December 22, 2002

Steaming hot

Before I get to today's ramblings, I want to let everyone know that my newest article has been posted on

This one is called "Steady Eddie, The Kid, Ryno, and The Rest: Eddie Murray" and it is an in-depth look at Eddie Murray's Hall-of-Fame qualifications, by way of putting him through the "Keltner List" test, which was devised by Bill James years ago as a way to look at someone's candidacy for the HoF.

Baseball Primer is running a similar article for each of the 33 Hall-of-Fame nominees this year and I was lucky enough to get Murray as one of my two players.

My other article in this series should be coming out sometime later this week or early next week, but I won't tell you who the other player I discuss is because it's fun to keep it a secret.

So, go check out "Steady Eddie, The Kid, Ryno, and The Rest: Eddie Murray" at and, as always, let me know what you think.

Okay, on to today's stuff...

The first batch of free agents have official been devoured. Thome, Glavine, Floyd, Maddux, Kent, Durham, Alfonzo, Matsui, Olerud, Moyer - they have all been snatched up and are officially off the market. Clemens, Rodriguez and a few others remain, but for the most part, the first batch of free agents have been picked through pretty thoroughly.

Luckily for teams still trying to fill out their rosters, a second batch just came out of the free agent oven and there's a fresh plate of free agents.

Let's take a look at the best of the "non-tendered," while they're still hot out of the oven...

Jose Cruz Jr. |OF|

Jose Cruz Jr. is probably the biggest name of all the non-tendered players.

He came up with Seattle in 1997 and hit 12 homers and 12 doubles in 183 ABs, before the Mariners traded him to Toronto for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric.

At the time, that was an awful deal and it probably still is.

Cruz was a 23 year old outfielder that flashed a lot of power in his big league debut and Timlin and Spoljaric were good, but not great relief pitchers.

Looking back on it now, Cruz's minor league numbers weren't all that great and they showed he would likely have a lot of trouble hitting for a decent average, which he definitely has.

The power has always been there, but when you're hitting .240 and not walking much it isn't that valuable.

Cruz is passable as a center fielder.

He has decent range and an adequate arm.

In either of the corner outfield spots, he is a very good defender.

At the plate, Cruz had a bit of a "breakout" year in 2001, but he came back to his normal performance level in 2002.

He is basically a .245/.325/.450 hitter.

He'll hit some homers, which look nice, but his overall value is pretty average for a center fielder and below average for a corner outfielder.

Cruz is a switch-hitter and, prior to this year, he has hit lefties and righties equally, so he isn't much of a platoon candidate.

Some team will probably give Cruz a multi-year contract worth quite a few million, but they'll be making a mistake. As J.P. Ricciardi figured out, Cruz isn't worth millions a year and there are plenty of guys that can do what he does for a lot less.

Robert Fick |OF/DH/C/1B|

Robert Fick was an All-Star in 2002 and the Detroit Tigers decided he wasn't even worth keeping, which tells you all you need to know about the 1-player-from-every-team rule for the all-star game.

Fick started out as a catcher and actually caught in 78 games for Detroit in 2001.

The Tigers decided his offense wasn't worth the hit his defense behind the plate took on them, so they moved him to right field.

I am of the belief that you keep a player at catcher for as long as humanly possible before you shift him to another position.

As a catcher, Robert Fick is one of the best hitters at his position.

As a right fielder, Robert Fick is average, at best.

I don't know whether or not another team will give him a shot as a catcher, but they should.

As a hitter, Fick is consistently average.

His "raw numbers" look worse than they actually are because he played in Comerica Park, which is a tough place to hit, particularly for "power" hitters.

Fick isn't Babe Ruth, but he could very easily hit 30+ homers in a better environment for hitting.

Stick him on another team and in another park for a full-season and he'll hit about .275/.340/.450 with 25 homers, 35 doubles and 50 walks.

Even if his catching was sub par and his arm reminds people of Mike Piazza's, wouldn't those hitting numbers help a team at catcher quite a bit?

He wouldn't be the first bad defensive catcher to ever add value to a team.

Fick is still fairly young (28) and he will probably be given a shot to play on a semi-regularly basis with some team.

He's definitely worth a 1 year deal for a lot of teams.

Brian Daubach |1B/DH/OF|

The Red Sox probably would liked to have kept Daubach around - he could have platooned at 1B with Julio Zuleta - but they were scared off by what they might be forced to pay him after arbitration. A few years ago, Daubach was just a minor league veteran that the Red Sox gave a chance to. He did very well for himself and became a valuable part of the team, but the lesson that it isn't all that tough to find a decent hitter to play 1B or DH still remains and there is really no need for the Red Sox to pay Daubach millions when they can find another minor league veteran for a few hundred thousand.

