November 21, 2002

Mr. General Manager

Believe it or not, once in a while I get an email from one of my readers telling me what a moron I am.

Either I said something about one of their favorite players or a decision their favorite team made or whatever.

I actually like getting emails like that because I do give a lot of opinions on this website and it isn't fun if everyone agrees with everything you say.

Somewhere within almost all of the negative emails is something along the lines of the following:

"What makes you think you know so much? You're not a GM. You think you know everything?"

To which I say, "What are you, new here?!"

Of course I know everything!

Just joking (mostly).

I do think that I know a lot about baseball and I think I often have some good thoughts and opinions on things baseball related.

As for me not being a GM? Well, yes, that is certainly true.

But, you wanna know a little secret?

I want to be one extremely bad.

My dream is that someday, someone in a Major League Baseball front office reads this website and decides, "Hey, this kid could help our team."

I don't care if it is the Devil Rays or the Yankees, I will work extremely hard and I will work extraordinarily cheap!

But, that hasn't happened yet, so I am still stuck playing the role of General Manager for you guys - which can be a lot of fun too!

Any day now the free agent market is going to start heating up and big names are going to start signing big contracts.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to write a column about all those big free agents out there before they start signing.

Here are my thoughts and opinions about assorted free agents...

Jim Thome |1B/DH| Age: 32

Jim Thome is one of my 3 favorite players (along with Barry Bonds and Bobby Kielty).

That isn't really all that relevant to anything, but I just wanted to let everyone know.

As for his his playing ability?

It is pretty damn good.

Thome had the best season of his career in 2002, hitting .304/.445/.677 with 52 homers in 147 games.

He is not a very good defensive first baseman, but I would be willing to bet that none of the teams interested in signing him care too much about his defense.

They want Jim Thome because he is one of the best hitters of his generation and a pretty good Hall-of-Fame candidate.

Thome has now played 8 full-seasons in the Majors.

He has had an on-base % over .410 in each of those seasons, except for 2000 when his OBP was .398.

He has had a slugging % over .530 in all 8 of his full-seasons.

Thome is pretty good bet to hit about .280-.300 with 40-50 homers and 100+ walks and that is pretty valuable.

Aside from his sub par defense at first base, Jim Thome's other weakness is left handed pitching.

For his career (1,377 games and 4,640 at bats) here are Thome's "splits":

versus righties = .302/.437/.624

versus lefties = .248/.351/.422

That is about as big a split as you will ever see from someone as good as Jim Thome.

In 2002, Thome did show a lot of improvement against left handers, hitting .245/.358/.497.

Besides his interesting splits against lefties and righties, Thome has always had some intriguing home/road numbers...


at home = .319/.450/.687

on road = .256/.388/.529

Now, Jacobs Field is a good park for hitters, but it isn't that good.

I am not sure exactly what it is, but Jim Thome is a much better hitter at home, almost freakishly so.

This is the part where I am supposed to tell you where I think he will end up signing.

But remember, I am not a GM yet, so I really have no clue and I won't insult everyone by acting like I do.

The Phillies seem to be offering Thome a whole lot more money than the Indians are, so they almost have to be the favorites.

It is tough to turn down an extra $30 million or so and I am pretty certain I couldn't do it, but for a guy who already has his millions, taking less money to stay in Cleveland might not be such a bad idea.

He is a fan favorite there and has a chance to play his entire career with one team.

He has had great success there over the years and has also shown a tendency to be a much better hitter at Jacobs Field than he is anywhere else.

The Indians are rebuilding now, but they have a ton of good prospects and young players and they should be ready to seriously compete again in a year or two, which would coincide nicely with the last half of the 4 year deal Cleveland has offered Thome.

I say if it aint broke, don't fix it - because if he puts up those road numbers (.256/.388/.529) in Philadelphia, no one is gonna be real happy with his decision, except for his agent.

Ivan Rodriguez |C| Age: 31

If Ivan Rodriguez retires today, he is a Hall-of-Famer.

Pudge came up with the Rangers as a 19 year old defensive whiz in 1991.

He won his first of 10 straight Gold Gloves in 1992 and then, in 1994, his hitting started to catch up to his defense.

