Free Agency Preview: Relievers

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Free Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
Free Agency Preview – Second base
Free Agency Preview – Third base
Free Agency Preview – Shortstop
Free Agency Preview – Outfield
Free Agency Preview – Starting pitchers
This is the last 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’s a look at the relievers.
Jose Valverde (Astros) – Regardless of whether he’s actually the best option going forward, Valverde will be viewed as the one big-time closer available in free agency this winter. The 32-year-old led the NL in saves in both 2007 and ’08, and while he did miss a chunk of last season, it wasn’t with an arm problem and he finished with a 2.33 ERA in 54 innings. He’d seem to be the only free agent reliever with a chance of landing a four-year deal. Free of arm woes since the first month of 2005, he’s about as good of a bet as Francisco Cordero was when he got $46 million from the Reds two years ago. The Braves would seem to be the favorites to land him, particularly if they can move Derek Lowe in the near future. Prediction: Braves – three years, $30 million
Rafael Soriano (Braves) – By allowing just one run in his final eight appearances, Soriano was able to take a sub-3.00 ERA with him into free agency. 2008 was a lost season for him, but he combined to throw 147 2/3 innings between 2007 and ’09 and he ended his three-year stint in Atlanta with a 2.95 ERA and a 188/51 K/BB ratio. That should make him one of the top closing options this winter, though the team that signs him will want to have ample protection behind him. He’s made 60 appearances just twice in his seven seasons as a major league reliever. Prediction: Rays – two years, $14 million
Mike Gonzalez (Braves) – While Soriano is almost certainly a goner, Gonzalez is likely to get an arbitration offer to remain in Atlanta. Still, indications are that both will depart. The Braves did their best to use both up last season, as they combined for 157 appearances. Gonzalez, whose previous high for innings pitched in a season was 54, worked in 80 games and threw 74 1/3 innings, amassing a 2.42 ERA and 90 strikeouts in the process. He lost closing duties due to some poorly timed blown saves, but he still has a pretty good history in that role and there should be several teams interested in using him there. He could also receive offers from the Yankees and Red Sox to work as a setup man, but I doubt he’ll pass up the chance to close. Prediction: Astros – three years, $18 million
Billy Wagner (Red Sox) – Judging by the way he looked after returning from Tommy John surgery last season, there’s a definite case to be made for Wagner as the top one-year option from the available closers. The 38-year-old lefty allowed eight hits, walked eight and struck out 26 in 15 2/3 innings for the Mets and Red Sox. The big downside here is that Wagner is expected to receive an arbitration offer, and as a Type A free agent, he’ll cost the team that signs him a draft pick. That figures to scare off the Rays, who could have really used him otherwise. At least the Nationals and Orioles — the two teams closest to Wagner’s home in Virginia — would only have to surrender a second-round pick to sign him. Prediction: Orioles – one year, $7.5 million
Fernando Rodney (Tigers) – The profile hardly screams for a multiyear deal: Rodney turns 33 in March, he posted a 4.40 ERA last season and his career ERA is 4.28. Still, the fact is that, given an extended chance for the first time, he was a brilliant closer last season, converting 37 of 38 save chances. He also has very legitimate stuff, as he throws 94-97 mph and possesses one of the game’s better changeups. It certainly makes him an interesting case. The Tigers will likely make a strong effort to re-sign him, and the Phillies appear to have identified as their top choice to serve as a setup man for Brad Lidge. The Braves and Astros could also look at him for their ninth-inning openings. Prediction: Tigers – three years, $15 million
Octavio Dotel (White Sox) – Dotel has turned in back-to-back healthy seasons since coming back from Tommy John surgery, and he continues to post excellent strikeout numbers. Still, he probably won’t be looked at as a closer after struggling in that role at times early on in his career. A Type A free agent, he’d likely accept arbitration if the White Sox offered it, especially since the offer would limit his market. As a flyball pitcher, he’d be a better fit in a bigger ballpark. Prediction: Mets – two years, $10 million
