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 BaseballPrimer.com.

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 BaseballPrimer.com 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

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

Year AVG OBP SLG
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?!

Yep.

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 BaseballPrimer.com and read my newest article: "Steady Eddie, The Kid, Ryno, and The Rest: Eddie Murray."

See ya tomorrow.

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

December 20, 2002

Oh my


The Braves traded Kevin Millwood to the Phillies for Johnny Estrada.

This is an absolutely idiotic trade for the Braves.
It's the kind of trade that would get rejected by the league in any self respecting fantasy baseball league in the world.

I generally give the benefit of the doubt to General Managers that have won like 11 division titles in the last 12 seasons, but this trade is really quite stupid.

First of all, I am not even judging it on a player-for-player basis.
It is very obvious that this deal is strictly a cost-cutting move by Atlanta.
Kevin Millwood is 100 times the player Johnny Estrada is and ever will be, but that isn't the part that has me stupified.

If Atlanta knew that they were tight as far as the payroll was concerned, why would they trade a starting pitcher making the minimum (Damian Moss) for a starting pitcher making like $5 million a season (Russ Ortiz)?
And why would they sign another starting pitcher (Paul Byrd) to a $5 million a year deal?
So, they acquire Ortiz and Byrd, thus upping their payroll by millions, and then they immediately have to dump Kevin Millwood for very little because they don't have enough money to pay everyone after Greg Maddux decided to accept arbitration.

Shouldn't they have planned for a situation in which Maddux accepted the arbitration?
Basically, what Atlanta has done by trading Moss and then trading Millwood is exchange Damian Moss and Kevin Millwood for Russ Ortiz and Paul Byrd.
And that is an awful exchange of talent, whether you have won 50 division titles in a row or you are the Devil Rays.

It seems as though they didn't plan for the very likely situation of Maddux accepting arbitration.
Atlanta went out and traded a cheap starting pitcher for an expensive one and signed another expensive one.
Then, when Maddux accepted the arbitration, they had to dump a lot of salary becuase they had just added a bunch with Ortiz and Byrd, so they traded away one of their best players for a backup catcher.

But you wanna know what might be the worst part of this whole thing?
THEY TRADED MILLWOOD TO A TEAM IN THEIR OWN DIVISION!
And not just a team in their own division, a team that has made some pretty big improvements this off-season and is very likely the biggest challenger to the Braves in 2003.

The Phillies' lineup appears to be set to score a ton of runs next season and the only thing they really needed was some starting pitching.
Lucky for them the team they are trying to beat in the NL East was willing to give them an 18-game winner - simultaneously strengthening the Phillies and weakening the Braves.

On most teams, including the Phillies, Kevin Millwood is a #1 or #2 starter:

Year      IP      ERA    K/9     W/9     HR/9     DIPS
1998 174 4.08 8.4 2.9 0.93 3.96
1999 228 2.68 8.1 2.3 0.95 3.63
2000 213 4.66 7.1 2.6 1.10 4.27
2001 121 4.31 6.3 3.0 1.49 4.93
2002 217 3.24 7.4 2.7 0.66 3.62

Millwood was injured in 2001, but other than that, he has been a workhorse, pitching 210+ innings in 3 of the last 4 years.
His DIPS (Defense Independent Pitching Stats) ERA shows him to be a 3.60-4.25 pitcher, depending on how well he does keeping the ball in the ballpark.
215 innings and a 3.75 ERA is pretty good and with Thome, Burrell and Abreu hitting for him, Millwood should win a lot of games in 2003.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) I dream about what trade negotiations would be like if I were a GM in the Major Leagues.
I've got to tell you, I don't know that I could have gone through with this deal.

Let's say I am running the Phillies and we are making a lot of big moves during the off-season in the hopes of catching the Atlanta Braves and winning the NL East. One day, the guy running the Braves calls me up and offers me one of the top 10 pitchers in the league for a backup catcher?
I would think I was on Candid Camera or something.

