Archive: January 8th, 2009

Braves Targeting Lowe

Per several sources, agent Scott Boras is meeting with the Atlanta Braves to talk about Derek Lowe.

Lowe had reportedly been offered a 3-year, $35M contract by the New York Mets. Boras is seeking at least four years at around $16M per season for his client.

In desperate need to add starting pitching, the Atlanta ended trade talks with the Padres for Jake Peavy a month ago, and most recently were spurned by longtime Brave John Smoltz, who just agreed to a one-year contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Seeing the talent pool thin, and Lowe’s price tag dropping to below-market standards, Braves GM Frank Wren reached out to Boras. In addition, manager Bobby Cox met with Lowe in Atlanta, and Chipper Jones placed a phone call to the free agent pitcher in hopes of turning him on to “America’s Team”.

Despite this three-way blitz from Atlanta, Ken Rosenthal claims,

“From what I understand, the Braves are not interested in going beyond the three-year, $36 million offer from the Mets… I still don’t see the Braves going where Scott Boras will want them to go.”

Well then Ken, they’re putting on an Oscar-winning performance in the art of the bluff.

Meanwhile, the Mets are standing firm with an offer that pales in comparison to what Carlos Silva received last year from the Seattle Mariners.

While they have Boras’ ear, one must wonder if the Braves will also inquire about Oliver Perez, another free agent handled by the superagent? After all, the 27-year-old lefty has a 6-4 record and 3.46 ERA, including one shutout, in his career against Atlanta.

Actually, the best scenario for Boras is for the Braves to sign Lowe, which would in turn jack up the price on Perez for the Mets. But while the Mets continue to play chicken, the market for both pitchers continues to swell — some reports have the Phillies and Brewers looking at Lowe, and the Angels could be in the bidding for either pitcher.

What if the Mets lose out on BOTH Lowe AND Perez? The next-best starter on the market is probably Jon Garland, who would be a nice innings-eater at the back end of the rotation, but doesn’t project to be much else — even with a change to the NL. After Garland, the quality drops off considerably, with Tim Redding and Randy Wolf — both of whom have been linked to the Mets this winter — leading the pack.

This should be a significant concern for Omar Minaya, who as of now has two healthy starting pitchers heading into spring training (which by the way is only 36 days away). Should Lowe, Perez, Garland, and Redding sign elsewhere — which is a distinct possibility — Minaya’s best chance of putting together a championship rotation will begin with a novena. Hope he has knee pads.

Take a look for yourself at the starters available after Perez and Lowe:

Healthy, but Mediocre to Adequate:

Jon Garland
Tim Redding
Randy Wolf
Braden Looper

Healthy, but Awful to Mediocre:

Chuck James
Livan Hernandez
Odalis Perez
Sidney Ponson
Josh Fogg
Elmer Dessens

Good Potential, Questionable Health:

Ben Sheets
Jason Jennings
Mark Prior
Andy Pettitte
Mark Mulder
Curt Schilling

Questionable Potential, Questionable Health:

Bartolo Colon
Pedro Martinez
Freddy Garcia
Orlando Hernandez
Tom Glavine
Tony Armas

Now, let’s consider a few things. First, Tom Glavine is not coming back, and neither is Braden Looper. In addition, the Mets won’t roll the dice on dicey arms such as Mulder, Jennings, and Prior. They might take a chance on Freddy Garcia, and might be forced to gamble on Sheets. Pedro and El Duque would love to come back, but then it would feel like Groundhog Day. If Schilling were a possibility — which he likely isn’t — he wouldn’t be available until at least July. I’m not even going to qualify Dessens, Fogg, and Ponson. Odalis Perez and Livan Hernandez have been linked to the Mets in the past, and they could get ST invites — the question is, would we care? Pettitte would be a nice coup to annoy the crosstown Yankees, but he’s already turned down a $10M offer the Mets aren’t likely to top. Chuck James had a 9.10 ERA last year; he’s a guy who would be nice to have at AAA — not someone holding up the middle of your rotation. That leaves the underwhelming trio of Garland, Redding, and Wolf as the last men standing — they’re not necessarily coveted, but rather the default values left over when the quality has exited the market.