LaTroy Hawkins (Astros) – No American League team figures to display much interest, but Hawkins has been an outstanding reliever for the Astros over the last year and a third, compiling a 1.71 ERA in 84 1/3 innings. He even filled in well when the Astros needed to replace Valverde last season. He turns 37 next month, but he should land a multiyear deal anyway. Prediction: Astros – two years, $9 million
Brandon Lyon (Tigers) – Lyon was originally expected to be the Tigers’ closer, but a brutal spring cost him the job and he struggled to a 6.89 ERA through mid-May. From then on, he had a 1.86 ERA and a 52/20 K/BB ratio in 63 innings. The showing will earn him consideration for closing jobs this winter, though with his modest strikeout rate, he’s always seemed like a better fit as a setup man. A return to the NL with the Phillies or Nationals could be a possibility. Prediction: Phillies – two years, $8 million
Takashi Saito (Red Sox) – The Red Sox never displayed a lot of faith in Saito as a setup man for Jonathan Papelbon, but at season’s end, he had a 2.43 ERA in 55 2/3 innings. His career mark stands at 2.01 in four major league seasons. Handled carefully, the soon-to-be 40-year-old should remain very effective. Since it’s unclear whether he’s still capable of pitching on back-to-back days, he makes more sense as a setup man than as a closer. Prediction: Diamondbacks – one year, $4 million
Chan Ho Park (Phillies) – Park certainly made himself some money in the postseason, opening eyes with his stuff even if he did finish with an unexceptional 4.05 ERA in 6 2/3 innings. The 36-year-old had a 2.52 ERA in 50 innings out of the pen last season, compared to a 7.29 ERA in seven starts. The rotation, though, is where Park wants to be. He’ll have no shortage of suitors if he merely embraces the idea of serving as a setup man and middle reliever. Prediction: Phillies – one year, $4 million
J.J. Putz (Mets) – Putz has gone from a 1.38 ERA in 71 2/3 innings in 2007 to a 3.88 ERA in 46 1/3 innings in 2008 to a 5.22 ERA in 29 1/3 innings last season. Also, there are still questions about the condition of his elbow after he was diagnosed with a slight tear in his UCL in August. A heavily incentive-laden one-year deal would be appropriate, and it’s likely that he’ll want to sign with a team that would give him a chance to close. He’d seem to fit best with the Nationals or Marlins. Prediction: Nationals – one year, $2.5 million plus incentives
Rafael Betancourt (Rockies) – Betancourt stabilized the Rockies pen after being picked up from the Indians, amassing a 1.78 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. Still, the team declined to pick up his expensive $5.4 million option for 2010. It appears likely that the Rockies will instead offer him arbitration, and given his status as a Type A free agent, he may have little choice but to accept it. Prediction: Rockies – one-year, $4 million
Ryota Igarashi (Japan) – Igarashi will be the more heavily pursued of the two Japanese pitchers attempting to make the jump to MLB this winter. The 30-year-old right-hander had a 3.19 ERA and a 44/20 K/BB ratio in 64 innings out of the pen last season. He’s known for being one of Japan’s hardest throwers, but he doesn’t have a legitimate strikeout breaking ball, which could hold him back. He’d still be worth trying on a modest two-year deal. Prediction: Cubs – two years, $6 million
Kevin Gregg (Cubs) – In three years since moving to the National League, Gregg has struck out 216 and allowed just 174 hits. Unfortunately, subpar command and, particularly in 2009, a tendency to give up homers doomed him as a closer. That he also struggled as a setup man for Carlos Marmol late last season, surrendering 18 runs in 20 1/3 innings over the last two months, won’t help his case this winter. At least he’ll probably come cheap, something that could make him attractive to the Nationals, Tigers, Astros and Orioles. Prediction: Nationals – one year, $3.5 million