Maybe that isn't how it went.
Maybe Schuerholtz called Ed Wade and said, "What would you give for Kevin Millwood?"
If that is the case, I have to give Wade a lot of credit for offering Johnny Estrada and not someone good.
I mean, if a GM calls me up and offers one of the better pitchers in the league, I am not sure that the first thing I would offer would be a crappy backup catcher.

However it went down, this is a very bad trade for the Braves and it exposes a supreme lack of planning, which is perhaps the most inexcusable aspect of this for the Atlanta front office.

As Denny Green said shortly before getting canned by the Vikings, "Plan your work and work your plan."

The Atlanta Braves' run of dominance has to come to an end at some point and the way things are going right now, it looks like that point might just be 2003.

In fact, I am going to go ahead and make my first prediction for the 2003 baseball season: The Philadelphia Phillies will win the National League East.

In other news...

I talked earlier about the Mets possibly signing Japanese third baseman Norihiro Nakamura.

Nakamura decided to stay in Japan and signed a 5 year/$30 million dollar contract with the Kintetsu Buffaloes.
The Mets were only offering like $7 million for 2 years, so I can't say I really blame the guy, although I am sure he was intersted in playing in America.

While Nakamura won't be playing for them in 2003, Cliff Floyd will be.
Floyd signed a 4 year contract with the Mets, worth $26 million.

Cliff Floyd is a very good hitter and his addition will make a big difference with the Mets woeful offense.

Personally, I think the Mets are too old to do anything significant in 2003 and signing Glavine and Floyd and Stanton and other over-30 guys is just prolonging the mediocrity, but I guess you do have to give GM Steve Phillips some credit.
He has decided to try to squeeze every last bit out of his aging, declining stars, so he probably figured he might as well sign a few more.

If nothing else, the NL East should be pretty interesting in 2003.

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

Godzilla



The inevitable finally happened - the New York Yankees signed Hideki Matsui to a 3 year contract worth $21 million.

Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui is the best baseball player in Japan and I believe the Yankees have themselves a real bargain here.

First of all, if Matsui comes over here and stinks they will still make money because of the relationship with Japan and all of the potential marketing that can be done.

But I don't think Matsui is going to stink.

Ichiro! came over here and the reaction of many people in the baseball world was to immediately put him down and say he would not succeed over here.

That notion proved to be ridiculous, as Ichiro! won the MVP award in his first season here and hit .321 with a .388 OBP in his second year.

America doesn't have some special dust we sprinkle on our athletes to make them automatically better than everyone else.

Any fan of the NBA can tell you that European and Asian players are having huge impacts in the league right now and there are tons of other players who will be coming over to the States in the near future.

For baseball, Japan is a huge pool of talent that is largely untapped as of now.

Several pitchers have come over here and have generally done very well, but so far the only hitters have been Ichiro!, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and So Taguchi.

While reading all I could about Matsui this off-season, I found that a lot of people feel he will fail here because of what Shinjo has done (or hasn't done).

That is just silly, because in Japan Tsuyoshi Shinjo was a very popular player, but a very mediocre player.

He was flashy and the fans liked that, but he never really hit much and most of his value came from his fielding.

And that is exactly what he has done in the Major Leagues - hit a little bit and done a good job in the outfield.

Hideki Matsui is like Jason Giambi to Tsuyoshi Shinjo's Doug Glanville, it isn't even a comparison that should be made.

BaseballProspectus.com published a couple of articles last year about the top players in the Japanese Leagues.

In the articles, they "translated" their stats to a Major League level, in the same way that people translate minor league performance.

Here are Shinjo's last 4 seasons in Japan, translated to the American Major League level:

1997 = .230/.294/.402

1998 = .223/.271/.343

1999 = .241/.289/.397

2000 = .271/.316/.478

Basically, Shinjo was the equivalent of a .235 hitter with a sub-.300 OBP and a SLG that hovered around .390.

