bloated current figure. Pettitte hasn’t been dominant, but he hasn’t been hammered either, so he probably deserves a better record and ERA.
In the club’s biggest move and hardest decision, they opted to re-up Alex Rodriguez for ten years at mere $275 million. As we know, A-Rod was coming off a season for the ages, so expecting more of the same would be foolhardy, but even a “down” year for him still puts him among the best in the biz. What was most surprising this year, however, was a quad injury to the normally quite durable star, one that knocked him out a couple of weeks. Okay, so he’s not going to drive in 156 runs this year, but he’s still A-Rod. Whether he can continue to chalk up OPSs of around 1000 for the next ten years, however, is another story altogether.
New York also re-signed long-time closer Mariano Rivera for three years and $45 million. Seemingly annual rumours of his demise have once again been proven exaggerated. After a down year (for him), the Yanks showed their faith, and it’s paid off so far as Mo has been almost untouchable this season. In fact, his BAA of .164 is a career best. I guess he’s not done yet, is he?
Among the newcomers, LaTroy Hawkins parlayed a big comeback season in Colorado into a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Yanks. Unfortunately, the aging reliever has been awful so far this season, struggling with command issues. He’s pitched much better so far in May after a horrific April, so we’ll cut him some slack, but so far, the investment in Hawkins hasn’t worked out.
Finally, Chris Woodward, who spent 2007 with the Braves, was signed to a minor league deal, but was released during Spring Training, later catching on with the Phils in a minor league deal.
Next up, we’ll wrap up the American League.