Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Free Agency Winners and Losers

This season saw our most active and frenzied free agent market. Now as the end of the regular season approaches, I’d like to look back and see who appears to have made the right personnel choices as well as which GM’s jobs may be in danger.

Portland Beavers: The Beavers were one of the most active teams during free agency this season. Yes, they gave up their first round draft choice (#17), as well as their second and third round picks, which may have long term effects on the franchise, but the Beavers have already exceeded their previous high in wins and are in excellent position to secure their first ever playoff spot. Leading the way is Tommy Blackley, whose excellent production from the second base position (29 HR, 80 RBI) is one of the major reasons for the improvement. While Bono Mullen’s contributions have been fairly mediocre, Ignacio Benitez has been one of the AL’s better closers this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Their only major free agent signing was 34 year old hitting stud, Shep McNeil, but he appears to have been one of the missing pieces, along with the emergence of some youngsters, to getting the Pirates back to the playoffs. His 31 home runs and 100 runs batted in are a big reason the Pirates are competing for the NL’s final playoff spot. His veteran leadership will be a valued addition to this young team for the next couple of seasons.

New York Yankees: After last season’s 85-win campaign, the Yankee front office was looking to pick up a couple of pieces to push the team into the playoffs. Unfortunately, Mark Moore at age 34 is not the same Mark Moore that was the offensive leader for the Cubs for years and was certainly not worth giving up the #19 pick in the draft. While Larry Scharein has been a big-time stud in the bullpen this season (68 apps, 2.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), a young non-playoff team would likely be better served by having their second round draft pick.

Detroit Tigers: We appear to have a solid case here that a below average hitter can look like a stud if he is surrounded by great talent and sees lots of fat pitches. After the last two seasons as part of the legendary offense in Philadelphia, Del Eckstein looked like a bona fide star in this league with back-to-back seasons of 30 homers and 100 RBI’s with a +.900 OPS. This season in Detroit and then later Milwaukee, Eckstein has been a complete bust with only 9 homers and an OPS under .700. It was so bad that the Tigers escaped his contract by waiving him, so I’m pretty sure they wish they had their second round pick back.

Seattle Mariners: Freddie Alston is providing an excellent contribution this season and helping the Mariners compete for their first playoff spot. But at the same time, I am holding back on a final judgement for this one as a four-year high dollar contract seems like a risky proposition for a 35-year-old pitcher. Time will tell.

Houston Astros: The kings of the free agent market this season with 5 Type A’s and 2 Type B’s found some valuable players that will help this franchise in the years to come: Benji Vazquez, Jason Surtain, Robert Beimel, and Kurt McPherson. While this team appears that it may have been on a course to lose around 100-110 games this season without these signings, the Astros gave away a lot of draft picks to earn their respectable losing season. Perhaps due to the fact that all of the free agent signings league-wide pushed their picks so far down the board (2nd round pick #73), this may have actually been a wise strategy. I can’t decide.

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