Archive: November 3rd, 2007

Minor League Free Agents: Pitchers

As mentioned earlier, there are over 600 minor league free-agents available. That sounds like a whopping number, but in reality there are few players of quality. The list is made up mostly of has-beens, never-wases, and career minor leaguers such as Gookie Dawkins, Sandy Martinez, and our beloved Joe Hietpas. Finding a gem among the heap of trash is akin to locating a needle in a haystack — next to impossible. However, there are a few interesting names that may be worth inviting to spring training, and/or signing to a minor-league deal.

Re-read that last sentence, lest you think this post is about guys who can step in and take a spot on the Mets’ 25-man roster. The following suggestions are players I think would be long, long, longshots to make the club, but might be nice to have as depth in AAA.

Today we look at the free-agent pitchers, and since the Mets’ biggest issue is in the bullpen, I’d consider nearly all of these men as relievers (except R.A. Dickey, as knuckleballers don’t make sense out of the ‘pen IMHO).

Chad Harville
The Astros nearly chose this guy as their number one draft pick back in 1997, but took Lance Berkman instead. As it turned out, Harville was once the “closer of the future” for the Oakland A’s, throwing a fastball with good control in the mid-90s. However, his career has been wrought with nagging shoulder and elbow injuries — nothing serious, mostly tendinitis — and he has a career ERA of over 5 in MLB. However, he had a decent, healthy year in AAA last year, striking out almost 8 batters per 9 innings, and still throws a nice sinking fastball in the low 90s. He’s 30 years old and only 5’9″, so you have to like a guy who has gone this far as a pro pitcher at that height — he must have some serious tenacity.

Trey Hodges
Hodges is one of the few Atlanta Braves pitching prospects who never panned out. Not an overpowering guy, he has always relied on guile and control — once walking only 18 batters in over 170 innings. He spent one full year in the Braves’ bullpen — 2003 — and appeared in over 50 games, striking out one batter per inning for the first time in his pro career. He never did it again, and never pitched in MLB again. He spent most of last season at AAA Richmond as a starter, and went 6-6 with a 4.72 ERA. Like Harville, he’s 30 and running out of time. However, a return to the ‘pen could be just what he needs.

Bobby Brownlie
A local boy, from Edison, NJ and a Rutgers alum, Brownlie was the #1 pick of the Cubs in 2002 and signed to a $2.5M contract. He was a complete disappointment, and was released in 2006 — one year after Baseball America rated him as having the “best control” in the Cubs’ organization. After pitching for the Newark Bears for most of last year, he was picked up by the Indians and pitched in nine games (8 starts) for their AA club and posted a 3.17 ERA, striking out 37 and walking 14 in 48 innings. His velocity, which was once around 95, is now down in the 88-91 range but has good sink, and he mixes in an excellent curve and decent changeup. It would be a nice story to see him hook on with the Mets, and at age 27 he might still have a shot.

Cliff Politte
From 2002-2005, Politte was an above-average middle reliever for the Blue Jays and White Sox, highlighted by a fantastic 7-1 record and 2.00 ERA in 68 games in 2005. However, he had shoulder issues in 2006 and was released by the ChiSox, and spent all of 2007 in the minors. At 34, he’s not getting any younger, but if he’s healthy he could be valuable as AAA depth.

Mike Koplove

This guy was the Diamondbacks’ version of Heath Bell, riding the shuttle between AAA Tuscon and the big club for much of his career — pitching adequately but never quite good enough to stick. His career minor league ERA is 3.01 and in MLB it is 3.82. He can’t be any worse than Jon Adkins.

Dennis Tankersley
At one time, Tankersley was on the fast track to the Padres’ starting rotation — often mentioned in the same breath as … gasp … Jake Peavy (in fact, Baseball America rated him the #16 prospect in all of MLB in 2002, ahead of Peavy, Brett Myers, Eric Bedard, Carl Crawford, and Jose Reyes, among others). Something happened, though — he leveled off and never consistently retired MLB hitters. He’s presumably healthy, having started 24 AAA games last year. Maybe someone needs to tell him to focus on his two best pitches and become a middle reliever.

Adam Pettyjohn
This is one of those lefthanded late bloomers. Pettyjohn has been a career minor leaguer, but finally broke out last season, going a combined 16-6 last season between AA and AAA in the Brewers organization. He’s always had a great K:BB ratio, and it was 137:34 last season. Maybe he’s finally figured it out.