Kiko Calero (Marlins) – Calero had the best ERA of any reliever in this group last season, coming in at 1.95 in 60 innings. The league hit just .180 off him, and he struck out 69 in 60 innings. Calero, though, has an ugly injury history. The 60 innings were a new career high for him. Shoulder problems limited him to 45 1/3 innings between 2007 and ’08, and he had a 5.56 ERA over the course of the two seasons. Calero’s season was no fluke from a performance standpoint — he has one of the game’s better sliders — but he can only be trusted on a one-year deal. Prediction: Red Sox – one year, $3 million
Other free agents: Darren Oliver (Angels), Russ Springer (Rays), David Weathers (Brewers), Bob Howry (Giants), Guillermo Mota (Dodgers), Chad Bradford (Rays), Mark Hendrickson (Orioles), Joe Beimel (Rockies), Scott Eyre (Phillies), Hisanori Takahashi (Japan), Troy Percival (Rays), Danys Baez (Orioles), Claudio Vargas (Brewers), Joaquin Benoit (Rangers), Fernando Cabrera (Red Sox), Chad Cordero (Mariners), Eric Gagne (FA), Miguel Batista (Mariners), Ron Mahay (Twins), Alan Embree (Rockies), Ron Villone (Nationals), Brian Shouse (Rays), Scott Schoeneweis (Diamondbacks), Jamey Wright (Royals), Joe Nelson (Rays), Jason Isringhausen (Rays), Justin Speier (FA), Jason Jennings (Rangers), Jason Grilli (Rangers), Josh Fogg (Rockies), Jesus Colome (Brewers), Brendan Donnelly (Marlins), Luis Ayala (Marlins), Matt Herges (Rockies), Eddie Guardado (Rangers), Luis Vizcaino (Indians), Horacio Ramirez (Nationals), Javier Lopez (Red Sox), Geoff Geary (Astros), Philip Humber (Twins), Logan Kensing (Nationals), Doug Waechter (Royals), R.A. Dickey (Twins), Tyler Walker (Phillies), Justin Miller (Giants), B.J. Ryan (FA), Roy Corcoran (Astros), Derrick Turnbow (Rangers), Jorge Julio (Rays), Juan Rincon (Rockies), Russ Ortiz (Rockies), Kip Wells (Reds), Oscar Villarreal (Royals), Elmer Dessens (Mets), Marcus McBeth (Red Sox), Tony Pena Jr. (Royals), Casey Fossum (Yankees), R.J. Swindle (Indians), Alfredo Simon (Orioles), Chris Britton (Padres), Steven Register (Phillies), Jimmy Gobble (White Sox), Glendon Rusch (Rockies), Ryan Speier (Rockies), Randy Messenger (Mariners), Yasuhiko Yabuta (Royals), Tomo Ohka (Indians), Vladimir Nunez (Braves), Chris Bootcheck (Pirates), Rudy Seanez (FA), Chad Fox (Cubs)
As a Type A free agent, Oliver could well accept arbitration from the Angels for the second year in a row. He’d earn about $4 million next year. … Ex-Rays Bradford, Percival and Isringhausen might all head into retirement this winter. Guardado is another expected to call it a career.
Trade candidates: Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox), Joakim Soria (Royals), Heath Bell (Padres), Huston Street (Rockies), Bobby Jenks (White Sox), Francisco Cordero (Reds – limited NTC), Matt Capps (Pirates), C.J. Wilson (Rangers), Matt Lindstrom (Marlins), Manny Delcarmen (Red Sox), Sean Marshall (Cubs), Carlos Villanueva (Brewers), Manny Corpas (Rockies), Scott Downs (Blue Jays), Jason Frasor (Blue Jays), Brandon League (Blue Jays), Jared Burton (Reds), Jesse Crain (Twins), Jeremy Accardo (Blue Jays), Jesse Carlson (Blue Jays), Shawn Camp (Blue Jays), Chris Ray (Orioles), Renyel Pinto (Marlins), Bobby Seay (Tigers), Radhames Liz (Orioles), Brian Stokes (Mets), Jonathan Albaladejo (Yankees), Edwar Ramirez (Yankees), Seth McClung (Brewers), Manny Acosta (Braves), Josh Kinney (Cardinals), Cla Meredith (Orioles), Sean Green (Mets), Jason Bergmann (Nationals), Jeff Karstens (Pirates), Alex Hinshaw (Giants), Merkin Valdez (Giants), Santiago Casilla (Athletics), Stephen Marek (Braves), Luis Mendoza (Rangers)
Of the seven closers that start off this list, Jenks looks like the best bet to go. Unfortunately for the White Sox, there won’t be a large market for him given his likely $7 million salary and rising ERA. I still think it’s pretty unlikely, but there is the chance that the White Sox could non-tender him. … Capps has been shopped, but his trade value is well down from where it was a year ago. The Pirates might as well hold on to him and hope for the best. … Lindstrom is eligible for arbitration for the first time, and that means the Marlins are about to lose patience with him.
The Jays have some sorting out to do, so I’ve listed pretty much all of their relievers here. I think League and Accardo are the top candidates to go, but it’s possible the Jays will go get themselves a true closer and then make both Downs and Frasor available.

