Be Careful What You Wish For
Did you send your Christmas “wish list” to Santa Claus? Or perhaps you sent it to Omar Minaya?
Already Mets fans have received two early presents — Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. But the offseason is far from over and most of us are clamoring for more than answers to the eighth and ninth inning — though it’s a fine start.
One thing to keep in mind, however: be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus recently wrote an interesting column for SI.com, pointing out “Five Free Agents To Be Wary Of“. Among them are Orlando Hudson, Randy Wolf, Milton Bradley, Jon Garland, and Jason Varitek. Huh … if it weren’t for Bradley being on that list, you’d think the article was written specifically for Mets fans, since the other four players have been rumored to be on the Mets’ shopping list.
Though I’m generally not a stat-head, Sheehan shows stats that support the headline — and I personally am wary of these five guys without delving into the numbers.
For example, as much as I love the O-dog’s personality, and think that alone would upgrade the Mets as a team, I do worry about the Mets giving him a long-term, expensive deal because he does, to me, compare to Luis Castillo at the same age. Not surprisingly, Sheehan offers the same comparison, so I’m not the only one. Think about it — when Castillo celebrated his 32nd birthday (Hudson turned 32 last week), he was about to finish a season with a .301 batting average and .368 OBP. Though he played most of that season and the one before on bad knees, he still managed to steal 34 bases and score 175 runs between 2006-2007, and his glove (not range) was still considered one of the best in the game. Yes, those bad knees greatly diminished his range, but few were in his class when it came to glovework (he made less than a dozen errors in two seasons combined) and turning the double play. In his free-agent offseason, he was finally going to get much-needed, but supposedly minor, knee surgery. Most expected that he’d return to at least 80-85% of what he was as a Gold Glove winner and top of the lineup table-setter.
And here we have Hudson, who himself is a Gold Glover and coming off a career-high .305 / .367 year (wow, those numbers are close!). Also like Castillo, he’s had several nagging injuries in his most recent two seasons. Granted, his injuries have been to his wrist, various fingers, and hamstrings — none of which would be nearly as damaging to his range as Castillo’s two bad knees. But he’s been less durable since he’s entered his 30s — is that a pattern developing? Yes, his ability to swing the stick with occasional pop still makes him a better alternative to the slap-hitting Castillo — but does it make him worth $30M over 3 years? Moreover, will the Mets be sorry they gave an injury-prone second baseman a long-term deal a year from now? It’s easy to say “no” now, and many of us thought the 4-year deal given to Castillo was crazy even at the time. But how many expected Castillo’s value to drop so drastically, so quickly? We figured it would be a bad contract when it was in the third or fourth year, not the first.
Similarly, Sheehan points out concerns that I share for Wolf, Garland, and Varitek. I’ve been shaking my head all along wondering why Wolf is in the conversation at all, and this adds fuel to the fire:
Since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2006, Wolf has a massive Petco Park/Earth split: a 3.58 ERA and a 68/26 K/BB in the Happiest Place on Earth (For Pitchers), 4.90 with a 232/117 K/BB everywhere else. He’s a flyball pitcher without the velocity to work up in the zone any longer, and will have a huge home-run rate in a normal park.
Garland has put up better looking numbers on the surface for the last few years, but Sheehan informs us that his low strikeout and high contact rates suggest he’ll be progressively worse as time goes on. Even still, a move to the NL should stave off that downslide for at least a year or two, and he has the potential to be an innings-eater. But he certainly isn’t worth more than a two-year deal.
Varitek came up in recent rumors surrounding the Mets, though how much truth to them is up for debate. Still, the Mets have supposedly been shopping Brian Schneider in the hopes of upgrading the catching position. Would Varitek qualify as an upgrade? Hard to say. Defensively, he’s about equal to Schneider, with a weaker arm. Offensively, it’s hard to be worse than Schneider was last year, but ‘tek was close; where Schneider had no power and a so-so average, Varitek had so-so power and a terrible average — you make the call. From a leadership standpoint, there’s no question — Varitek is exactly the type of leadership personality the Mets need, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Problem is, can he play in enough games to be effective? He turns 37 next April, and is probably best served in a platoon role — ideally and ironically, with someone like Schneider. But is it worth a compensation pick and $9M/year for someone who might play in only 100 games? (Well, that’s about what the Mets paid Moises Alou to appear in 15, so ….)
Of course, there are no guarantees with any free agents, and if the Mets added one or two of these players mentioned it wouldn’t be the end of the world. In fact, I’d welcome the additions of Varitek, Hudson, and Garland. The key is not overpaying for what could turn out to be yet another bad contract.