He had his "career year" in 2000 and saw his batting average jump up about 30 points and his slugging almost reached .500.

What has he done since coming to America?

2001 = .268/.320/.405

2002 = .238/.294/.370

Those numbers fit perfectly within the translated stats for his Japanese career.

Basically, Shinjo was a good field/no hit player in the Japanese Leagues and that is exactly what he is over here.

Here are Hideki Matsui's translated numbers:

1999 = .277/.392/.572

2000 = .305/.430/.627

2001 = .313/.442/.586

Because Prospectus ran this article last year, I don't have Matsui's translated stats for the 2002 season.

However, 2002 was his best year as a player and I have no doubt his translated stats would be in the .320/.440/.600 range.

Even if Matsui's performance drops off quite a bit (or the translations are a little off), he is still well within the range of a .290/.400/.500 player, which is a star in Major League baseball.

Add that in with the marketing possibilities and the Yankees will get a real bargain for $7 million a season.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Matsui hit about .290 with 35 homers, 90 walks and solid corner outfield defense, which would make him one of the better outfielders in baseball.

Think Brian Giles with a little more defense.



Meanwhile, the Mets are negotiating with their very own Japanese power hitter, third baseman Norihiro Nakamura.

Nakamura isn't quite at Matsui's level, but he is pretty close.

Here are his translations:

1998 = .267/.359/.508

1999 = .276/.367/.513

2000 = .285/.376/.590

2001 = .333/.432/.639

Once again, I don't have the translations his 2002 performance, but it was slightly less impressive than his 2001 campaign, so it's probably somewhere in the .300/.370/.550 range.

Nakamura will take a walk, his batting average is pretty solid and he has tremendous power.

ESPN.com is reporting that the Mets are offering about $7 million bucks for 2 seasons, while Nakamura is getting offers of up to $6 million a year from Japanese clubs.

If he decides to join the Mets at that price, he will be a huge bargain.

Like I said, I believe Japan is a huge potential resource that is still largely untapped.

Teams like the Yankees are in a position to benefit greatly because they are willing to take a chance and sign someone that is not a proven commodity over here.

Plus, having a massive payroll doesn't hurt either.

I think Matsui will be one of the best players in the league and at $7 million a season, that is a pretty nice deal.

Nakamura could very easily be one of the top 3-5 third basemen in baseball and at $3.5 million a year, that is highway robbery.

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

December 18, 2002

Houston hello!



Jeff Kent became a member of the Astros yesterday, putting an end to the Giants' efforts to team Barry Bonds with every quality second baseman in the entire world.

Kent signed a 2 year deal worth about $18 million bucks, which seems like a very good deal for the Astros and a somewhat confusing one from Kent's point of view.

He turned down a reported 3 year deal worth $24 million from San Francisco earlier.

If I was a 34 year old baseball player, I think I would take a 3 year deal worth $8 million a year over a 2 year deal worth $9 million a year and I don't think the decision would be all that difficult to make.

I really don't think Jeff Kent and his management are that dumb, so there is probably more to this than meets the eye.

I think there are two distinct possibilities:

1) Kent really did not like playing with the Giants.

2) The Giants negotiations with him upset Kent to the point that he took a shorter contract for almost the same amount per season.

I remember when I was a little kid and I wanted something, I would ask my mom for it and sometimes she would refuse to give it to me.

Whether it was a cookie or a new toy or whatever.

Being the little brat that I was, I would go in my room, close the door and pout for like 3 hours.

Sometimes my mom would come in later and decide to give me whatever I wanted.

I was so upset from earlier that I would usually refuse to take the thing I wanted in the first place.

I think that might be what happened with Kent and the Giants.

They offered him a contract that he did not feel was a good one, so he got upset.

He went in his room and pouted or, in his case, talked to other teams and got some other offers.

Then when the Giants finally decided to offer him a revised, multi-year deal, he told them he didn't want it and he took a deal that isn't as good from the Astros.

