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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Hot Stove Keeps Getting HOTTER!

The San Francisco Giants organization's first World Series win in 56 years may be yesterday's news, but Major League Baseball news is hot off the press in the sports world. There have been more free agent and trading power moves in the past month in MLB than I can remember at any time this century. The Daily Hat Trick would not be complete without opining on a few of the high impact transactions.

Jayson Werth - Washington Nationals

This move could be "Werth" its weight in gold if Werth continues the steady improvement in his game that he has experienced each year since he joined the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007. If he simply performs at his 2010 level, it is fair value for the Washington Nationals. The Nationals get a legitimate 5 tool player who could protect Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup.

The seven year, $126 million deal for Werth sounded alarms in the sporting world. The Nationals have not been known, historically, for nine figure contracts nor the revenue streams consistent with the ability to sign such a player. In addition to the salaries being paid to Zimmerman ($8M/yr) and pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg ($3M/yr), one may wonder if the Nationals priced themselves out of future free agent competitions, especially if the team has any intention of retaining the services of Strasburg and Zimmerman  beyond the 2012 and 2013 seasons, respectively.
Jayson Werth - they aren't paying him $18 million/year for his looks.
I personally believe this was a good move. 1) It sends a message that the Nationals are serious about making their organization competitive quickly and that the team is willing to pay. 2) They secure the services of an outfielder who can do it all at the plate for the long term. 3) While the team will control Strasburg's rights after next season (in which Strasbug may not even play as he rehabilitates from Tommy John surgery) there is absolutely no guarantee that the Nats will resign Zimmerman in three years.

Zimmerman, barring injury, will be 28 years old, in his prime, and unless I am overlooking someone, will be THE marquee free agent in the heading into the 2014 season. He will command a contract ranging anywhere from $120-$150 million. Unless the Nationals can become contenders and pack more than 3,000,000 people into Nationals Park by the end of the 2013 season, I do not see how the economics could ever line up to retain the services of Strasberg and Zimmerman while paying Jayson Werth. The Werth singing ensures that the Nationals will not be bankrupt of impact offensive players after 2013.

The Daily Hat Trick Grade: B

Adrian Gonzalez - Boston Red Sox 

Boston threw a gasoline soaked dry log into the hot stove, probably stealing the log from Yankees fans. No, there was no nine figure signing (yet...wink, wink) in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, but this is, unquestionably, the blockbuster trade of this offseason. For those of you who are casual baseball fans, only tuning in during September and/or October, not familiar with Gonzales and his exploits with the San Diego Padres, let me sum up the value of this first baseman: M.V.P.

San Diego receives three minor league prospects, first baseman Anthony Rizzo (AA), triple threat starting pitcher Casey Kelly (AA; pitching, fielding at shortstop and batting), and centerfielder and speedster Reymond Fuentes (A), and a player to be named, at a probable combined cost of less than a half-million dollars. All three have demonstrated tremendous upside, particularly the 21 year old, power hitting Rizzo. Yes, I incorporated the phrase "triple threat" into a baseball discussion; I am from the South, where football is king (so sue me)!

Boston picks up the franchise first baseman in Gonzales, relieving the Padres of both his $6 million in salary and the possibility of receiving nothing in exchange for this valuable commodity the Friars could not afford to resign in 2012. The Red Sox also placed themselves back into the mix in the American League East race with the Yankees (note the absence of "...and the Tampa Bay Rays..." from that statement). Make no mistake; there will be a mega-dollar, long term signing of Gonzalez in the not so distant future.

Adrian Gonzalez - He may not have signed an extension yet, but I do not think that big smile is because he is happy to see reporters. 2
Gonzalez will be the bane of Yankee fans for many years to come. Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports reported late that week that Gonzalez, himself, said that he had yet to sign a contract with the Red Sox . Gleeman suggested that Gonzales and the Red Sox have a preliminary agreement in place, but will delay the official signing for the purpose of circumventing provisions of Major League Baseball's luxury tax penalty for teams with high payrolls. I have not read or heard any hard numbers, but one can count on the Red Sox tendering a long-term offer to Gonzales approaching or exceeding $100 million.

The Daily Hat Trick Grade: A

Carl Crawford - Boston Red Sox 

Earlier I stated that the Gonzalez signing would enable the Red Sox to return to the front of the AL East race with the Yankees, excluding the Rays. The signing of leftfielder Carl Crawford from the Rays to a 7 year, $142 million contract with the BoSox is what excluded them. A true five-tool player and perennial All-Star, The Perfect Storm, in spite of batting left handed at Fenway Park (not being as able to take advantage of the Green Monster in left field as a righty), is expected to rain misery on AL East pitchers and wash out the skid that Beantown has suffered at the hands of the Yankees (splitting the regular season series but losing in the division race) since 2009.

There's a storm coming to New England. Carl Crawford - "The Perfect Storm" 3
The Daily Hat Trick Grade: A

Cliff Lee - Philadelphia Phillies

I planned on covering the hottest of the hot stove over a week ago, but no wrap up of the big MLB transactions to date would be worthy of being written without sharing thoughts on the big whopper of 2011 free agency - starting pitcher Cliff Lee. It was worth the wait. Not only was the Lee signing, announced late Monday evening, the biggest move in this offseason, but the end result was the most shocking.

After weeks of speculation about the bidding war for Lee, between the Yankees and the Texas Rangers, whom Lee helped lead to the 2010 American League Championship Series win over the Yankees, Lee chose to return to the Philadelphia Phillies, the team Lee helped (after a late season trade from the Cleveland Indians) win the National League pennant before losing in the World Series to the Yankees in 2009 (and being subsequently traded to the Seattle Mariners shortly after the season). Even more stunning is that Lee left millions of dollars on the table with the Rangers and Yankees to sign with the Phillies for 5 years and $120 million. I am not sure who the happier of the two is between Phillies Fan and Lee's wife, Kristen, who will not have to pack up the house and kids to live in a fifth different MLB city in the span of 17 months and reportedly wanted nothing to do with New York.

Phillies Fans should consider naming Mrs. Lee the honorary first lady of Philadelphia, or at least a giant "THANK YOU!" 4
This move draws parallels to The Decision by LeBron James of the NBA this summer to "take his talents to South Beach" and play for the Miami Heat. Lee, like James, would have made millions more by signing with a different team. James joined two All-Star superstars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Lee joins a rotation including three perennial All-Stars and Cy Young candidate pitchers in reigning National League Cy Young winner Roy Halliday, 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels, and 2005 National League Championship Series MVP Roy Oswalt. Lee also received (a lighter version) criticism similar to that which James faced in light of his move, being accused of chasing a championship. I am confident that Lee can live with that criticism. In my opinion, we could skip the regular season and just hand the National League East to the Phillies right now.

The Daily Hat Trick Grade: A+

It is a good thing Cliff Lee did not arrange a prime time special on ESPN and announce that he would, "return his talents to the City of Brotherly Love." 5
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