Non-tender candidates: Bobby Jenks (White Sox), Mike MacDougal (Nationals), Chad Gaudin (Yankees), Bobby Seay (Tigers), Brian Bruney (Yankees), Sergio Mitre (Yankees), Seth McClung (Brewers), Jeremy Accardo (Blue Jays), Jason Bergmann (Nationals), Saul Rivera (Nationals), Santiago Casilla (Athletics), Chris Sampson (Astros), John Bale (Royals), Roman Colon (Royals), Doug Slaten (Nationals), Taylor Tankersley (Marlins), Jose Veras (Indians), Jose Ascanio (Pirates), Yusmiero Petit (Mariners), Blaine Boyer (Diamondbacks), Neal Cotts (Cubs), Jack Taschner (Phillies), Jeff Bennett (Rays), Brian Bass (Orioles), Mark Worrell (Padres), Bobby Keppel (Twins), Nelson Figueroa (Mets), Brian Wolfe (Blue Jays), Dale Thayer (Rays), Clay Rapada (Tigers), Willie Eyre (Rangers), Doug Mathis (Rangers), Yorman Bazardo (Astros), Boone Logan (Braves), Lance Broadway (Mets), Jay Marshall (Athletics), Alberto Castillo (Orioles), Randy Williams (White Sox), Dick Hayhurst (Blue Jays), Dusty Hughes (Royals), Victor Marte (Royals), Sean Henn (Blue Jays), Zack Segovia (Nationals), Arturo Lopez (Mets)
It sounds like the Nationals are leaning towards keeping MacDougal, even though he’ll probably cost about $3 million in arbitration. He did a fine job as their closer last season, converting 20 of his 21 save chances, but he had a 1.52 WHIP and a 31/31 K/BB ratio in 50 innings. … The Yankees have to decide whether it’s worth paying Gaudin $2.5 million, Bruney $1.5 million and Mitre $800,000. They can afford them all, but Gaudin is the only one of the three clearly worthy of a roster spot.
2010-11 free agents: Mariano Rivera (Yankees), Huston Street (Rockies), Brian Fuentes (Angels)*, Kerry Wood (Indians)*, Trevor Hoffman (Brewers)*, Chad Qualls (Diamondbacks), Frank Francisco (Rangers), Matt Thornton (White Sox)*, Scott Downs (Blue Jays), Jason Frasor (Blue Jays), Koji Uehara (Orioles), Jeremy Affeldt (Giants), Matt Guerrier (Twins), Grant Balfour (Rays), Pedro Feliciano (Mets), J.C. Romero (Phillies)*, Dan Wheeler (Rays)*, Chad Durbin (Phillies), Jon Rauch (Twins), Juan Cruz (Royals)*, Mike MacDougal (Nationals), Scot Shields (Angels), Jesse Crain (Twins), Aaron Heilman (Diamondbacks), Dennys Reyes (Cardinals), Trever Miller (Cardinals)*, Arthur Rhodes (Reds), Kyle Farnsworth (Royals)*, Seth McClung (Brewers), David Riske (Brewers)*, Neal Cotts (Cubs), Randy Choate (Rays), Mike Lincoln (Reds), Randy Flores (Rockies)
2011 options: Fuentes – $9 million (vests w/55 games finished in 2010), Wood – $11 million (vests w/55 games finished in 2010), Hoffman $7 million-$8.5 million ($500,000-$1 million buyout), Thornton – $3 million ($250,000 buyout), Romero – $4.5 million ($250,000 buyout), Wheeler – $4 million ($1 million buyout), Cruz – $4 million ($500,000 buyout), Miller – $2 million (vests w/45 games in 2010), Farnsworth – $5.25 million ($500,000 buyout), Riske – $4.75 million ($250,000 buyout)
2011-12 free agents: Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox), Jonathan Broxton (Dodgers), Francisco Rodriguez (Mets)*, Joe Nathan (Twins)*, Francisco Cordero (Reds)*, Heath Bell (Padres), Brad Lidge (Phillies)*, Bobby Jenks (White Sox), Ryan Madson (Phillies), George Sherrill (Dodgers), C.J. Wilson (Rangers), Michael Wuertz (Athletics), Chris Ray (Orioles), Ryan Franklin (Cardinals), Joel Zumaya (Tigers), Scott Linebrink (White Sox), Damaso Marte (Yankees)*, John Grabow (Cubs), Chad Gaudin (Yankees), Brian Tallet (Blue Jays), Todd Coffey (Brewers), Clay Condrey (Phillies), Tim Byrdak (Astros), Lance Cormier (Rays), Shawn Camp (Blue Jays), John Bale (Royals), Tyler Walker (Phillies), Matt Belisle (Rockies)
2012 options: Rodriguez – $17.5 million ($3.5 million buyout), Nathan – $12.5 million ($2 million buyout), Cordero – $12 million ($1 million buyout), Lidge – $12.5 million ($1.5 million buyout), Marte – $4 million ($250,000 buyout)

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.