Free Agent Pitchers
With the Kris Benson signing coming soon and a probably Al Leiter signing to follow, here is a look at how ESPN's Jerry Crasnick's pecking order of the off seasons top pitchers. This was made before Al Leiter was made a free agent so keep that in mind.
A day into the Key Biscayne meetings, Pavano is generating more lobby buzz than any pitcher on the market. At 28 years old, finally healthy and fresh off his best season, he looks like the best bet of anyone to command a contract of four years in length.
Pavano is showing more poise and a better grasp of his mechanics each year, and he can beat you with a hard sinker or climb the ladder with his four-seamer. He's also trending in the right direction. Over the past three seasons, he's lowered his ERA from 5.16 to 4.30 to 3.00.
Pavano had a lot of people guessing in September when he left agent Casey Close -- who also represents Yankees star Derek Jeter -- and replaced him with Scott Shapiro, a less established agent who works out of Florida. Some observers took that as a sign that Pavano was angling to return to the Marlins in 2005.
But Shapiro has been an active media presence, going to great lengths to make it clear that New York, Boston and Baltimore would all be attractive options for Pavano, a native of Connecticut. Let the bidding begin.
The word on Pedro? "He's lost some stuff," said an American League executive. "He can still dial it up to 95-96 at times, but it's not the same now because he can't maintain it or control it as well as he used to."
Hey, Martinez is always going to suffer when compared to the Pedro of five years ago. These days he pitches in the 88-91 mph range, relies extensively on his changeup, and is begging to be pulled once he approaches 90-100 pitches. He's turning into Greg Maddux before our very eyes.
While Martinez is basically a No. 2 starter now, he'll always have the ego and expectations of a staff ace. That makes him a handful. But he has a track record for pitching well in the postseason, and anytime you have the Red Sox and Yankees interested in you, it's a recipe for a gratifying contract experience.
An intriguing (and potentially worrisome) stat on Pedro: From 2001-2003, he allowed a total of 25 home runs in 502 2/3 innings. This year he gave up 26 homers in 217 innings.
The Twins are working to keep Radke, who was their nominal No. 1 for several years but settled in this year as No. 2 behind Johan Santana. Minnesota has offered Radke a two-year deal in the $16 million range. That might not get the job done, but Radke will probably give the Twins a bit of a hometown discount.
Radke might be the most "comfortable" guy in this group. He doesn't overpower hitters, but his breaking ball is fine and he has an outstanding changeup. He's the kind of guy who consistently throws the ball over the plate and gives his team 6-7 solid innings every start.
Radke's ratio of 5.5 strikeouts for every walk was the fifth best in baseball this season behind Ben Sheets, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Jon Lieber. He's averaged 1.68 walks per nine innings for his career. He's right at home in Minnesota, where they always place a premium on defense.
Milton is the best of a left-handed crop that also includes Odalis Perez, Shawn Estes,and Wilson Alvarez.
Milton won 14 games this year even though he was ill-suited for his home field. Citizens Bank Park is a bandbox, and Milton is a high fastball pitcher (his ratio of 0.58 groundballs to every fly ball was the lowest in the majors). It's no surprise that Milton ranked second in the big leagues to Jamie Moyer with 43 home runs allowed.
The Phillies would like to keep Milton, and the Yankees, intent on adding symmetry to their rotation, will have an interest if they can't pry Johnson loose from the Diamondbacks. The consensus is that Milton could really blossom in a place like Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco -- where those long fly balls could die a peaceful death rather than clear the fence.
Clement was better than his record indicated this year. When he pitched well early, the Cubs didn't give him much help. His run support (4.03 per game) was just a tick better than Randy Johnson's. In August and September, he had problems with a neck and upper back strain. He was awful in three of his last four starts, and manager Dusty Baker didn't use him at all in the final two weeks.
The knock on Clement revolves more around his approach than his stuff. His confidence wanes at times, and he tends to let little things bother him. But scouts have always loved his sinker and the movement on his ball. At 30, he still has room to get better.
The Braves have three free-agent starters in Wright, Ortiz, and Paul Byrd, and will probably make Wright -- who made a mere $850,000 this season -- the priority sign.
A threesome of Mike Hampton, Wright and John Thompson isn't bad. After that, the Braves must decide if young fastballer Jose Capellan is ready and determine if they should move John Smoltz back to the rotation and spend their money on the bullpen. Either way, it's hard to envision Wright bolting Atlanta so quickly after finally realizing his potential under Leo Mazzone.
Every positive with Lowe seems to come with a corresponding minus. He's the most versatile pitcher on the market. He's also so streaky, it's scary. He was dominant in October, but pretty lousy for much of the regular season. And while he's a good guy in the clubhouse, he sure tends to get frustrated when things aren't going well.
Agent Scott Boras will no doubt try to ride Lowe's big playoff and World Series performances to a big payday, which means Lowe might be hanging around after many of his peers have signed. Detroit is a possibility, because it's Lowe's hometown. But as a sinkerballer, he'll derive no special benefits from the spacious outfield at Comerica Park. Those Texas rumors refuse to die, but at last check the Rangers were trying to shed themselves of Boras clients, not add them.
