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Steam from the Hot Stove

A roundup of the free agent activity not covered by my two compatriots in the last week from around the major leagues.

Baltimore Orioles-The Orioles made a move to upgrade their bullpen this week, inking former Detroit pitcher Jamie Walker to a three year, $12 million agreement. Walker, a key member of Detroit's bullpen last year, will be brought in to shore up a Baltimore relief corps that was the main reason that the team finished 29th in the major leagues in team ERA. The signing of Walker, which I would have considered "overpayment" before the free agent signing period began now looks downright reasonable. He has a consistent track record of 3-ish ERAs for the Tigers, and his ERA dipped last year to 2.81. His strikeout rates are decent, his walk rates are better, and thus he does not allow too many baserunners. With that said, he does have a penchant for being hittable, and his home run rate was alarming last year. At 1.50 in Comerica Park, you have to wonder what it will look like in Camden Yards. Still, it seems like a pretty solid signing for a bullpen that sorely needs it.

Oakland Athletics-The A's hired bench coach Bob Geren to be their new manager last week, ending a search that had taken place for a month. Ron Washington, the Oakland third base coach who presumably would have been the favorite for Ken Macha's job, was hired by Texas before the A's had a chance to interview him. I don't really know too much about Geren, but the move makes the A's bench coach even more of a seemingly endless "manager-to-be" position, as Macha himself was hired as the bench coach. Still, A's GM Bill Beane's system really devalues the managerial position and makes the occupant expendable, as Ken Macha and Art Howe have no doubt learned. It will be interesting to see if Geren and Beane have a better working relationship than did Macha and Beane. You'd think so, since that was the primary reason the A's decided to make a change, but we shall see.

New York Yankees-In a move that should officially signal the team's desperation for starting pitching, the Yankees are reportedly considering giving reliever Scott Proctor the opportunity to go into camp as a starter. Apparently the market price of pitching and the lack of it has forced the Yanks into some desperate moves, and this appears to be one of them. The team already worked quickly to give starter Mike Mussina a new contract, and with Jaret Wright traded, and the duo of Carl Pavano and Randy Johnson sucking, the team needs to find a complement for Chein-Ming Wang and Mussina in the rotation. A minor league journeyman until he was 28, Proctor has been turned to each of the last three years to provide help for the beleaguered New York bullpen. Other than this year, he mostly hasn't given any. However in 83 appearances in the Bronx this year, he apparently showed enough to convince Brian Cashman and Co. that he is good enough for a spot in the rotation. The logic in that eludes me, considering his past, but nonetheless we move forward, more comfortable about the situation in the AL East than ever.

Boston Red Sox-Meanwhile, our AL East compatriots in Beantown also made a move, albeit very minor compared to the Daisuke Matsuzaka bidding sweepstakes of the previous week, re-signing 2B Alex Cora to a two year, $4 million deal. The move is actually not a bad one, despite what Cora's lackluster offensive numbers may suggest. While his .654 OPS will not burn you, in the Red Sox lineup, it doesn't need to. The team already has a bounty of offensive weaponry at its disposal, what it needs is defensive backup for the pitching staff. As we know all too well here, defensive prowess at the second base position can help a pitching staff out tremendously. That could not have been more evident in the case of Orlando Hudson going to Arizona last offseason. His stellar defense helped groundball pitcher Brandon Webb perform even better than he had in previous years, enough to win the Cy Young. So while Cora may not ever make up his contract on offensive production, the value he brings to Boston's defense will be immense, and thus will make his deal worth it.

New York Mets-The Amazins jumped the gun on a Black Friday spending spree, coming to terms with old-timer Moises Alou on a one year, $8.5 million agreement. While an investment on any 40 year old player is risky, the one year investment in Alou seems prudent. He has maintained a .900+ OPS each of the last three seasons, and his production has actually increased in the last two years since signing with San Francisco. He should help add punch to the Mets' already deep lineup, and at $8.5 million, he should give the Mets a return for their money. Meanwhile, the Mets made a much less significant move earlier this week, but one with Tampa Bay connections, claiming former Rays first round pick Jason Standridge off of waivers from Cincinnati. Standridge did something last year and in 2005 for the Reds that he never did in St. Pete-pitch well. After being picked up from Texas in 2005, he posted a 4.05 ERA for the Reds, and the next year posted a 4.82 ERA for Cincinnati. Here's wishing the best of luck for Standridge, even though he is playing for the Mets.