Kent leaving SF means the Giants offense will simply be very good and not spectacular next season.

And now the Astros have one of the best 3-4-5 combinations in baseball, with Berkman, Bagwell and Kent.

Initially I heard that Kent would be moving to third base with Houston, but apparently those reports were false and Kent will be staying at second base, while Craig Biggio moves to left field.

The Astros have some good options at third base in Morgan Ensberg and Geoff Blum, so it is probably a good decision.

Craig Biggio is in a heavy decline at this point and could be one of the worst offensive left fielders in baseball next season, but he is under contract for quite a bit of money and he is one of the best Astros of all-time, so they don't have much choice but to find a spot for him.

His defense at 2B was getting pretty awful anyway, so maybe he can at least help prevent some runs in left field.

I read somewhere (ESPN.com maybe?) that they might try to see if Biggio can handle center field.

Lots of luck with that.

His problem at second base was a lack of range because of knee injuries and a loss of lateral movement and quickness.

That is only going to be magnified in center field.

Although now that I think about it, how much worse out there could he be than Lance Berkman?

Back in November I compared the 3 available second basemen (Kent, Alfonzo and Durham) and concluded that Kent would cost the most, followed by Alfonzo and Durham and that considering all the factors, I would want Durham first, followed by Kent and Alfonzo.

Here is what they ended up signing for:

Jeff Kent = 2 years / $18.2 million

Edgardo Alfonzo = 4 years / $26 million

Ray Durham = 3 years / $20.1 million

I have to say, those 3 contracts are a lot closer in cost than I thought they would be and all of them are definitely reasonable.

Good signing for the Astros, as Kent will help them a lot of offense and will actually improve their infield defense too.

If Bagwell can bounce back to his pre-2002 level and Berkman continues to be the star that he is, they will score a ton of runs in 2003.

In other news...

Most of you are probably familar with John Sickels, the minor league baseball guru that writes for ESPN.com and has authored the "Minor League Scouting Notebook" for STATS Inc. the past seven years.

Sickels is one of my favorite baseball writers and I never miss one of his columns at ESPN.com and own every one of his books.

He knows more than anyone in the world about minor league prospects and he writes extremely interesting and often very humorous books and columns.

Anyway, STATS Inc. is under some new management and they decided to stop producing many of their annual baseball books, including Sickels' Minor League Scouting Notebook

But fear not fellow prospect nuts, John is coming out with a new and improved version of the book called "The Baseball Prospect Book."

Here is what what John had to say about his new venture:

Hello, everyone.

This is John Sickels of ESPN.com. As most of you know by now,

STATS is no longer publishing the Minor League Scouting Notebook, which I'd

written for the past seven years. But I'm still going to publish for 2003. My

new book is called, simply, The Baseball Prospect Book. It will be very

similar in form and content to the old MLSN, except now I can function without

the constraints of corporate oversight.

The cost of the book is $19.95, plus $5 shipping and handling.

To order, send a check or money order to

John Sickels

Attn: BPB Order

PO Box 4066

Lawrence, KS 66046

Make check payable to John Sickels.

BE CERTAIN TO INCLUDE YOUR MAILING ADDRESS INCLUDING ZIP CODE.

If you have email, feel free to include that too. I promise not to spam you,

but I will send you updates about the book, including an early Top 50/50 list

to help fantasy owners with drafts that happen before the book is published.

I will be sending out a check to John immediately and I encourage all of you to do the same.

It will be some of the best money you have ever spent in your life, you'll learn a ton about all the important (and not so important) minor leaguers and you will help support one of the best baseball writers around today.

Plus, I emailed John a while ago and gave him the links to my Baseball Primer articles.

He read them right away and even complimented me on them!

How can you not like someone that does that?

Speaking of good baseball writers...

My good buddy Joe Dimino has a new article posted on Baseball Primer.