Rodriguez has never been a big fan of the walk, but he does everything else well at the plate.

His .314 average this season was his 8th year in a row with an average in the .300s.

Along with the great batting averages, Rodriguez also hits for very good home run and doubles power - posting slugging percentages over .500 in each of the last 5 seasons.

While his hitting has been greatly improved from his early days with the Rangers, his durability, which was once extraordinary, has let him down.

After logging at bat totals of 639, 597, 579 and 600 and games played totals of 153, 150, 145 and 144 from 1996-1999, Rodriguez has played in only 91, 111 and 108 games over the last 3 seasons and has not managed over 450 at bats in any of them.

Catchers on the wrong side of 30 usually don't get more durable with age, especially when they have as many innings behind the plate as Rodriguez does.

I don't think Pudge can be counted on to catch 140-150 games a year anymore (and he probably never should've been).

His hitting is showing no signs of slowing down and for team that is willing to play him like a "normal catcher" (100-110 starts a season) he would be extremely valuable.

That said, catchers don't age real well and Pudge's once amazing throwing arm seems to be a little less powerful than it used to be.

He threw out 36.6% of baserunners this year, which is a very good number for a catcher (4th in the AL).

But, 36.6% was the lowest of his entire career and only the 2nd time (first since 1994) that his CS% has been lower than 44%.

For a guy that has had many years in the 54%-56% range, 36.6% is a pretty big dropoff.

If a team signs Rodriguez for more than 2-3 seasons, they are making a gigantic mistake.

His health will be the biggest issue and pretty soon his defense is going to be more of a liability than it is an asset.

I think he will be able to hit forever, but he becomes a whole lot less valuable as a DH.

Roger Clemens |SP| Age: 40

First of all, Roger Clemens is 40 years old and has had a few injury problems recently.

The injuries have not had anything to do with his arm, which is the good news.

The bad news is that they have been mostly of the "nagging" variety and those are the types of injuries that 40 year old ballplayers get.

Counting on Clemens to be the workhorse that he was throughout the 90s is a mistake.

He will most likely miss a week or two every season, at the least, with some sort of groin injury or something.

That said, Roger Clemens can still pitch.

He posted his best strike out rate since 1998 this season, which is the #1 key for him remaining successful.

Clemens' ERA was 4.35, which is not great, especially for Roger Clemens.

However, his DIPS ERA (click here to learn more) was 3.78, which suggests that Clemens got hurt by the sub par Yankee defense that was playing behind him.

I have talked about this in previous columns, but I will say it again...

The Yankees defense, particularly up the middle (Jeter, Soriano and Williams) is not very good and I think Clemens and the other pitchers were hurt a lot by that this season.

Put a better defense behind Clemens and I am confident he could post sub-4.00 ERAs for 2-3 more seasons.

The K rate is still top notch, the walks are actually getting a little better with age and he still does a pretty good job keeping the ball in the ballpark.

At 40 Clemens is most likely looking at a 1 year deal, 2 at the most, with a lot of incentives.

If I had to guess, I would say he re-signs with New York, although I wouldn't be shocked to see him pitching for Texas or Houston and winning his 300th game in his home state.

I think he would be a perfect fit for the Rangers who need starting pitching and have the offense to get Clemens a lot of wins.

Greg Maddux |SP| Age: 36 and Tom Glavine |SP| Age: 36

I grouped these two guys together because, well, that is what they have been since 1993 - together.

Maddux came over to the Braves from the Cubs as a free agent before the 1993 season.

Over the last 10 seasons, he and Glavine have been the 1-2 combo that has been most responsible for the Braves' amazing success.

Like Clemens, both Maddux and Glavine are Hall-of-Famers, with Maddux being one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball.

Also like Clemens, they are both pretty old.

Let's take a look at their last several seasons and see if either of them are slowing down in any of the 3 most important areas for pitchers - strike outs, walks and home runs allowed:


Strike outs per 9 innings:

2002 = 5.1

2001 = 4.8

2000 = 5.7

Glavine has never been much of a strike out pitcher, which makes his great success pretty amazing.

I see no signs of him slowing down in the strike out department.

Walks per 9 innings:

2002 = 3.1

2001 = 4.0

2000 = 2.4

Glavine's walk rate has been jumping around for a while now.

