Archive: November 16th, 2007

Mets Establish the Market

Something just occurred to me in regard to the signing of Yorvit Torrealba (which was officially posted on MLB.com today) — Yorvit is the first free-agent of the Hot Stove Season to sign with another team. All other free agents signed thus far had signed with their current / 2007 team. Torrealba is the first to take advantage of the open market.

So, you could say that the Mets have more or less established the value of this winter’s free agent market.

Maybe that’s too broad a stroke to paint, but there’s no doubt that this signing will directly or indirectly affect every other signing that follows. Because the Mets have established that a career backup catcher is worth three years and almost fifteen million dollars on the open market, all remaining free-agents are now readjusting the perception of their own individual value.

In other words, Kaz Matsui (for example) may have previously thought that he’d have a hard time getting a three year commitment from another team. However, seeing his teammate ride the momentum of the Rockies’ postseason excitement should affect Matsui’s self-evaluation. After all, he has more years as a starter (albeit at second base) than Torrealba, and many more proven offensive tools. So suddenly he’s worth at least 3/15 to someone looking for a starting second baseman. And if borderline starters such as Kaz and Yorvit are getting 3/15, that means legit starting players should be commanding much higher deals.

Last year, I *think* the first free agent to sign a “foreign” contract was Justin Speier with the Angels — it was a four-year $18M deal. There’s no doubt that deal established the value of middle relievers, because by the end of the month Chad Bradford signed his seemingly insane 3-year deal with the Orioles. Further, after a middle reliever’s value was established, the fringe fifth and “sixth” starters realized much higher values than anyone imagined — how else did it explain the bloated contracts signed by people such as Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly, Jeff Suppan, Gil Meche, etc.?

So, along with quickly finding their starting catcher for 2008, the Mets have also set the bar for all free agent contracts going forward this winter. This could, actually, be a good thing for the deep-pocketed (but alligator-armed) Wilpons. Without an assortment of trading chips, the Mets’ most effective way to improve their ballclub likely will be through the free-agent market. And by signing Yorvit Torrealba to an overvalued contract, they may have indirectly affected the deals to be signed in the future by, for example, Carlos Silva, Mariano Rivera, and Livan Hernandez. The ceiling for those targets could be too high for teams that otherwise would have offered them contracts, which means the Mets could have less competition and a better chance of acquiring those arms.

Or am I overthinking this? Thoughts?

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Goodbye Mr. Chip

Chip Ambres smacks the game-winning hit against the Dodgers in his only hit as a New York MetThe news may not turn the baseball world on its ear, but Mets fans may be slightly interested to find out that Chip Ambres has signed a minor-league contract with the San Diego Padres and has been invited to spring training.

Chip spent nearly all of 2007 in New Orleans and played well, both in the field and at bat. While numerous Met outfielders injured themselves between April and July, Ambres was passed over again and again, despite swinging a good stick. The last straw came after Carlos Gomez went down with a wrist injury in at the same time Chip was in the midst of wreaking havoc on PCL pitching, batting .586 over a 7-game span and earning “Batter of the Week” honors. At that point, it would appear that the stars had lined up for the journeyman, but the Mets instead brought up his teammate Ricky Ledee.

Ambres was finally promoted at the end of July, and appeared in games on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd. That last appearance was, fittingly, the most memorable: his seeing-eye single in the top of the tenth scored Lastings Milledge to put the Mets over the Dodgers in a dramatic fashion. However, he didn’t have much time to celebrate, as he was sent back down to New Orleans — for good — two days later.

Ambres became a free agent after the season, and didn’t see a fit with the Mets in ’08. In San Diego, he could be a “last option” in the event Mike Cameron doesn’t re-sign and the Padres don’t find another centerfielder. He should at least get a crack at being a fourth or fifth outfielder, as their depth in that department is sparse.

Good luck, Chip, and thanks for the memory!

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Three Years with Yorvit

At this point, it doesn’t make much sense to criticize Omar Minaya on the signing of Yorvit Torrealba. The deal is done, and Yorvit is more or less guaranteed to be the starting backstop come April. And, he’ll likely be around for at least another year or two beyond 2008. So, we may as well get used to Yorvit — the sooner the better.

Several pundits and bloggers have explained away the seeming insanity of handing a three-year, $15M contract to a career backup catcher with Rey Ordonez-like punch and a barky shoulder. As I mentioned earlier this week, this deal makes me think about strapping on the old shin guards and walking into the offices of MLB GMs — even as a washed-up, 37-year-old, semipro wannabe with two herniated disks. Heck, I’d be OK with the “paltry” two-year, $6M contract they’d likely offer. (Did I mention how wonderful I am at calling a game and working with pitchers? Or my over-the-top enthusiasm and energy? Or my knowledge of 30 very common Spanish phrases?)

Anyway … as much as it appears to be insanity to know-nothing bloggers such as myself, I suppose we have to give Omar Minaya the benefit of the doubt and believe that he knows something that we don’t. My guess is that he’ll extol the intangible, non-statistical strengths of Torrealba — the high-strung enthusiasm and energy, the remarkable ability to handle pitchers, his propensity for throwing down the correct fingers in calling pitches, yadda yadda yadda. In other words, Minaya will completely skirt the fact that Torrealba’s .255 average in a hitter’s park last year was a career high, and that for the next three years we can expect the backstop position to resemble the days of Jerry Grote as far as offense is concerned. (Matt Himelfarb, please feel free to enter the conversation here and let us all know just how statistically awful Yorvit projects to be.)

But — and this is a huge but — Minaya could somehow be right on with this signing. I am not too proud nor embarrassed to admit that I thought that Omar was completely off his rocker when he signed Jose Valentin, Chad Bradford, and Endy Chavez to contracts during the winter of 2005-2006. The Valentin signing in particular got my goat — it seemed to me to be the stupidest, most nonsensical deal imaginable. Yet, I ate crow when Valentin proved to be an outstanding all-around second baseman in ’06, and got used to crow after watching Bradford become a bullpen stopper and Chavez evolve into a fan favorite and role player of legendary proportions. By the end of 2006, I came to understand that Omar knew much more than me, which explained why he was GM of the Mets and I was toiling as a nondescript blogger.

So before I go ape crazy yammering about how awful a move this Yorvit Torrealba signing is, I’ll keep quiet and wait to see what happens. As fans, we were beside ourselves witnessing the lack of drive, energy, and motivation during most of 2007, so perhaps the high-energy Torrealba is exactly the antidote we’ve been craving. Maybe his enthusiasm alone will make up for his rag arm and lack of offense. Who knows, maybe his arm will magically heal and his offensive skills will suddenly advance. For all we know, this time next year we will be thinking, “how did we ever doubt the importance of Yorvit Torrealba?”

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