Joe actually attended the Winter Meetings in Nashville last week and he files a report on the Rule 5 draft, including analysis of the picks and scouting reports on the players.

It is a good read and Joe is a good guy, so go check it out.

And finally...

"Hi Allard, this is Billy. I hear you might be shopping Carlos Beltran . . ."



Billy Beane - the man you hope your team's GM never takes calls from.

(Don't ask me why, but that picture just struck me as really funny for some reason)

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

December 17, 2002

Okay fellas...line it up!

Semester one of my sophomore year of college is officially over!

That means I have about a month off from school and essentially a limitless supply of free time.

Which means...lots of baseball blogging!

That is good news for everyone that enjoys this site and bad news for...well, I guess if they didn't like the site they wouldn't be here anyway.

Over the next 4-5 weeks I expect to write a whole lot about baseball.

I have pretty much been posting one column per day during the school year and I still plan to do that during vacation.

However, if the mood strikes me, I will just post stuff whenever I feel like it, which could mean like 50 times a day depending on how bored I am.

So, let's start the vacation blogging...

Yesterday I talked about the Twins for the first time in a long while, so I figured I would talk about them again today (how's that for logic?).

(By the way, I am a complete idiot when it comes to computers and a perfect example of that is the fact that I just accidently deleted yesterday's column. I wrote like 2,000 words on the Twins and other subjects yesterday, several hundred people read them and now they are gone forever. I am such a moron. If, for some reason, someone out there saved yesterday column or printed it out or something and could somehow send it to me, I would be forever greatful.)

Ron Gardenhire is talking about making some major changes in the batting order for next season.

Most notably moving Jacque Jones from the leadoff spot and inserting Torii Hunter into the #3 spot.

I am in 100% agreement with both of those moves.

Jacque Jones is wrong for the leadoff spot for 2 big reasons:

1) He doesn't get on base a whole lot.

2) His power is wasted there because no one is on base during his at bat at least once a game.

I also agree with putting Torii in the 3-hole.

I have always felt that the best overall hitter on the team should bat 3rd and I feel like Torii is that guy for the Twins.

Now, having said all of that, moving Jones out of the leadoff spot also creates a problem because that means you have to find a new leadoff hitter.

And that is something the Twins don't have.

Well, that's not really true, they do have a leadoff hitter in Bobby Kielty, but they don't seem to be thinking of him as an everyday starter.

(A side note: Now that Erubiel Durazo has been set free, I ask all statheads to join with me in my effort to "FREE BOBBY KIELTY!" Thank you.)

Cristian Guzman is a perfect leadoff hitter - switch-hitter, can bunt, runs well, hits for a good average - except for one major thing: he doesn't walk. EVER!

If Guzy could somehow just up his walk total to like 40-50 per season, he would be soooooo much more valuable to the Twins and he could really help them organize their lineup too.

Since I don't foresee Guzman suddenly learning to take more walks, I had a radical solution for the leadoff spot.

Normally, managers like to have guys with good speed at the top of lineup, despite the fact that the stolen base is really becoming less and less of a weapon in the current era of baseball.

But, that is a topic for another time.

My radical idea was to bat Doug Mientkiewicz leadoff.

He is certainly not your prototypical leadoff hitter, because he isn't going to cause much trouble on the basepaths (at least not for the opposition).

But, Mientkiewicz certainly is not a complete slug on the bases and I would say he probably has average speed.

More importantly, he gets on base and he does it against both right handed and left handed pitching.

He also takes a lot of pitches and works long counts, which is a nice skill for your leadoff man to have too.

Another bonus of having Dougie bat #1 is that you don't have to worry about having him in the middle of the order, where his lack of power is not something you want in a mid-lineup spot.

I have said this before and I will say it again: one strength of good managers and general managers is the ability to see what a player can do and not what he can't do.

Mientkiewicz can't hit 30-40 homers a year and because of that he will never be an elite 1B and the Twins shouldn't commit themselves to him for very long.