File Ortiz under "workhorse." He's surpassed 200 innings in five of his last six seasons. But the innings are rarely as easy as they should be. He's averaged 4.4 walks per nine innings in his career -- enough to make both Dusty Baker and Bobby Cox squirm.
And now Ortiz is giving the Braves -- and other potential suitors -- some reason to be nervous. He had an ERA of 6.10 in August and September, and there were enough red flags to make people wonder if he's healthy.
"He lost velocity and command," said a National League scout. "He wasn't bouncing back very well at all in the second half."
In 2001 Morris went sans agent, negotiating a three-year, $27 million contract with the Cardinals. This time around he's hooked up with Barry Axelrod, the veteran Southern California agent who represents Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Matt Clement, among others.
Here's the problem: Somewhere between his last go-round and this one, Morris lost a few mph off his fastball and the sharp break on his curve. His strikeouts per nine innings have declined from 7.70 to 5.84 since his 22-win season in 2001, and his home runs allowed have increased annually -- from 13 to 16 to 20 to a whopping 35 this season.
"He could overpower people when he was throwing 94-95," said a scout, "but his stuff has really dropped off. He wasn't fooling too many people this year."
Lieber strengthened his case with an impressive October, and it's likely he'll continue to improve now that he's two years removed from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees want to bring him back -- just not for $8 million. They declined the option, exercised a $250,000 buyout, and are trying to re-sign him at a lower price.
Lieber's biggest selling points are tenacity and excellent control. On the down side, lefties hit .346 against him this year -- not a good sign at Yankee Stadium.
Perez received the worst run support of any National League starter this year, at 3.30 runs per game. That helps explain his 7-6 record. But it's tougher to explain why he disappeared twice against St. Louis in the Division Series. "He looked scared to death out there," said a National League scout. October might have been kind to Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jon Lieber, but it didn't do Perez any favors.
Some people question Perez's work ethic and commitment to conditioning. He also has what one scout calls "high-maintenance mechanics." But he's 27 years old and left-handed, and he appeared to be on the cusp of stardom when he went 15-10 in 2002. Lots of teams will be dabbling in Odalis Perez over the next few weeks.
The Mets are working on deals to lock up both Benson and Al Leiter. That's good news to Leiter, a future New York mayoral candidate, and Benson, whose wife, Anna, is finding that the move to America's media capital is a great boon to her aspirations as a fashion maven and social gadfly. Where the Bensons are involved, free agency is strictly a family proposition.
Marquee players who are 26 home runs shy of 600 and who are on their games don't get traded.
Players three years removed from their best season and a week after turning 37 get traded to teams that are desperately trying to make a splash at the gate.
The Mets certainly seem desperate with one of the better free agent markets for three specific areas they are trying to upgrade the team staring them in the face. I'd rather take a chance on Ordonez, Drew, or Sexson rather than have Sosa being the main upgrade this off season.
From whining about his spot in the batting order to bolting from the stadium early in the season finale and then lying about it is an indication of a me-first mentality that first-year Mets manager Willie Randolph doesn't need.
The Mets have had a problem with clubhouse lawyers and don't need to add another, especially one whose bat doesn't talk as loudly as he does.
The Mets are willing to take him and his baggage and give him a a contract extension. The depths of my disappointment in Omar Minaya if this move goes down without making serious runs at some of top tier free agents will be indescribable. Where will the Mets, who have no true #3 hitter at this point, bat an aging Sammy Sosa who's batting average has been in steady declining since 2001? If they plan on batting him 3rd, they better rethink that idea. He went from .328 to .288 to .279 to .253 in 2004. His homeruns, games, RBIs, BBs, SLG, OBP, doubles, and games have all decreased. Obviously if his games decrease, he'll hit less homers, doubles, etc., but one thing did manage to increase. In 160 games in 2001 he K'd 153 time for a K every .96 games. In 2002 he K'd once every .96 games, in 2003 he K'd once every .97 games, and in 2004 he K'd once ever 1.05 games. At 36, does anyone figure on Sammy Sosa moving into one of the toughest parks to hit and actually improve on his recent numbers and turn those negative trends around? I'd have to say Omar is the only one who thinks that can happen. Whether he puts fans in the seats is irrelevant, this move is bad for the team given the present options available and it could be horrible if they give him an extension. If the Mets are going to bring in a potential clubhouse problem, I'd rather take Guillen for a lot less money and no extension necessary. Unreal, simply unreal what I am reading on this.
I have also read that Al Leiter is figuring to be back in the rotation in 2005 as well where he will finish out his career.
First Sosa, now this. An off season that had so much promise could turn into a veritable disaster. Now, nothing has been announced and until it has, anything can happen. But what I've expected from this team is nothing less than the wrong moves at the wrong times.
If they don't get Randy Johnson, look for the White Sox to find a middle of the rotation starter like Matt Clement, someone the Sox have interest in already, according to a source.
There are at least a dozen in Clement's category, and there will be plenty of Al Leiter, Brad Radke and Russ Ortiz types available when the Sox want to start shopping.