Should the Mets be stuck with a combination of Redding, Garland, and/or Wolf supporting the back end of their rotation, they will have no choice but to bring in Manny Ramirez. If you can’t keep the other team from scoring, then you have to outscore ’em, right?

It will be interesting to see how this drama develops over the next two weeks …


Why Not All Three?

Will the Mets make a Yankee-like splash?

According to the latest buzz, Mets GM Omar Minaya has been in talks with superagent Scott Boras over the last few days, supposedly discussing one or all of Boras’ top free agent clients Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez, and Oliver Perez. Reports inidicate that the Mets are most interested in Lowe, with secondary interest in Perez, and either mild or no interest in Ramirez.

My challenge to Omar and the Wilpons is this: why not sign all three?

As of today, the Mets have two healthy Major League-caliber starting pitchers on their roster — Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey. That’s a great start, but there are at least three other spots to be filled — unless the Mets plan to pray for rain the other three days. Yes, John Maine is still on the team, but no one can be certain that he’ll return 100% from shoulder surgery, and even if he does, we’re not sure which Maine we’ll see — the one who seemed on the verge of Cy Young candidacy in 2007, or the one who more resembled Steve Trachsel in 2008. I don’t think it’s a great plan to count on him coming back and being at his 2007 form.

Unfortunately, this is the Mets’ MO. We saw it last year, when they assured us that Orlando Hernandez and Pedro Martinez would come back from their various injuries and be stalwarts in the ’08 rotation. For those who paid attention, Pedro was lackluster in 20 starts, and El Duque never left Port St. Lucie. Similarly, the Mets counted on Duaner Sanchez to be 100% (he wasn’t) and also planned on Moises Alou giving the team at least 100-120 games. The Mets also banked on Luis Castillo coming back from multiple knee surgeries and re-emerging as the top-of-the order hitter and gold glover he was in Miami.

This is what bothers me most — every year, the Mets assemble their team with just enough names to fill the roster, with little or no backup plans in place if their hopes and wishes are unfulfilled. Meanwhile, teams that ultimately make it to the postseason are loaded with surplus in the spring, knowing that they’ll need the extra help over the grind of a 162-game season.

Take the Phillies, for example, who currently have four set starters in their rotation, and FIVE legitimate MLBers competing for the fifth spot. That’s right, they have five guys going for their last spot in the rotation, while the Mets have yet to muster more than three for their entire rotation (sorry folks, I’m not counting Jon Niese — he’s a decent-looking kid but realistically an unknown entity at this point).

The starting rotation will still be a question mark if the Mets sign either Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez. However, it will not be a question at all if they sign BOTH. For those who are worried that Niese will be “stunted” if the Mets begin the season with five starters, I can guarantee that he will still get at least 10-12 starts — probably more — in such a situation. Few pitchers make all 32-34 of their starts per season, and in fact, the 2003 Seattle Mariners are the only team in recent memory to go an entire 162 games without a pitcher missing a start. Things happen over the course of a season — injuries, illnesses, suspensions — so it always makes sense to have “too many” starters than not enough. Consider this: last year, Nelson Figueroa, Claudio Vargas, Brian Stokes, Brandon Knight, Tony Armas, and Niese combined to make 17 “spot” starts. It was not an unusual year — or don’t you remember the days of Brian Lawrence, Chan Ho Park, Jeremi Gonzalez, Dave Williams, and Jose Lima?

If the Mets do the right thing, and sign BOTH Lowe and Perez, they won’t have the best rotation in the NL, but they’ll have enough solid starting pitching to make a run for the playoffs. Signing one or the other, and then crossing their fingers on a second-rate starter such as Randy Wolf or Tim Redding, is defeatist. It might be different if the Mets were an offensive juggernaut — as they were in 2006 — but despite their high run total of ’08, their lineup is flawed. Once again, it’s hopes and wishes filling many of the positions.