He cut almost a walk per game off his totals from a year ago, which is always good.

Glavine has always walked a fair amount of hitters and his recent rates look pretty much in line with his career.

Home runs per 9 innings:

2002 = 0.84

2001 = 0.99

2000 = 0.90

This is the one area that I see Glavine slipping just a little bit.

Earlier in his career he barely gave up any homers - 6 in 225 IP in 1992, 9 in 199 IP in 1995, 13 in 229 IP in 1998 - but in the last few seasons, he has given up a fair amount.

Nothing really drastic, but a significant increase for sure.

Okay, so Glavine's strike outs are basically the same, his walks fluctuate quite a bit, but are okay and he is giving up a few more homers than he used to.

Another important thing, his durability, has always been outstanding and continues to be so - he has pitched at least 219 innings in each of the last 7 seasons.


Strike outs per 9 innings:

2002 = 5.3

2001 = 6.7

2000 = 6.9

Maddux has the reputation of being a "finesse" pitcher, a guy that uses his brains and veteran "guile" to win ballgames.

I think Maddux is a really smart pitcher, but his image as a soft tosser is one that is misguided.

For most of his career, Maddux was among the league leaders in strike outs.

Now, that is partly due to the fact that he was also usually among the league leaders in innings pitched, but Maddux also had some pretty good K rates.

He has never been in the same class as Roger Clemens as a strike out pitcher, but he is also not in the same one as Tom Glavine.

Maddux's K rate usually resides around 6.7-7.0, which is why his 5.3 Ks/9 this season is a little troubling.

Maddux battled through some nagging injuries for much of the season and perhaps that had a large effect on his strike outs.

Whatever the reason for the drop in K rate, for Maddux to remain the same great pitcher he has been, he is going to need to get it back up in the 6.0s.

Walks per 9 innings:

2002 = 2.0

2001 = 1.0

2000 = 1.5

Greg Maddux hasn't walked more than 45 batters in a season since 1993, which is pretty fantastic when you consider how many innings he usually throws.

His 2.0 walks per 9 this season was his worst rate since 1992, but it is still very good.

As with the strike outs, I think the injuries may have played a role in his walking a few more batters this season.

Home runs per 9 innings:

2002 = 0.63

2001 = 0.77

2000 = 0.69

Maddux has never given up more than 20 homers in a season and his home run rate remained very good this season.

So, Maddux's strike outs went down quite a bit this season, which is troubling.

His walks went up a little bit, but remain very good and his home run rate continues to be excellent.

His durability is in some question because of the hip injury he had to deal with this year.

As with Clemens, the good news is that it was not an arm injury, but the bad news is that it was a hip injury (which, coincidently is like the stereotypical injury for old age, right?).

Glavine's rates all look pretty stable and his durability remains very good.

The only area of concern, other than his age, is the fact that he has one of the highest fly ball tendencies in baseball, which is a good thing when you have Andruw Jones behind you in center field, but might not be such a good thing if he signs with a team that doesn't have one of the best defensive center fielders of all-time on its roster.

Maddux's strike out rate dropped quite a bit in 2002, but his other rates remained very good and consistent.

His durability is not as good as it once was and he is more of an injury concern than Glavine is at this point.

I hope they both re-sign with the Braves and finish their careers there, but that seems incredibly unlikely.

I am not sure which one I would rather have for the next couple of seasons because I think they will both be good pitchers for a while.

For a team with a spacious park and/or a good outfield defense, Glavine would be my choice.

On another team, particularly one with a good infield defense, Maddux would probably be my choice.

Jeff Kent |2B| Age: 34, Edgardo Alfonzo |3B/2B| Age: 29, Ray Durham |2B| Age: 31

Welcome to our little game of "Musical Second Basemen."

The way I see, there are 4 main factors involved in decided who the best option for a team is among these 3 second basemen.

1) Cost

2) Age/Health

3) Offense

4) Defense

I would guess that their respective prices will go like this:

1) Jeff Kent

2) Edgardo Alfonzo

3) Ray Durham

As long as we are ranking them like that, let's go ahead and do the other 3 factors...