Daubach can still help a team. He is a perfect platoon player at 1B, DH or even one of the outfield corners - smacking around righties and stinking against lefties.

His "splits" over the last few years:

Versus Righties

1999 .297 .358 .585
2000 .257 .326 .468
2001 .279 .362 .532
2002 .270 .353 .471
Versus Lefties

1999 .273 .373 .386
2000 .216 .274 .373
2001 .169 .279 .373
2002 .242 .314 .419

That, my friends, is what a platoon player looks like.

Daubach is a good bet to hit about .275/.350/.500 against righties. If a team can find an Olmedo Saenz or Ron Gant or Julio Zuleta to hit against lefties, they have themselves a very productive "player."

For a team with a huge hole at one of the spots that you need offense - 1B, DH, LF, RF - Daubach would be a nice pick up for around a million bucks or so.

He would be a perfect platoon partner for Julio Franco (.382/.442/.526 against lefties in 2002) in Atlanta, although they already have Matt Franco, who is a similar player to Daubach. Plus, having a "Franco Brothers" platoon is always fun.

Frank Catalanotto |1B/2B/3B/OF|

"Little Cat" is basically the infielder version of Brian Daubach, with a little twist: Catalanotto can actually hit lefties a little bit too.

For his entire Major League career, Catalanotto has 1,353 at bats against righties and only 129 at bats against lefties, which tells you that every one of his managers has thought of him as strictly a platoon player.

126 at bats is an incredibly small sample size, especially spread over an entire career, but Catalanotto has done well against lefties when given the chance.

In those 126 ABs: .287/.387/.372 with 7 doubles, 2 triples and 16 walks.

Nothing spectacular, but he seems able to hit for a decent average, draw some walks and smack a double now and then against lefties.

Against right handed pitching, Catalanotto is a very good hitter:

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG

1999 .277 .331 .469
2000 .293 .369 .468
2001 .331 .390 .499
2002 .274 .364 .457

Those numbers are very similar to Daubach's numbers against righties, which is very good considering Catalanotto can play second base.

He'll never be mistaken for Bill Mazeroski out there, but Catalanotto can play a passable 2B and he would be one of the better hitting second basemen in baseball.

Catalanotto is only 28, he can play second base (or 3B, 1B, LF, RF, DH) and he is a good hitter and more than just a platoon player.

For a team with an otherwise good lineup and a weak spot at second base, Catalanotto would be a perfect addition to the lineup.

Subbing him for Luis Rivas with the Twins could make a huge difference and the same is true for probably a dozen other teams.

Catalanotto is worth more than just a 1 year deal and I wouldn't be afraid to give him 2 or 3 years, if the price was right.

Jay Witasick |RP|

A few years ago, Jay Witasick was a starting pitcher, struggling to keep his ERA under 6.00 with the Kansas City Royals. They traded him to San Diego in the middle of 2000 and he continued to start and pitch poorly for the rest of the 2000 season.

The Padres decided to try him as a reliever in 2001 and it has worked wonders:

Year     GP     IP      ERA      K/9     W/9     HR/9

2001 63 79 3.30 12.1 3.8 0.91
2002 44 68 2.37 7.1 2.8 0.40

Witasick's strike out rate plummeted in 2002, but he remained effective because he cut way down on walks and homers.

Any time a guy's K rate drops from 12 to 7 in one season, you have got to be concerned.

That said, 7.1 strike outs per 9 innings is still good and the improved control is a nice thing too.

I wouldn't get too excited about the cutback in homers though, as that was just a result of Witasick pitching in Pac Bell Park, the worst place for hitting home runs in all of baseball.

Witasick shuts down righties and also does very well against lefties.

He could be a very nice setup man and he'll probably be signed pretty cheaply.

Whichever team gets him will add a very nice piece to their bullpen.

Brad Fullmer |DH/1B|

Fullmer looks like the "Big, Feared Power Hitter" that you usually see in baseball movies.

He's got the Incredible Hulk physique, the goofy batty stance and the mouth full of chaw.

And, as long as the pitcher on the mound is right handed, Fullmer is a big, feared power hitter.

Fullmer against righties:

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG

1999 .283 .330 .461
2000 .311 .355 .589
2001 .295 .354 .491
2002 .301 .377 .560

Fullmer's overall walk rate looks very low, but he actual walks a fair amount against righties. He'll hit .300 against them, get on base 36 or 37 percent of the time and smack a lot of doubles and quite a few homers.

I think Fullmer is a step up from Daubach as far as left handed 1B/DH that can't hit lefties go.

He hits for a better average and more power, while Daubach walks a little more.

For those of you wondering, Fullmer is a career .223/.266/.376 hitter in 426 at bats against left handed pitching.

Fullmer would be a huge upgrade for a lot of teams at either first base of designated hitter.