But, right now, Mientkiewicz can help a lineup by getting on base, which is something he does better than every Twin not named Bobby Kielty.

However, somewhere along the line my Mientkiewicz-leading-off plan hit a snag, because I couldn't quite figure out who I would bat #2.

Corey Koskie?

Koskie gets on base a lot too and he hits pretty well against lefties and very well against righties, but I would rather have him bat in a mid-lineup spot.

Plus, having 2 lefties (Doug and Corey) to lead off a game isn't such a great idea and it also causes problems because it leaves too many righties in the 3-9 spots in the lineup.

Amazingly, by ditching David Ortiz in favor of Matt LeCroy and adding Cuddyer as the likely everyday right fielder, the Twins have quickly gone from a lefty dominated lineup to one that is actually sort of righty dominant, at least as far as the power hitters go.

Okay, I already said I like to use the hitter that I feel is the overall best on the team in the #3 spot, so Hunter bats 3rd and is not a candidate to bat #2.

Luis Rivas?

No thanks, I will keep him at the bottom of my lineup at all costs.

Matt LeCroy or Michael Cuddyer?

Definitely not.

Too slow and too much power for the #2 spot in the lineup.

Pierzynski?

That creates the same lefty-lefty problem at the top and right handed bunching in the middle problem that Koskie did.

Jacque Jones?

Same L-L problem as Koskie and Pierzynski, plus I want Jacque batting in the middle of the lineup.

Guess who that leaves?

The one and only hacking machine, Cristian Guzman.

The problem with the Twins, if you can call this a problem, is that they have too many 3-4-5-6 type hitters and zero top of the order guys.

Which is why they need Bobby Kielty, but I think you are probably sick of me saying that by now...

Okay, so I am resigned to batting Guzman at the top of the order.

That said, if Guzman and Mientkiewicz are going to bat in the first two spots, in which order should they go?

Guzy-Dougie or Dougie-Guzy?

Hmmm...

I really don't think it matters too much really.

With Guzy-Dougie you have the more powerful hitter (Mientkiewicz) able to possibly drive Guzman in, but with Dougie-Guzy you have Mientkiewicz on base a lot more for Guzman to possibly drive in.

6 in one and half a dozen in the other, right?

Let's go with Guzman #1 because I don't want to be too unconventional, it might scare away readers.

So...

1) Guzman - S

2) Mientkiewicz - L

3) Hunter - R

So far, so good.

We go switch, lefty, righty.

Speed at the very top, good OBP #2 and then your best overall hitter.

Now, the cleanup spot...

I started to lean towards Michael Cuddyer here, because I believe he has the most power potential on the team.

But, he is a rookie and it might be too much pressure to put on him right away.

Plus, if possible, I would like to stick to the alternating lefty/righty sequence.

Which means Corey Koskie is my cleanup man.

Then, I stick Cuddyer in at #5 and Jacque Jones at #6, which is where Gardenhire has mentioned he may put Jacque.

Now we've got this:

1) Guzman - S

2) Mientkiewicz - L

3) Hunter - R

4) Koskie - L

5) Cuddyer - R

6) Jones - L

I already said I want Rivas hitting 9th and accumulating the least amount of plate appearances (and thus making the least amount of outs) as humanly possible.

Which leaves LeCroy and Pierzynski for the final 2 spots.

We might as well keep alternating L/R, so let's put LeCroy #7 and A.J. #8.

My 2002 Twins lineup:

1) Guzman - S

2) Mientkiewicz - L

3) Hunter - R

4) Koskie - L

5) Cuddyer - R

6) Jones - L

7) LeCroy - R

8) Pierzynski - L

9) Rivas - R

See how easy that was?

We start with a switch hitter and then alternate lefty/right all the way through, which is always nice.

Against left handed pitching, you can occasionally sub Tom Prince in for A.J. at #8 and put Kielty in for Jones (hopefully!) at #6.

Otherwise, everything remains the same.

