Free Agency Preview: First base & DH

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Free Agency Preview – Catchers
This is part two in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. Here are the first basemen and designated hitters.
Adam LaRoche (Braves) – Fortunately, LaRoche’s big surge as a member of the Braves — he hit .325 with 12 homers and 40 RBI in 57 games after being traded for the second time in 2009 — still wasn’t enough to make him a Type A free agent. In fact, not one of the free agent first basemen/designated hitters will require draft pick compensation.
That he’s just now turning 30 and he’s proven quite durable gives LaRoche a significant advantage over the other options at first base. His worst OPS in six big-league seasons was a 775 mark in 2005, and he’s a steady defender. He’s the safest available choice and the only one worthy of a three-year deal. Besides the Braves, it looks like the Orioles, Mariners, Mets, Giants and Diamondbacks have the biggest needs at first base. However, most of those teams have quality first base prospects on the way and will target one-year options. That might make Baltimore and San Francisco the best first for LaRoche. Prediction: Orioles – three years, $21 million
Nick Johnson (Marlins) – Johnson failed to recover his power last season after missing so much of 2008 with wrist problems, but he did manage to play in 133 games and get on base at a .426 clip. Even if he’s no longer a candidate to hit 20-25 homers, he’s still the best player in this group of first basemen. Of course, he’s also the most fragile. He’s never played in 150 games, and he’s been held under 100 games four times in his eight seasons. He’ll likely get a two-year deal anyway, but it won’t be for big money. Not helping his case is that most of the teams that particularly value OBP are already set at first base. Prediction: Mariners – two years, $12 million
Carlos Delgado (Mets) – The Mets probably wouldn’t have paid the price to bring back a healthy Delgado in 2010, but the 37-year-old will be forced to take quite a discount after hip surgery cost him the final 132 games of last season. He’d seem to make a fine stopgap for one of the teams waiting on a first base prospect. However, that will depend on whether he’s still going to be able to field his position. The Mets are the ones with all of the info about his condition, so if they’re not interested in re-signing him, other NL teams would be smart to stay away. Prediction: Giants – one year, $7 million
Russell Branyan (Mariners) – Branyan gave the Mariners 31 homers for a mere $1.4 million last season, so it’s not surprising that Seattle wants him back. It’s also not surprising that Branyan is holding out for a multiyear deal this time around. He would have had a much better chance of getting one if he didn’t miss the final five weeks of last season with back problems. Branyan’s 2009 performance wasn’t necessarily a fluke, but his slumps get especially ugly and his extreme strikeout rate will cause many teams to shy away. Working under the theory that it’s really tough to hit homers at Citi Field — whether it’s true or not — the Mets might think it makes sense to go with someone who hits bombs. Prediction: Mets – one year, $5 million
Hank Blalock (Rangers) – One of the game’s best young players in 2003 and ’04, Blalock has now gone five straight seasons without being both healthy and productive He excelled in 2007 and 2008, but he played in just 123 games between the two seasons. In the other three years, he finished with OPSs of 749, 726 and 736. Also needing to be weighed in is that he may no longer an option at third base and that he’s a career .245/.300/.414 hitter away from Arlington. Still, he’s just turning 29 and his power hasn’t gone anywhere. He’ll probably need to accept a one-year deal in order to rebuild his value, and that will make him worth trying. Ideally, the team that signs him would also get an option for 2011, just in case he does come through with a big season. Prediction: Diamondbacks – one year, $4.5 million
Jim Thome (Dodgers) – Thome’s back seems to be deteriorating to the point at which he’s no longer even an everyday designated hitter, but he still managed an 864 OPS and 23 homers in 345 at-bats before the White Sox sent him to Los Angeles for the final month of last season. The move was welcomed by Thome, since the White Sox were out of contention, but the 39-year-old is open to returning to Chicago now. It’d be a surprise if the two sides couldn’t work something out. Prediction: White Sox – one year, $4 million
Aubrey Huff (Tigers) – Huff appeared to be in position for another multiyear deal when he hit a respectable .275/.342/.450 over the first three months of last season. Unfortunately, a July slump followed and he was particularly terrible after being sent from Baltimore to Detroit, coming in at .189/.265/.302 in 106 at-bats the rest of the way. Needless to say, he cost himself a lot of money in the process. He should land another starting job, but there’s a good chance he’ll be one of the last first basemen off the board. Prediction: Braves – one year, $3.5 million
Other free agents: Jason Giambi (Rockies), Chad Tracy (Diamondbacks), Mike Sweeney (Mariners), Ross Gload (Marlins), Kevin Millar (Blue Jays), Nomar Garciaparra (Athletics), Daryle Ward (Nationals), Robb Quinlan (Angels), Chris Shelton (Mariners), Dmitri Young (Nationals), Jeff Bailey (Red Sox), Ryan Shealy (Royals), Justin Huber (Twins), Tony Clark (FA), Doug Mientkiewicz (Dodgers), Joe Koshansky (Brewers), Bryan LaHair (Mariners), Greg Norton (Braves), Kevin Barker (Reds)
Giambi was a bust as Oakland’s first baseman, but he excelled in a brief stint as a bench player with the Rockies, driving in 11 runs in just 24 at-bats. While his defensive limitations are obvious, there are likely several NL teams that would welcome his presence off the bench. … Tracy has been a big disappointment since returning from knee surgery in 2008, but he’s a 29-year-old with a career OPS of 792 and he’ll come awfully cheap. It will be interesting to see who takes a chance on him. Cleveland is my guess.
Trade candidates: Adrian Gonzalez (Padres), Prince Fielder (Brewers), James Loney (Dodgers), Lyle Overbay (Blue Jays), Jorge Cantu (Marlins), Casey Kotchman (Red Sox), Travis Ishikawa (Giants), Ryan Garko (Giants), Gaby Sanchez (Marlins), Jake Fox (Cubs), Micah Hoffpauir (Cubs), Jeff Larish (Tigers), Juan Miranda (Yankees), Steve Pearce (Pirates), Oscar Salazar (Padres), Kila Ka’aihue (Royals), Josh Whitesell (Diamondbacks), Jordan Brown (Indians)
Can the Red Sox or Mets pry Gonzalez away from the Padres? He seems like the better bet to go than Fielder, but since there’s two years left on his deal, there’s no pressure on San Diego to pull the trigger now. New GM Jed Hoyer won’t want to make a Gonzalez trade his first move with the team unless there’s a really sweet deal on the table. … Loney’s name popped up when the Dodgers were supposedly in on Gonzalez at midseason. First base seemed a reasonable place to look for an upgrade then. However, between Loney’s strong finish and the money problems expected to result from the Dodgers’ ownership mess, a move seems pretty unlikely now.
Overbay is expected to exit Toronto, with Adam Lind likely stepping in at first base. His name has already come up in rumors with the Diamondbacks, Mets and Mariners, and it’d be no surprise to see him connected with the Giants and Braves soon. That he has only one year and $7 million left on his deal makes him rather attractive. … Cantu is likely due around $5.5 million-$6 million next season, so a move is possible. However, the Marlins should have the flexibility to keep him if they trade Dan Uggla. … The Cubs can’t hold on to both Fox and Hoffpauir when they’re scared to play either in the outfield. As the left-handed hitter on a team with a right-handed first baseman, Hoffpauir seems like the better fit of the two.

