Few things are more entertaining for us at The Stain than the free agency period for Major League Baseball. Weird things happen (see Cano, Robinson; Seattle), predictable things happen (see Tanaka, Masahiro; Yankees), and head-scratching things happen (see Arroyo, Bronson; Unemployed as of 1/31). Teams make good decisions, bad decisions, shrewd maneuvers, or in some cases nothing at all. Here’s look at a few noteworthy transactions so far this off-season.
Great Signing: Angels, Raul Ibanez, DH, 1 yr. 2.75 million. Sure, he’s older than dirt and limited to DH duty at this stage of his career, and doesn’t really handle lefties all that well. But, for less than the league average salary, the Halos are going to get around 25 home runs in 350-400 plate appearances. There is no other player that returns that kind of value.
Awful Signing: Red Sox, A.J. Pierzynski, C, 1 yr. 8.25 million. Two disclaimers here. No, I’m not taking a dig at Shaun. And second, I don’t think Pierzynski is a bad player. But, at this stage of his career, he’s weak defensively, and they’re overpaying for offensive production that shouldn’t have been a priority from that position. I’m not going to argue to vehemently with Ben Cherington. The GM of the World Series champions should probably not be the target of too much criticism, but I would have re-signed Salty, or gone after Geovany Soto or Kelly Shoppach before I overpaid for AJ. Silver lining, at least it’s only a one year deal. Honorable mention is the ridiculous contract the Giants gave Tim Lincecum, though the loyalty they’re displaying to one of their iconic players is admirable.
Under the Radar: Yankees, Kelly Johnson, IF/OF, 1 yr. 3 million. Yeah, I died a little inside giving the Yankees credit. But lost in the bustle of the high profile Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann signings is the fact that they might have taken a massive step to solving one of their two glaring infield issues; A-Rod’s suspension takes away their third baseman, and Seattle took away their second baseman. Johnson could turn out to be terrible and released by June… but he’s a versatile defender (even competent in the outfield if needed), can slug a little bit, and could turn out to be a titanic bargain for a team that spent a ton of cash to return to AL East relevance. Honorable mention is J.P. Howell. Sure, this may be a bit of a homer moment, but as a Dodger fan I got to see exactly how excellent he really is. And the simple fact they got him for less than the average closer makes means that he is a huge bargain.
Quick reaction to Torsten, and no surprise it is about Pierzynski. True, the dollar figure is high, but it actually makes sense. The Red Sox are still about a good amount of money below the luxury tax threshold, and with the probability of either Ryan Dempster or Jake Peavy being traded before the season starts, the money is of little concern. Salty was not resigned because the Red Sox have two high floor catchers in the high minors in Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. Both are plus defensive backstops, and I just recently rated Swihart as my fourth best Red Sox prospect.
Great Signing: Rangers, Shin-Soo Choo, OF, 7 years, $130 million. If this was the best move of the offseason, it would be an easy vote for the Nationals trading for Doug Fister, and creating what is possibly the best rotation in baseball, but we are talking signings, so I will go with Choo. Choo is a guy I love to watch play the game of baseball, and his story is incredible as well. Choo led his native South Korea to an Asian Games gold medal in baseball, deeming him exempt from his home countries law requiring him to serve two years in the South Korean Army. He is an incredible on-base guy, and proved he can play center field. In 2011, Choo was hit in the thumb by Jonathan Sanchez, landing him on the DL for two months, and resulting in his worst statistical season of his career. The very next season, Choo was once again drilled by Jonathan Sanchez, which is not a huge surprise, given that Sanchez drills a guy every 18 innings or so. Ever since, Choo has struggled against left-handed pitchers, but he is great against right-handers, and still manages a solid OBP against lefties.
Awful Signing: Everyone Signed by the Phillies. The aging Phillies have pulled off the impossible, and got older this year. They resigned Carlos Ruiz at catcher for three years, worth $26 million, despite only being able to play 92 games in 2013. Then they went out and signed Roberto Hernandez, who you may not recognize, mostly because he hasn’t done anything positive since his name was Fausto Carmona, causing him to miss one full season due to suspension and a lack of visa, and it was found he is three years older than originally thought. He is going to receive $4.5 million this year from the Phillies. They have also gone out and signed 36 year old Marlon Byrd, to a two-year deal. As if that wasn’t enough, they signed a guy who was crushing the ball in the Venezuelan Winter League, but will be turning 40 during Spring Training, Bobby Abreu. Granted, I was calling for Abreu to get a contract this winter, but I was thinking he should be signed by an American League team, where he can DH against right-handers, not an old Phillies team where he will have to play the field.
Under–the-Radar: Reds, Roger Bernadina, OF, Minor League deal. The Reds plans are to enter the season with Billy Hamilton leading off and playing center. Now, I have been impressed with his ability to play the field despite having just over one season of experience in the outfield after spending the majority of his life as a shortstop, but his bat scares me. I am not convinced he will be able to get on base often, much less his for a decent average. I am not saying Bernadina will move many dials offensively, but it is great insurance. He has flashed double digit home run power, he can steal a bag, and he can play impressive defense. I would not be at all surprised if Bernadina breaks camp with the Reds, and I can just about guarantee he will make a real impact at times this season.