Paul Wilson |SP|

Paul Wilson was a stud pitching prospect with the Mets back when I was in grade school, but injuries cost him several entire seasons and sapped him of a lot of his natural ability.

At this point, Wilson isn't anywhere near the fireballer he was coming up through the Mets' organization, but he can still be a very effective starting pitcher.

One concerning thing is the big drop in Wilson's strike out rate this season.

Year      IP     K/9     W/9     HR/9

2001 151 7.1 3.1 1.25
2002 194 5.1 3.1 1.35

Pitchers that walk 3 guys per 9 innings and give up a homer every 6 innings are not going to be very successful striking out 5 batters per game.

If he can get the K rate back up in the high 6's or low 7s, Wilson can be a very good end of the rotation starter.

Barring a return of the K rate, he will probably have trouble keeping the ERA under 4.50.

Either way, he is a good risk to take for a team in need of some innings from the back end of their rotation.

Jeff Suppan |SP|

Like Wilson, Suppan would be a nice, cheap pickup for a team in need of some innings at the back of their rotation.

Suppan will never be great, but there are two important things that he will be: durable and consistent.

Year      IP      ERA     K/9     W/9     HR/9

1999 209 4.53 4.4 2.7 1.21
2000 217 4.94 5.3 3.5 1.49
2001 218 4.37 5.0 3.1 1.07
2002 208 5.32 4.7 2.9 1.38

Suppan is going to strike out 5 guys per 9 innings and walk 3.

When he can keep the home run rate close to 1 per 9 innings, his ERA hovers around 4.50.

When the homer rate goes up, so does the ERA.

Suppan would be a perfect fit for a team like the Giants, Marlins, Padres or Tigers because their ballparks limit the amount of homers hit, which is Suppan's biggest problem.

For a 1 year deal at a few hundred thousand or maybe even a minor league contract, Suppan is a great pick up for a team that just needs 200 league average innings.

Shane Spencer |OF/DH|

I talked about a couple of left handed hitters that do very well against right handed pitchers, but are in need of platoon partners.

Spencer is a guy that would be a perfect platoon mate for guys like Brian Daubach and Brad Fullmer.

Shane Spencer came up with the Yankees in 1998 and did a Roy Hobbs impersonation for 67 at bats, hitting .373/.411/.910 with 10 homers and 6 doubles.

He came back down to earth, but he has been a very nice role player for the Yankees for the past 4 seasons.

Spencer is stretched as an everyday corner outfielder because he doesn't do very well against right handed pitching, but he can help a team (like whichever ones sign Daubach or Fullmer) that needs someone to smack around lefties.

Spencer against left handers:

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG

1999 .289 .330 .518
2000 .312 .317 .455
2001 .313 .348 .563
2002 .267 .363 .387

2002 was a big dropoff for Spencer in the average and power departments against lefties, but he still managed to get on-base quite a bit and it was only 75 at bats.

For his career, Spencer has hit .316/.359/.556 in 342 at bats against lefties, with 20 homers and 22 doubles.

Spencer would make an excellent half of an outfield or DH platoon.

Travis Lee |1B/OF|

Travis Lee is your typical no-hit/good-field first baseman - which basically makes him next to worthless.

I can deal with good-hit/no-field shortstops, center fielders and catchers, because at least they can prevent a bunch of runs on defense.

But, even the best defensive first basemen aren't that valuable defensively.

The Phillies finally realized that this off-season and they upgraded first base about as much as humanly possible, going from Travis Lee to Jim Thome.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Travis Lee will find another job in the big leagues, possibly even as a starting first baseman.

No matter how many GMs think like Beane and Ricciardi, there will always be a few that value defense in their first baseman way too much.

Keith Hernandez was a extraordinary defensive first baseman and he didn't have very much power, so a lot of teams seem to think every light-hitting 1B can be the next Keith Hernandez.

The problem with is two-fold:

1) Keith Hernandez was great, not just very good, on defense.

2) He hit .300 and walked 90 times a year to make up for his lack of home run power.

Travis Lee's career high batting average is .269, his career high in walks is 71 and his defense isn't really all that wonderful.

There are 50 guys flip-flopping between Triple-A or one of the Independent Leagues every year that would be much better options than Travis Lee could ever dream of being.

I have a motto when it comes to building teams: "If you hit like a shortstop, you better be one."

(Okay, I just made that up, but it sounds good. Right?)

Charles Gipson |EVERYWHERE|

Charles Gipson?!


Okay, so he isn't really much of a player and I don't think he adds that much value to a team, but he is one of my favorites.

Charles Gipson has spent each of the past 5 seasons with the Mariners and has totaled a combined 296 at bats, or about 60 a year.

The lack of at bats are because Gipson can't really hit, but he hasn't been on the Mariners because of his hitting.