Non-tender candidates: Casey Kotchman (Red Sox), Mike Jacobs (Royals), Ryan Garko (Giants), Shelley Duncan (Yankees), Juan Miranda (Yankees), Michael Aubrey (Orioles), Aaron Bates (Red Sox), Barbaro Canizares (Braves)
The Jeremy Hermida acquisition didn’t seem to bode well for Kotchman’s chances of sticking in Boston, as the team can only keep so many $3 million bench players. Free agency might be the best thing for Kotchman anyway. I still view the 26-year-old as a long-term regular. … Jacobs won’t be brought back by the Royals, and it’s doubtful that anyone will trade for him when he figures to make $3.5 million or so in arbitration. … Garko is a first-time arbitration eligible player, and he is worth his likely $1.5 million-$2 million salary. The Giants, though, would have little reason to keep him around if they went out and got a full-time first baseman. Odds are that he wouldn’t last long in free agency. Since every notable first baseman in free agency is left-handed, his right-handed bat would be pretty attractive.
2010-11 free agents: Albert Pujols (Cardinals)*, Adrian Gonzalez (Padres)*, Carlos Pena (Rays), Lance Berkman (Astros)*, Derrek Lee (Cubs), David Ortiz (Red Sox)*, Paul Konerko (White Sox), Jorge Cantu (Marlins), Lyle Overbay (Blue Jays), Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners), Wes Helms (Marlins)
2011 options: Pujols – $16 million ($5 million buyout), Gonzalez – $5.5 million, Berkman – $15 million ($2 million buyout), Ortiz – $12.5 million
2011-12 free agents: Albert Pujols (Cardinals), Prince Fielder (Brewers), Adrian Gonzalez (Padres), Ryan Howard (Phillies), Todd Helton (Rockies)*, Casey Kotchman (Red Sox), Mike Jacobs (Royals)
2012 options: Helton – $23 million ($4.6 million buyout)

Drew Smyly brings youth and experience to Mariners rotation

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PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Trades don’t surprise Drew Smyly anymore.