1) Ray Durham

2) Edgardo Alfonzo

3) Jeff Kent

Alfonzo is actually the youngest of the 3, but he has had some fairly serious problems with his back, which is never good.

Durham is younger than Kent and has played in 150+ games in each of the last 7 seasons.

Jeff Kent is the oldest of the 3, but, aside from motorcycle accidents, he has been very durable, playing in 152, 159 and 159 games over the last 3 years.

I think Durham is head and shoulders above the other 2 as far as age/health are concerned and even though Kent is much older than Alfonzo, Edgardo's injury concerns make them a lot closer in this category.


1) Jeff Kent

2) Edgardo Alfonzo

3) Ray Durham

Kent gets the nod here and it isn't even close.

His average EqA over the last 3 seasons is .320 and his lowest total in that span is .304.

Alfonzo's EqA in for the last 3 seasons is .297 and it includes a .260 EqA in 2001.

Durham's 3-year average EqA is .288 and that is basically the general level of performance he has shown his entire career.


1) Ray Durham

2) Edgardo Alfonzo

3) Jeff Kent

Most people would probably have Alfonzo at #1 and Durham at #2, but I think that is going more on "reputation" and past performance than it is on current abilities.

Alfonzo has a reputation as a great defensive 2B, but a) he didn't play 2B at all this season and b) when he did play 2B, in 1999-2001, he wasn't really that great statistically.

Baseball Prospectus shows him as -7, -2 and -7 runs defensively at second base compared to the "average" 2B during those 3 seasons.

From personal observations, I think Alfonzo was a pretty good defensive 2B, but he has had back problems and an entire year away from the position, so I don't think he can be considered great anymore and maybe never should have been.

BP shows Ray Durham as +5 this season and +7 and -1 in 2001 and 2000.

As a Twins fan I watched Ray Durham play a lot while he was in the Central Division and I think he is a pretty solid defender at 2B.

Oakland used him as a DH this year, but I think that had more to do with Mark Ellis and them not knowing whether or not Durham was going to be on the team in the future than it did Durham's defense.

BP shows Jeff Kent as +12 this season and +11 and +/- 0 in 2001 and 2000.

From personal observations I find it hard to believe Kent has been +12 and +11 the past 2 years.

In his career prior to 2001, he basically hovered around being even (+/- 0).

It is possible that Kent has improved with age and experience, but I am skeptical at best.

All 3 of these guys are definitely solid defensive second basemen.

I don't think any of them are Gold Glove caliber, but they are all pretty good.

To recap our little ranking system:

Jeff Kent is: the most expensive / worst age/health / best offensive player / worst defensive player

Edgardo Alfonzo is: 2nd most expensive / 2nd in age/health / 2nd best offensive player / 2nd best defensive player

Ray Durham is: the least expensive / best age/healthy / 3rd best offensive player / best defensive player

If I were running a team (and just to remind everyone - I am not) I think I would go after Ray Durham.

He is incredibly consistant and durable, he plays good defense, is a solid offensive player and he is likely the cheapest of the 3, possibly by a wide margin.

Jeff Kent will have the most impact on a ballclub and is the best player of the 3, but he is probably going to be very expensive and he is getting up there in years, which is not a real good thing for a middle infielder.

For a contending, veteran ballclub with no major financial limitations, Kent would be a good choice.

Edgardo Alfonzo is probably more reasonably priced than Jeff Kent and he is the youngest of the 3, but back injuries worry me and I am not very confident in his defense at 2B at this point.

Give me a good ballclub with a decent sized payroll and I would rank them, all things (age, money, performance) considered:

1) Ray Durham

2) Jeff Kent

3) Edgardo Alfonzo

Just to make myself clear: I am not saying I would rather have Ray Durham than Jeff Kent. I am saying that when taking their salaries and ages into account, I would rather make a commitment to Ray Durham as my second baseman. Got it?

I await your emails...

For those of you interested, you can just copy my quote from the beginning of this column and paste it into your emails to save some time and energy.

Here it is again (for those of you too lazy to even scroll back up to the top of the page!):

"What makes you think you know so much? You're not a GM. You think you know everything?"

Feel free to leave it like it is or maybe consider adding in some specifics about a certain team or player or something I said.

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