Dewon Brazelton
What happened to this guy? He was drafted ahead of Mark Teixeira, and was supposed to be the next Dwight Gooden. He’s been a complete bust. But, no one’s ever tried him out of the bullpen. Hmmm ….

Matt Peterson

Once a gem in the Mets’ organization, he was part of the deal that brought Kris and Anna Benson to New York. He still throws around 90-91 and has a hard curveball.

Jesse Foppert
An athletic 6’6″ stringbean, Foppert was once THE TOP pitching prospect in baseball. Then he blew out his elbow, had Tommy John surgery (in 2003) and has never been the same. He does, however, still get the ball in the 92-93 range and throws a good split. He’s only 27, so why not take a flyer?

Franklyn German
This guy throws gas — a few years ago fellow Detroit farmhand Joel Zumaya was being compared to him, not the other way around. However, control has always been an issue for German, and didn’t get better last year. In AAA, he struck out 72 in 59 innings — but walked 46. He did give up only 28 hits. Calling Rick Peterson: remember what you did with Jorge Julio? Do it again.

Casey Fossum
Another one of the “best pitching prospects in all of baseball” gone bad. And to think, the Red Sox felt uneasy about giving him up for Curt Schilling.

Brandon Claussen
Once a bright young lefty, now a quickly aging journeyman. Injuries have hurt Claussen’s career, but he did post a 4.21 ERA in 29 starts in 2005 for the Reds. He throws in the low 90s, and might rejuvenate his career in the bullpen.

Ricardo Rincon

Billy Beane once coveted him highly, however he spent all of last year in the minors. He’ll be 38 next year, but might be a good LOOGY to have hanging around in AAA.

Michael Tejera
Was once thought to be a future starter for the Rangers, has since been earmarked as a AAAA pitcher — good in the minors, not quite good enough to pitch in the majors. Like Harville, he’s 5’9″, but unlike Harville, he’s a lefty. Do we need another Willie Collazo?

Pat Mahomes
He’s still in baseball, believe it or not. If he can pitch for the Mets like he did in 1999, I say sign him on!

Frank Brooks
This one is an emotional choice. He’s another local boy, from my alma mater St. Peter’s College. A tough lefthander who throws hard, he’s been a career AAA pitcher. But then, so was Joe Borowski, a.k.a., the Bayonne Bullet.

R.A. Dickey
Gotta love the knuckleballers. Every team should have one.

Lance Niekro

He’s actually a first baseman, but it looks like his career is over. His dad and uncle taught him how to throw the knuckler a long time ago, and he supposedly still dickers around with it during pregame warmups. Might be time to consider throwing it full time, off the mound.

Mike Venafro
I think you know my stance on submariners by now. Bring in da funk!


Mets Minor League Free Agents

The minor league free-agent market is now open, and over 600 bushers are available.

Soon I will provide my list of players worth considering. In the meantime, here is the list of players free to leave the Mets’ organization:

Righthanderd Pitchers: Joe Hietpas, Brian Lawrence, Clint Nageotte, Marcelo Perez, Corey Ragsdale, Jose Santiago

Lefthanded Pitchers: Ricardo Morales, Raul Valdes

Catchers: Edwards Guzman, Jose Reyes

First baseman: Andy Tracy

Second basemen: J.E. Cruz, Jake Gautreau

Third basemen: Brett Harper, Vince Harrison, Fernando Tatis

Shortstops: Jason Alfaro, Wilson Batista, Mark Kiger

Outfielders: Ender Chavez, Ambiorix Concepcion, Elvis Cruz, Jesus Feliciano, Chad Hermansen, Luis Matos, Miguel Negron

Hietpas used to be a “catch and throw” catcher, meaning a catcher who couldn’t hit. He was converted to pitching early in 2007. Ragsdale was a similar case; he was a no-hit shortstop with a cannon who finally tried pitching this past year. There’s a possibility both will return.

Brett Harper is the only guy that jumps out. He was once a slugging first base prospect who had a hard time progressing as quickly as the Mets would have liked. He had a fine season in AA last year — but as a 26-year-old. By his age, he wants to be in MLB. Unfortunately, he’s a one-dimensional power hitter, with poor fielding skills and a slug around the bases. Yes, I’ve just described Carlos Delgado, but Delgado has hit 40 HRs at the MLB level. Who knows, though … both Travis Hafner and Jeff Bagwell were late bloomers.