That is a lineup that will score some runs, particularly if Cuddyer is as good as I think he will be and Guzman gets his head out of his butt and starts improving and playing consistently.

In other news...

I was checking out one of my favorite baseball sites, BaseballAmerica.com, when I saw a survey that BA conducted with the MLB team front office types at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

Unfortunately, the article is part of their "premium" content, which costs money and requires a password, so not everyone can check it out.

Basically, Baseball America just asked the GMs and assistant GMs some questions and got their opinions.

A few of the quotes just made me smile...

BA asks: "Your top pitching prospect just threw 126 pitches in Double-A. How do you feel?"

Paul DePodesta, Oakland A's: "It would never happen. We’d probably be listening to the game on the Internet, and would call the manager before he had the chance."

Exactly the sort of answer I would expect from a magnificently run organization like the Oakland A's.

And then you have this...

Art Stewart, Kansas City Royals: "I’d pat him on the back. We’re making babies out of farmhands in baseball today. Then we wonder why they don’t go eight or nine."

First of all, I disagree with that statement.

But that isn't what made me laugh.

What got a chuckle out of me is that, while Paul DePodesta and the A's are concerned with pitch counts and producing stud pitchers like Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, the Royals are letting their prospects throw 130 pitches in meaningless minor league games, patting them on the back and producing pitchers like...well, they really haven't produced a decent pitcher from their system in quite a long time.

I am a believer in pitch counts.

I don't think they are the be all and end all for young pitchers and I don't think 1 game of 120+ pitches will ruin a career or anything, but I am pretty sure that a sustained pattern of high pitch outings for a young pitcher is just asking for trouble.

So, while the A's are "babying" guys like Zito, Hudson and Mulder, not to mention guys like Rich Harden (who is on the way to the Big Show), the Royals are producing a bunch of really tough and manly guys with torn labrums and a complete inability to get Major League hitters out.

On to the next question...

BA asks: "What is the worst contract?"

Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins: "That isn’t a fair question. You never know. One of our own players a few years ago, when we signed him to a long-term deal everyone was patting us on the back. Now it’s, ‘You dumb sons of bitches.’ "

Terry is definitely right that this isn't a fair question, particularly if the results are going to be published like this.

His answer immediately got my brain going...who's contract is he referring to?

I think it is probably one of three possibilities: Cristian Guzman, Joe Mays or Brad Radke.

The only other semi-long term deal the Twins have handed out recently was to Eric Milton and I doubt anyone is really complaining about that.

I don't really have a point (as usual), I just thought the comment was interesting and I wish I knew which guy he was talking about.

Next question...

BA asks: "Did you grow up playing Strat-O-Matic or similar statistics-based game?"

Mike Arbuckle, Philadelphia Philles: "No. I grew up on the field."

I don't know what Arbuckle looked like or what his tone of voice was when he said that, but when I pictured it in my head right after I read the quote, I immediately thought to myself, "Oh, what a f@$%ing tough guy!"

Nope, no analysis or stats for Arbuckle, he's an old school tough guy, not one of those nerds with the calculators and spreadsheets.

Arbuckle might be a great guy (and he might really be into OBP and pitch counts), but that quote immediately gave me the impression that he is a jerk.

And then I got to this question...

BA asks: "Who is the best GM prospect in the game?"

Dan Jennings, Marlins: "Mike Arbuckle. He’s an evaluator, has excellent people skills and is intelligent."

And don't forget, he "grew up on the field!"

Okay, maybe I am wrong and the quote just struck me as weird.

What the heck do I know.

There seems to be a sort of bully mentality directed at guys like Epstein and Beane and Ricciardi and their front office people because they dare to use statistics to help run their teams.

I just don't get it and, being a stathead myself, I guess I get a little defensive.

And finally...

Be on the look out for 2 new articles of mine on BaseballPrimer.com in the next week or so.

I will, of course, let everyone know when and where to get them when they are available.

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

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