For example, the Mets are moving into 2009 on the assumption that Daniel Murphy will continue to hit over .300 and that Fernando Tatis will have six months that resemble last July. Looking at things objectively, it’s fair to say that both players will hit around .270, and combine for somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 homers and 80 RBI. Can the Mets afford that kind of production from left field, when they expect to get next to no offense from the catching and second base positions? Again, it’s hopes and prayers that Brian Schneider will hit more like he did in the last two months of the season than he did in the first four, and that Luis Castillo will return to being an on-base machine. In addition, it seems the Mets are taking for granted that Ryan Church will return 100% and hit all year like he did last April. Headaches or no headaches, for those who follow the numbers, Church’s performance in ’08 was exactly in line with his career averages. We’d like to believe he’ll be the MVP candidate he looked like in April and May, but is that really fair?

If the Mets sign Manny Ramirez, however, their offense will have zero question marks. With Manny in the middle, it won’t matter whether Luis Castillo is the second baseman … heck, they’d be fine with Mario Mendoza playing the position. Similarly, it won’t matter if Brian Schneider hits his usual punchless .250, or if Church regresses, or if Carlos Delgado starts the season like he did last year — Manny makes up for all that. Further, having the greatest righthanded hitter of our generation in the lineup takes all the pressure off Carlos Beltran — and we’ve seen how he can flourish when surrounded by stars.

Most importantly, Manny is the exact opposite of what the Mets have symbolized in the last two seasons — he rises to the occasion. Whereas the Mets have become laughingstock choke artists, Manny is the ultimate clutch player, the go-to guy in the most pressure-filled situations. Imagine what might have happened in the last week of 2008 — or 2007, for that matter — if Manny Ramirez were a Met. Never mind the nonsense of Manny being a cancer in the clubhouse, or the “Manny being Manny” tendencies. Sure, he may not mentally show up for 20-30 games, but he’ll still be better than everyone else on the planet for the other 130. And, remarkably, Manny’s been on winning teams that went to the postseason in every city he’s played — despite all his bad qualities. What would you rather have? A distracting force who carries you into the postseason, or a group of aw-shucks perfect citizens who break your heart at the end of every September?

Of course, the Mets would never sign Manny, and they’d never sign both Lowe and Perez, so this article is moot. In fact, there’s a decent chance the Mets don’t sign ANY of the three. After all, they’ve already addressed the the issue that was most obvious in the court of public opinion — the bullpen — so they can go into the 2009 season pretending that they’ve addressed their “major holes”. Indeed, the additions of K-Rod and J.J. Putz are enough to fool most Mets fans into believing that the front office is making an effort to make amends for the last two late-season collapses. However, the rest of us who are paying attention know better — they may have shortened the game by two innings, but there are still seven frames the Mets have to play every day. Looks to me like a third consecutive year of a team that — with some luck and bull-whipping — is just good enough to compete for five months and two weeks, but not quite equipped to finish out the string.

You can prove me wrong, Fred and Jeff. After selling four million tickets, running your own cable TV station, and moving into a brand-new stadium, it’s hard to believe — despite Bernie Madoff — that you don’t have the wherewithal to pull it off, especially in a free agent market that has driven prices to affordable levels. But do you have the chutzpah?


Bosox to Sign Baldelli – Smoltz Next?

According to various sources, the Boston Red Sox are about to sign Rocco Baldelli.

The free-agent outfielder grew up in the New England area as a Red Sox fan, and, ironically, will be receiving the Tony Conigliaro Award in Boston on Thursday. What a convenient coincidence, as many guess that the Bosox will announce the signing either at the event — which annually honors an MLBer who “best overcomes an obstacle and adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Conigliaro”. Conigliaro was an up and coming star for the Red Sox in the late 1960s, before a beanball to his face curtailed his career.