No worries regarding Ender Chavez. It is indeed Ender and not Endy.

Ambiorix Concepcion was once a crown jewel of the system — in 2004 he was the #1 prospect in the NY-Penn League, prompting Baseball America to say “There wasn’t a manager in the league who questioned the remarkable talent of Brooklyn outfielder Ambiorix Concepcion.” Since then, however, he has regressed, and spent all of last year in A ball after being overmatched by AA in 2006. His quick fall from grace should be considered by Mets fans who have remarkably high hopes for youngsters such as Francisco Martinez — evaluating teenage talent can be a real crapshoot.

The rest of the free agents are mostly filler players and non-prospects — no one that the Mets will miss.


Giant Possibilities

The latest rumors out of the Bay Area regarding pitchers on the block now refer to current Giants rather than Athletics.

We’ve been hearing the Harden / Haren / Blanton stories since this time last year. But now, the buzz across the bay is that San Francisco is willing to part with one of their young pitchers.

Said SF GM Brian Sabean (as quoted by the Sacramento Bee):

“When you finish in last place you’ve got to be open to change. We’re going to have to cross the bridge and trade some of our pitching to address our fielding needs.”

That second sentence has caused bloggers, sportswriters, and other pundits to go hog wild with the possibilities — some of them bordering on the insane.

For example, Tracy Ringolsby interpreted Sabean’s comment to mean that undersized phenom Tim Lincecum would be dealt away for a centerfielder. Huh? Naturally, that hair-brained idea set off the wild-eyed commenters at MetsBlog and other forums, thinking the Mets might be able to pry away the flamethrower for Lastings Milledge. Ain’t happenin’, folks.

Lincecum is only 5’10” and about 150 pounds, but throws in the triple digits via an unorthodox pitching delivery that some say is an injury waiting to happen while others claim is a more efficient means of overhand throwing. As a pitching coach, I’m still on the fence. His motion is definitely different, and I can see the benefits of his mechanics — particularly the timing of his weight shift and his remarkably long stride. However, I don’t like the way he over-rotates nor do I like his arm action — it looks like he’ll have shoulder and elbow problems down the road. Plus, his amazingly fast arm speed could be too fast and violent for his ligaments. His timing and coordination have to be absolutely perfect, otherwise the force of his arm speed could go against itself. But I could be wrong, and time will tell.

It doesn’t matter, anyway, because the Mets aren’t getting him. Lincecum has electric stuff — the kind that you don’t see often. Think: Felix Hernandez, Doc Gooden, Don Gullett. Teams don’t trade arms like this, even if they’re only 5’10”. OK, maybe they do sometimes … but you’d think the world would have learned from the Dodgers’ grave mistake regarding Pedro Martinez.

Cooler heads have suggested that Lincecum and Matt Cain are as close to untouchable as can be, and that Noah Lowry and/or Jonathan Sanchez are most likely to be used as bait for a bat. That makes sense, since Lowry is a solid if unspectacular lefty who may have plateaued, and Sanchez is an unproven commodity. Another far-out notion — from Paul Gutierrez at the Sac Bee — is that Barry Zito could be dealt, partly to bring in a bat but mostly to make room in the budget for Alex Rodriguez. A creative idea, but pure speculation — and doubtful.

In my opinion, if indeed the Giants are shopping Lowry or Sanchez, it would behoove the Mets to at least make an inquiry. Personally, I prefer Sanchez because of his upside. He’s a cocky SOB with a low 90s fastball that is paired with a legit changeup. Can you say Johan? Lowry would be the “safe” choice — he won 14 games last season — but it’s doubtful he’ll ever do better. Also, he averaged exactly six innings per start, tossing only 156 innings — and 160 in 2006. Not exactly the innings-eater the Mets are seeking. I’d much rather the Mets sign a Carlos Silva (have you heard this one enough?) and save their trading chips for someone else.

Lastings Milledge for Jonathan Sanchez smells like a good deal to me, for both teams. Each is a young stud seemingly on the cusp of greatness, yet neither has enough value to be traded straight-up for a proven Major Leaguer. The Mets can find an acceptable player to fill the corner outfield hole while waiting for Carlos Gomez or F-Mart to develop, and the Giants have an excess of young starting pitchers. Milledge can step in and start in centerfield for the Giants, and Sanchez would step right into the back end of the Mets’ rotation. For once, a trading partner with which the Mets have a match.