Chicago Cubs-Jim Hendry was at it again, making the biggest news of the offseason by signing former Washington LF Alfonso Soriano to an eight year, $136 million contract. The sheer amount of money invested in Soriano requires that you be damn sure he performs, and not just "well", he had better perform at top-level, a perennial MVP contender, and he must be surrounded by a supporting cast that makes his addition relevant. The Cubs have none of that. They still don't have any starting pitching and they have Mark DeRosa starting at second base. Aside from that, Soriano just does not deserve that much money. Ever heard of contract year production spikes? Sure, he had a good season with Washington last year, but the two years before that with Texas, in an extreme home run hitters' park, he had low OBPs and/or SLG%s. His career OPS is still .836, he is on the wrong side of 30 (he will be 31 on January 7th), and he has a consistent track record of laying an egg in the postseason, though I am sure there will be no problem with that in Chicago, if for sheer lack of opportunity. Where Tribune Co. is getting all this cash and what their motivations are, I don't know. But it is misguided, and they will be paying for this mistake for years to come.

Los Angeles Dodgers-Meanwhile, the largest importer of Devil Ray products made a splash themselves on the market last week, though in typical Ned Colleti fashion, it was for all the wrong reasons. The Dodgers earlier this week signed Juan Pierre to a five year, $44 million deal that ensures that the LA franchise will be handicapped by stupid spending for years to come. Even allowing for the fact that the Dodgers have cash to burn, this move still doesn't make a lick of sense. I understand the desire for speed, but speed really isn't too great of an asset unless you can get on base, which Pierre as evidenced by his .330 OBP last year, obviously doesn't do too much of. The worst part is, when he does get on, Pierre isn't successful in over 1/4 of his stolen base attempts. He stole 58 bases last year, but was also caught stealing 20 times, and he doesn't exactly create too many extra base opportunities, as his .388 Slugging Percentage attests to. He has had exactly two years of decent (just decent) offensive production, and one of those took place in Coors Field. In fact his career OPS is just .728 despite playing three years in the Rocky Mountain air. And for all his speed, he is still a bad defensive outfielder to boot. I cannot for the life of me understand paying an average of $9 million a year for this guy. It makes absolutely no sense. On another note, the Trolley Dodgers also re-signed NL Comeback Player of the Year Nomar Garciaparra to a two year deal. If Garciaparra stays healthy and maintains his .303/.367/.505 production from last year, this shouldnt' be a bad deal for LA. However that begs the question, if keeping Garicaparra healthy presumably requires him to play at first base, then what is to become of LA prospect James Loney? The deal in itself is not bad, but it seems LA really put themselves between Rock and a Hard Place with this deal.

Anaheim Angels-Surpassing even the Juan Pierre deal in terms of stupidity, the Angels this week wasted $50 million over five years earlier this week by reeling in free agent CF Gary Matthews Jr. This deal may have just passed the Pierre signing and Soriano deal in terms of sheer stupidity among deals this offseason. Did Bill Stoneman not pick up on the fact that a little ballpark called "Arlington" inflates numbers? Consider that while Matthews' numbers the last three years in Texas have been decent, he was a fringe major leaguer before that. He had posted an OPS above .705 once, and did it ever occur to the Angels' front office that perhaps his .313/.371/.495 "breakout" was due to his .349 BABIP, almost .50 points above his career norm? His seasons in Texas reek of a fluke. And I sincerely hope that Stoneman hasn't brought up his defense as an excuse for the signing, as Matthews has been an awful defensive center fielder for years, that one SportsCenter catch be damned. This move is just so wrong on so many levels, congratulations Bill, in an offseason of the most reckless spending ever, you take the cake for the dumbest move. So far.

Colorado Rockies-It is almost a shame to put the Rockies after those two frivolous moves, but alas, the Rocks wrap up this addition of Steam with gasp a good move! Colorado this week ensured that Jeff Francis will stay in the fold for several more years, as he agreed to a deal that will keep him in the Rocky Mountains for another four years. The deal also didn't involve the transfer of an ungodly sum of money, as all it took was a mere $13.25 million to keep Francis around. This move is full of benefits for the god squad. Francis, 26 on January 8th, is a bright young pitcher that should give Colorado a good presence in their rotation for the next several years at relatively minimal cost, as opposed to the wasted sums of money in the past on Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, and Darrell Kile. Francis struggled last year and the year before to tame the Coors Field hitter-friendly environment, but came into his own last year, posting a 4.16 ERA. His strikeout rate fell, but he also limited an undue burden on himself by lowering his walk rate as well. Most of all, however, he kept the ball down, lowering his home run rate drastically while holding opponents to a .250 batting average. If he can continue to make strides in limiting the number of baserunners he allows, as well as not leaving fat pitches up in the zone, he could be a key help in pushing Colorado into a playoff run.