Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Free Agency? Ain't Nothin' Free About These Players!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well one of several I guess. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I’ve written about the NHL trade deadline being the best time of the year. Along with NHL free agency and the MLB trade deadline. Oh and Christmas! I love me some Christmas. November 14th would be the day I heard the first Christmas carol of the year. Oddly enough, not too early in my book. Any day past Halloween is open season for as far as I’m concerned.

Where was I? Oh yeah, best time of the year. MLB free agency is officially under way. For the second year in a row the O’s sign an Atkins. Hopefully, Mitch pans out better than Garrett did last year. After putting up decent numbers in the minors last year, 8-3 with a 3.63 ERA, he’ll have a shot at making the club as a spot starter or long relief in the bullpen. Atkins is another former Cubs’ prospect brought in by GM Andy McPhail.

Now that they’ve broken the ice with their first new player what else lies in store for the Birds over the next four months or so? Probably not as much as O’s fans are hoping for. With a few exceptions, this isn’t a remarkably deep free agent class. Which means the game changing players that are available are probably going to be priced out of Baltimore’s comfort zone.

The days of throwing out money willy-nilly to bring in a “big name” are gone. Though some fans might not agree with it, McPhail has a plan. It involves rebuilding the farm system, developing talent and making wise free agent signings. He’s been quoted as saying that his plan is to “grow the arms and buy the bats”. In this year’s class there aren’t that many bats out there to be bought.

The good news for O’s fans is that there are less and less positions to fill every year. Let’s take a look at the positions as they stand right now:

Catcher - Matt Wieters
First Base - ?
Second Base - Brian Roberts
Short Stop - ?
Third Base - ?
Left Field - Felix Pie
Center Field - Adam Jones
Right Field - Nick Markakis

Now some folks will grumble that Pie isn‘t a lock for the starting leftfield gig. Well go ahead and grumble….on your own blog. Injuries are the only thing keeping him from being thought of as an everyday player, and this could be the year he shakes that stigma.

What I’m going to do for in the next few minutes is give you my wish list to fill the empty spots AND the more likely free agent signing. So here we go!

First Base:

My wish list - Derrick Lee

Yes, he’s getting older (35 years old) and the power has declined a bit over the last couple of years, but he’s still a good fit for the O’s. He has 25 homerun potential and is a 3 time Gold Glove winner at first base.

How nice would it be to have a natural first baseman on the roster again? No more outfielders or third basemen trying to learn the position. Scooping errant throws saves outs, more importantly it saves pitches. Cutting down on the outs young pitchers needs to helps them immensely.

Plus, he adds middle of the order power to the line up. Wouldn’t his right handed bat look nice after Markakis’ left handed bat? Perhaps Nick the Stick will find some of that power he lost last season not having a consistent home run threat behind him.

What would it take to sign him? 3 years - $35-ish million? Maybe with an option for a fourth year?

Who are they going to sign instead? Xavier Nady A couple of years younger, undoubtedly cheaper and just not as good. If they sign him to a one year deal I’m not mad - anything longer that that is just money wasted.

Shortstop - DEREK JETER!!!!! Just kidding. There is no way he signs with anyone other than the Yankees. So my choice would be. Bring back Julio Lugo. Right now the only viable option on the 40 man roster is Robert Andino. While he’s shown promise in short bursts, he hasn’t proven to be an everyday player. Lugo isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done - cheaply.

Who will they sign? Lugo.

Third Base - Joe Crede. Yes I know, another player coming off a bad year. The O’s at this point aren’t a destination for marquee free agents. Adrian Belte is not coming to Baltimore. Nor are they going to match the 5 year $65 million that the A’s have thrown out there for Beltre. Crede can be had for one or two years (time enough for Josh Bell to get more at bats at AAA) and could provide power in a hitter’s park.

Who will they sign? Eric Chavez. History of back injuries? Former superstar? 61 total games played in the last 3 seasons? Sounds like 3 years and $28 million to me!

Of course, my dream free agent pick up would be Carl Crawford. My favorite player playing on my favorite team? Yes please! Unfortunately, he is the marquee non-pitcher on the free agent list this year which means the wealthy teams will be bidding against each other and driving his cost up into Teixerian regions.

Justin, you say, what about pitching? There has to be at least one pitcher out there you’d like to see in the black and orange. Well, yeah. Cliff Lee would rock the bird, but it’s not happening. There is one guy that, if they can get him for the right price, would help anchor the staff.

Brandon Webb. There is some worry about his shoulder. His agent is kicking the tires on the idea of a $10 million deal. Not exactly making him a slam dunk, but there is enough upside to make him worth a look.

He’s a ground ball pitcher (Camden Yards eats fly ball pitchers for brunch), in his prime (31 years old), and a winner (22 and 18 wins in his last two full seasons). He could fill both the mentor role that Kevin Millwood provided last year along with the added benefit of actually being able to win games.

I don’t expect the O’s to make too many big splashes this off-season, to do so would be to deviate from a plan initiated two years ago. One that started to show some progress over the second half of the season. It might have been Buck Showalter’s magic wand, but it could be the fact the young players had 80-90 games under their belt and were gaining their footing.

The team has potential, especially if the arms continue to develop. Overpaying for a mediocre crop of free agents would delay or destroy their progress. They won’t be competing for the division crown next season, but they won’t be languishing in the basement either.

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