Foulke Off the Market
Interestingly, Keith Foulke signed with the Oakland Athletics.
I say interestingly because all previous reports had pinpointed him as a Cleveland Indian — the team he retired from last spring. Purportedly, Foulke’s home was in the Cleveland area and that was the reason he was going to give it another shot with the Indians. As a result, I’d completely wrote him off as a free agent candidate for the Mets — yet, the Mets reportedly made an offer last month after Foulke pitched in front of 20 teams.
The A’s signed him to a one-year deal worth $750K (bonuses can get him to $1.25M) — sounds pretty cheap to me for a guy who has handled the pressure of late-inning relief. His health, of course, is the biggest issue; he had minor elbow surgery in September. However, scouts say he was throwing in the mid-80s with “impeccable control and deception” during last month’s workout. Since Foulke is a changeup artist, the seemingly low velocity is not as much of a concern as the health of his arm (see: Glavine, Tom; Martinez, Petey).
It’s possible the Mets didn’t come close to the dollars or guarantee the A’s did, and further possible that the Mets’ scouts weren’t impressed enough to recommend a MLB deal. Personally, I would not have minded one bit if the Mets signed him to a deal similar to what he received from the A’s — it’s a low risk, high-reward signing. Sure, Foulke may turn out to be a bust, but remember the Mets made a high-risk, low-reward signing last winter when they locked up Scott Schoeneweis for three years (or was it the other way around?).
Since the Athletics are going through a complete overhaul, one would guess that Billy Beane is gambling on Foulke to return to form, and have a really nice trading chip for more young prospects come July. By then, the Mets might have a need for a middle or setup reliever — but likely won’t have the young prospects necessary to pry away anyone of value. Which makes me think the Mets are still in the hunt for Freddy Garcia — a guy who can’t help until late season, but could turn out to be just as good as anyone available at the end of July.
A sidenote to the Foulke signing: to make room on the 40-man roster, the Athletics DFA’d first baseman Wes Bankston.
Bankston is a long and lanky 24-year-old who hit only .238 in AAA last year — but don’t be fooled by those numbers. He was once a “Top Ten” prospect in the Tampa Bay organization, and originally a right fielder with a gun for an arm. Because the Devil Rays had fleets of gifted outfielders, he was switched to 1B (and also played some 3B) and put up good power numbers at all levels before failing miserably in 2007. At least some of his problems were injury-related, as he struggled with a bad knee injury for most of the year. In fact he’s been stung with a variety of injuries since 2003, and perhaps has yet to realize his full potential. After his poor 2007 showing, the Rays put him on waivers after the season, the Royals picked him up then DFA’s him in late November and Billy Beane jumped on him. This is the part of the story that makes one think Bankston might be worth adding to the Mets’ 40-man roster. Consider that when Beane grabbed Bankston, he already had Nick Swisher, Dan Johnson, and Daric Barton under wraps, not to mention Jack Cust. On the one hand, all but Swisher were lefthanded batters, so maybe Beane added Bankston because of his righthanded stick. But really, how many first baseman / DHs does a team need? (It’s not like second base, where half a dozen is not enough.) In short, the A’s scouting staff saw something special in Bankston, and Beane thought enough of him to add to his 40-man — and the A’s have a pretty strong track record of uncovering other team’s “garbage” (i.e., Cust, Lenny DiNardo, Chad Gaudin, Frank Thomas, Scott Hatteberg). Maybe it makes sense to use the A’s knowledge and take a flyer.
With the Mets’ empty space on the 40-man roster and their need for a young, preferably RH-hitting first baseman to place in AAA as insurance behind Carlos Delgado, Bankston could be a perfect fit. If not, I’ll continue to wait for the Rangers to release Jason Botts (aka, the next Adam Dunn).
UPDATE: more on Bankston, from Scout.com:
Bankston was picked up on waivers by the Aâ€™s this off-season and is on the teamâ€™s 40-man roster. He is a reclamation project of sorts, in some ways similar to Jason Stokes, a first baseman the Aâ€™s picked up from the Florida Marlins last season. Like Stokes, Bankston was once one of the top prospects in his organization (in Bankstonâ€™s case, Tampa Bay). Unlike Stokes, Bankston has been relatively healthy throughout his career. Where his career has faced impediments, however, has been in the field, as the Rays chose to move Bankston all over the field in an attempt to find a place for him at the major-league level. He began his career as an outfielder, was shifted to first base in his third season, then to third base in his fifth season, and back to first last year. Those positional shifts have, at times, seemed to disrupt Bankston, especially the move to third base, which, by all accounts, was a disaster.
Bankstonâ€™s best season came in 2004 in the Low-A South Atlantic League, where he hit 23 homers and drove-in 101 runs. In 2007, he struggled badly at the plate at Triple-A Durham, setting career-lows in BA (.238) and OBP (.282). The Aâ€™s believe he is closer to the hitter who batted .297 with Durham in 2006 than the 2007 version. At his best, Bankston is a hitter with good plate coverage, a decent eye and power to all fields. The Aâ€™s are hopeful that that is the hitter who emerges this spring in camp. He was a high school football player and still has that solid build. Bankston is likely to start the season with Triple-A Sacramento, and if he plays well and the Aâ€™s trade Dan Johnson, he could be called on to be a back-up first baseman/right-handed pinch-hitter for the Aâ€™s this season. He just turned 24 this November, so despite having six minor league seasons under his belt, he is still relatively young.