Baldelli, who had been misdiagnosed with mitichondrial disorder, has been re-diagnosed with channelopathy, which is much less severe and more manageable. All in all, a great deal for the Red Sox, who get a naturally gifted and talented young outfielder about to enter his prime years. Though the Mets desperately need a solid righthanded-hitting corner outfielder, Baldelli’s name was never whispered from the Flushing camp. Just as well, as it’s doubtful Baldelli would have turned down a chance to “go home” to Boston anyway.

In other news, the Red Sox are also on the verge of signing former Brave John Smoltz, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be able to pitch until at least June. The contract is in the neighborhood of $5.5M, with incentives that could push the deal to $10M.

Despite the fact the Mets have only two healthy MLB starting pitchers in their projected 2009 rotation, there was not much interest in Smoltz, likely due to his questionable health. Still, it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least if the Mets had taken a chance on him.


J.C. Romero Busted for PEDs

MLB has suspended Philadelphia Phillies reliever J.C. Romero for 50 games for violating the league’s drug policy.

Reportedly, MLB offered to cut the suspension in half — to 25 games — if Romero agreed to sit out the postseason. Romero declined the offer and filed an appeal instead.

Romero won Games 3 and 5 of the World Series, and had a perfect 0.00 ERA through 7 1/3 IP in the postseason.

6_oxo.jpgInterestingly, the substance that Romero claims he took — something called “6-OXO Extreme” — is a legal supplement that can be readily found in nutritional chain stores such as GNC.

There is a long sob story about how Romero didn’t know that the product he was supposedly taking would produce androstenedione.

“Basically, I am being punished for not having a chemistry lab in my house to test everything I put in my body, because reading the ingredients on a label is no longer good enough,” Romero said in a statement. “I am all for catching the guys that cheat and punishing them. But I feel like I’m the victim of a system where a player like me is punished because other players before me have blatantly broken the rules.”

Wah wah. Excuse me if I don’t empathize. Perhaps it’s because if someone handed me $4M per year to appear for 5 minutes in 75-80 baseball games, with the caveat that I cannot have a specified list of chemicals in my body while doing so, guess what? I’m going to make damn sure that those chemicals are not in my body.

And how can we be certain that Romero wasn’t knowingly taking andro, and blaming the positive test on 6-OXO Extreme? According to reports, the supplement has been known to possibly contain traces of andro, despite not listing it on the label. Players know this, and several had called the MLB hotline to find out its status (apparently, Romero was not one of those players). Sounds to me like the supplement was a nice scapegoat.

Which leads me to another point. It’s not as though players are clueless and have no recourse when it comes to questionable supplements. In addition to being given an exact list of substances one cannot have in their urine test, players are also educated on the dangers of OTC supplements every spring, are provided the hotline and a website, and are given a list of 12 manufacturers that produce supplements that are safe. You want to go outside that safe dozen? Make a phone call. Check the website. Make certain what you’re taking is in compliance.

Regardless of whether Romero is guilty of taking a banned substance or of sheer stupidity, he’ll be out of action for the first 50 games of 2009 — until about June. In case you’re wondering, the Mets play the Phillies five times before June, then have a three-game series with them beginning June 9.

In addition to the suspension of Romero, MLB also suspended former Marlins pitcher Sergio Mitre for 50 games — also for taking a banned substance that supposedly was in an OTC supplement. Mitre recently signed with the New York Yankees after an injury-riddled career in Florida.

The substance Halodrol was found in Mitre’s system. Unlike Romero, Mitre owned up to his mistake — only the second player in MLB history to take responsibility (Guillermo Mota was the first):

“I did take the supplement in question, and accept full responsibility for taking it,” Mitre said. “It contained a `contaminant’ amount of an illegal, performance-enhancing drug. This was not listed as an ingredient on the packaging, should not have been in the supplement and certainly should not have been available for legal purchase at a store. Despite this, I do accept my punishment because, as a professional, I have a responsibility for what I put into my body.”