Gipson can play every position but catcher and pitcher and he can play them all very well.

He is the ultimate utility man.

He is fast, extremely athletic and he has an absolute cannon for an arm - one of the best I have ever seen.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Gipson latch on with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his old manager, Lou Piniella.

I'd take him over Travis Lee on my roster any day of the week and twice on Mario Mendoza's birthday.

I generally don't condone "wasting" a roster spot on a guy that is never going to hit in a game that isn't a blowout, but if you are going to do it, Charles Gipson is one of the rare guys that might be reasonably worth it.

Chris Singleton |OF|

When Chris Singleton hits .300, he is a valuable player.

When he doesn't, like last season, he is basically a 5th outfielder getting way too much playing time.

Singleton simply refuses to take a walk and he doesn't have much power.

He plays excellent defense in center field and is a very good base stealer.

Singleton is already 30 years old, so he isn't getting any better, which means he should never see 500 at bats again, although he probably will.

I would have no problem signing Singleton to a 1 year deal as my 4th or 5th outfielder - where he could start a few games against right handed pitchers and pinch-run, pinch-hit and sub for people on defense in the late innings.

I feel sorry for the fans of the team that signs him as their starting center fielder.

Kerry Ligtenberg |RP|

Besides having really cool sideburns and being a fellow Minnesota Golden Gopher, Kerry Ligtenberg has been a really good pitcher for quite a while.

Ligtenberg missed the entire 1999 season with an injury, but when he has been healthy he has been very good:

Year     IP      ERA     K/9     W/9     HR/9

1998 73 2.71 9.7 3.0 0.74
2000 52 3.61 8.8 4.2 1.21
2001 60 3.02 8.4 4.5 0.60
2002 67 2.97 6.9 4.4 0.81

His K rate has been falling every year, but it is still more than adequate.

He walks too many guys, but makes up for it by limiting the amount of homers he gives up.

If Ligtenberg is healthy, there is no reason why he can't pitch 50-60 games and 60 innings of relief as a setup man or even a closer for some team's bullpen.

Ramon Martinez |SS/2B/3B/1B|

Ramon Martinez is a perfect backup infielder.

He is an excellent defensive player at all 4 infield positions and has enough of a bat to hold his own if he is forced to step in and start for a while.

For a team in need of a 1 or 2 year stopgap at second base, they could do a lot worse than Ramon Martinez.

If you give him 500 at bats he'll probably hit about .270/.340/.410 with about 10 homers and 25 doubles.

Nothing special, but a serviceable player who is average at worst and a real asset at best.

As long as there are guys like Martinez available, no team should feel the need to ever contact the next guy...

Neifi Perez |SS/2B|

Neifi's non-tendering was his second time being "released" in a month.

The Giants picked him up right after the Royals let him go in late November. Fortunately for Mr. Perez, Brian Sabean is in the mood for a guy that chews up outs like nobody's business, so the Giants signed him to a 2 year contract yesterday.

Sometime in between Neifi's release by the Royals and his release by the Giants, I wrote my ode to Neifi, entitled: "The Worst Doctor in the World."

I really don't think he deserves to have any more words devoted to him, so go check out what I wrote about him earlier.

Actually, looking at this list, I think a pretty good team could be made out of the non-tendered guys.

Let's see...

2B - Frank Catalanotto

SS - Ramon Martinez

1B - Brian Daubach

DH - Brad Fullmer

RF - Jose Cruz Jr.

C - Robert Fick

LF - Shane Spencer

3B - Desi Relaford

CF - Chris Singleton

C - Gary Bennett

IF - Olmedo Saenz

IF - Marlon Anderson

OF - Eric Owens

OF - Charles Gipson

SP - Paul Wilson

SP - John Thomson

SP - Jeff Suppan

SP - John Halama

SP - Tanyon Sturtze

LOOGY - Mike Venafro

LOOGY - Aaron Fultz

LONG - Al Levine

SETUP - Esteban Yan

SETUP - Jay Witasick

CLOSER - Kerry Ligtenberg

That team isn't going to be winning any pennants or anything, but it could be pretty good.

The outfield defense is awesome, which should help the pitching staff quite a bit because none of them are really strike out pitchers.

The starting rotation is a bit weak, but it has a few guys capable of 200+ innings and they are all at least decent bets to be league average or better.

The bullpen is pretty strong, particular Ligtenberg and Witasick.

The lineup isn't great, but it is league average or better at at least 5 or 6 spots.

And it probably wouldn't cost much more than $20 million to put it all together.

Gimme an extra $25 million to sign Clemens, Rodriguez and a couple other free agents and this team could be a serious playoff contender for under $50 million bucks.

Don't forget to head over to and read my newest article: "Steady Eddie, The Kid, Ryno, and The Rest: Eddie Murray."

See ya tomorrow.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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