At age 27, the Seattle Mariners left-hander has been dealt twice. The first swap sent him from the team that drafted and developed Smyly, the Detroit Tigers, to the Tampa Bay Rays in midseason 2014. That trade landed star pitcher David Price in Detroit.

“I was surprised by that one,” Smyly said.

The most recent trade involving him came in January, when the Rays shipped Smyly to Seattle for three prospects in one of many moves by Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. Smyly immediately joined the Mariners’ projected starting rotation, and is having fun getting to know his new teammates at spring training by way of manager Scott Servais’ clubhouse icebreakers.

Servais thinks Smyly is a solid fit as a still young yet experienced pitcher.

“One, being where he’s at in his career age-wise and service time, he’s kind of at the point where, put him in the right environment … very good defensive outfield, he’s a fly ball guy, maybe he does step up and take the next step,” Servais said. “Getting out of the American League East certainly should help him, but there’s no guarantees. Our division’s pretty tough.”

Servais suggested that another Arkansas native, ex-big leaguer Cliff Lee, might have helped sell Seattle on Smyly. Lee is a former Mariner and the two share an agent.

Smyly went 7-12 in a career-high 30 starts last season in Tampa, but won five games from July 30 to the end of the season after starting out 2-11. From May 21 to July 18, he lost seven straight starts.

“Pitching’s tough, you know,” Smyly said. “To manipulate the ball, to make it do different things, to put it in the strike zone with hitters that know what they’re doing. … I just had a rough stretch but I show up at the field every day, play catch and work on my craft and you know, that’s going to turn around one day.”

The 32 home runs Smyly surrendered in 2016 figure to be reduced in Seattle’s pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

“It can only help,” he said. “But it’s still going to be up to me to execute pitches and pitch well.”

Smyly is set to join the U.S. World Baseball Classic team shortly. Before that, he’ll make his first spring training start in the middle of next week.

“It’s an honor to be able to put your country on your chest and play with some of the guys on that team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it big time.”

NOTES: Servais plans to roll out what figures to be Seattle’s opening day lineup in the spring training opener Saturday against San Diego. It’s OF Jarrod Dyson, SS Jean Segura, 2B Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz, 3B Kyle Seager, OF Mitch Haniger, 1B Dan Vogelbach, C Mike Zunino and OF Leonys Martin. … Servais said Cano and Cruz will play a little more than is typical for early spring games, as the two will depart for the World Baseball Classic in early March. … LHP Ariel Miranda will start Saturday, then RHP Chris Heston Sunday, RHP Yovani Gallardo on Monday and ace Felix Hernandez on Tuesday.

Mitt Romney’s sons are trying to buy a stake in the Yankees

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 30:  Tagg Romney son of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gives an interview during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate during the RNC which will conclude today.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Mitt Romney built his professional life in Massachusetts and was once the governor of the state. As such, it is not surprising that he has long identified as a Red Sox fan. So this has to be troubling to him from a fan’s perspective. From Jon Heyman:

The Romney family is bidding to buy a small stake in the Yankees months after their try for the Marlins stalled. If the deal goes through, it is expected to be $25 million to $30 million per percentage point and thought to be interested in one or two percentage points. The Yankees are valued around $3 billion or more.

The effort is being led by Mitt’s son Tagg, one of his brothers and their business partners. Mitt’s spokesman tells Jon Heyman that he has nothing to do with it personally. Tagg Romney is reported to have been planning a bid for controlling interest in the Marlins, but that has fallen through.

I find this interesting insofar as the M.O. for the Steinbrenners has, for years, been to buy out minority shareholders in the Yankees, not seek more. Indeed, when George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees back in 1973 he held just a bare controlling interest and there were a ton of silent partners, most of which were back in Ohio and knew Steinbrenner from his shipping business. I’ve personally gotten to know some of them over the years as there are a handful of them in Columbus and I crossed paths with them in my legal career. They have almost all been bought out in the past couple of decades. They still get season tickets and World Series rings and stuff. You can tell them by their personalized Yankees plates and the fact that, within the first ten minutes of meeting them, they will tell you that they once owned a piece of the Yankees but got pushed out.

In light of all of that it’s interesting that the Steinbrenners are once again accepting bids for small stakes in the team. Especially from someone whose interest in controlling the Marlins suggests that they do not consider it to be a mere vanity investment. Makes me wonder what the Steinbrenners’ long term plans are.