Sunday, October 25, 2009

Best Free Agent Options for 2010

The World Series is around the corner and not long after that the Hot Stove fires up and free agency begins. Of course, Reds fans will likely have to once again live vicariously through fans of high revenue clubs, but we can still pick through the bargain bin in hopes of finding good value.

In that spirit, here's a quick look at a few players who might be of use to the club and who might actually consider hanging their hat in the Queen City. First, we need to identify both the areas of need and the constraints operating on the front office this offseason.

25 Man Roster Holes

First, the areas in obvious need of improvement. The following is set in stone:

1b Joey Votto
2b Brandon Phillips
3b Scott Rolen
cf Drew Stubbs
rf Jay Bruce

So, as to the every day position players, the Reds can likely only improve at catcher, shortstop, and leftfield. Even leftfield may be secure in the hands of Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson, and/or Chris Heisey.

As for the pitching staff, the rotation is pretty well set:

1) Aaron Harang
2) Bronson Arroyo
3) Johnny Cueto
4) Homer Bailey

In theory, they could use another starting pitcher, but not a top of the rotation starter unless they flip the contract of either Aaron Harang or Bronson Arroyo.

And, the bullpen is in pretty good shape with respect to high leverage innings:

CL) Francisco Cordero
SU) Art Rhodes
SU) Nick Masset

Front Office Constraints

Obviously, the Reds have some constraints. There is still some uncertainty about how much of Scott Rolen's salary the Reds must pay in 2010, but it's likely to be substantial enough to prevent the Reds from being big players in the free agent market. I'd love to target the likes of Tim Hudson and Ben Sheets, but those guys are likely out of our price range.

As per usual, the small revenue teams are left to target the players with flaws. Flaws aren't such a bad thing, as they are what reduces the value of players to the point that small revenue clubs can afford them. The trick is to pick the flaws that best fit the organization.

Justin Duchscherer

Duchscherer is an intriguing pitcher. He spent several years dominating in the Oakland bullpen before being shifted into the starting rotation for the 2008 season. I was skeptical about his ability to succeed in the rotation, but he thrived.

The Duke doesn't throw hard, but he features a varied five pitch arsenal including a fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, and change-up. His fastball velocity is below average, but his curveball is a definite plus pitch and his command/control allow his stuff to play up a notch.

In 2008, his 2.79 BB/9 and 6.04 K/9 rates helped him post a 2.54 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Of course, he also benefited from a stellar Oakland defense and a pitcher friendly ballpark, but he's a solid pitcher who understand how to succeed with less than elite stuff.

The Duke's form of risk comes in injury and depression, with the latter seemingly a larger concern than the former. He missed the first half of 2009 recovering from an arm injury, but opted to shut it down in the second half due to problems with depression. He wanted to focus on treating his depression rather than come back to pitch for a month or two. At this point, he should be 100% healthy from a physical standpoint to start 2010, but depression isn't likely to be as easy to "cure." Even so, he strikes me as being a good risk, good reward type player. In this case, the A's surplus of young pitching talent makes Duchscherer expendable and the A's loss could be the Reds gain.

Jason Varitek

As much as I liked what I saw out of Ryan Hanigan, I am just not willing to buy into him as a full-time starter as of yet.

Despite his age driven decline, 'Tek is still the most widely respected catcher in the game. In addition to adding leadership to roster, Varitek could also add solid production and good game calling skills to a team that would benefit from both. He could be a calming influence on the young pitchers and boost the level of respect the Reds are accorded around the league.

Varitek finished out the 2009 season with a line of .209/.313/.390/.703, but he hit .236/.345/.453 in the first four months before the arrival of Victor Martinez cut into his playing time. Also cutting in his favor is the fact that he currently resides in baseball's toughest division and would get the usual bump from coming to Great American Ballpark.

The risk with Varitek comes in the form of performance decline due to age and also throwing problems. Varitek doesn't nail basestealers at a very good clip these days, but that's far from the worst flaw a catcher can have. Add in the cannon arm of Ryan Hanigan and they could make a nice duo: the switch hitting veteran Jason Varitek and the younger righthanded hitting Hanigan.

The Red Sox are committed to Victor Martinez behind the dish for 2010, so Varitek may be looking for more playing time in another organization. That organization could be the Reds. He may not have much left in the tank, but it could be enough for one or two more solid seasons, especially with the help of Great American Ballpark.

Rocco Baldelli

Baldelli has always been an intriguing talent, but he continues to deal with mitochondrial myopathy. As he learns to manage his health effectively to allow him to contribute at the MLB level, he may be at the point where he is looking for a larger role than the Red Sox will afford him.

In 2009, Baldelli hit .255/.313/.453 with 7 homeruns. Respectable production in limited time and in a difficult home ballpark. Obviously, the OBP leaves something to be desired, but he could be an attractive player for a platoon situation with Chris Dickerson (as each may still need to prove worthy of a fulltime job) or a larger role if his condition allows for it. He would get a significant boost in production from GABP and could really put up solid numbers if his condition allows it.

He remains a risk, but he still has the intriguing upside and sweet righthanded swing that made him a first round draft pick.

Final Thoughts

At this point, the Reds are likely going to stand pat rather than pursue anyone in free agency, but there are a few players out there who might make sense and could make a difference. At the very least, the downturn in the economy should increase the number of bargains in the free agent market.


  1. i think they should stand pat. if they want to spend some money on left field, then jonny gomes should be offered arbitration. he's as good as rocco baldelli for the money. i also think the fifth starter position can be effectively filled in-house. maloney looked really good his last couple of outings and i have a feeling that reuniting with bryan price is going to get micah owings going again. and with edinson volquez due back in august, it doesn't make any sense to me to spend money in the free agency market. especially considering the contract we gave to taveras last year. sometimes less is more.

  2. Like your idea about Varitek, although I think we may be in the minority.

    Folks in Boston act as though the Sox never won a game before the arrival of Martinez. The truth is, the pitching staff still did better with Varitek behind the plate, a truth that goes unnoticed because most fans can't see past a catcher's offense. The addition of Martinez's bat certainly didn't help the Sox in the post season.

    Varitek played hurt through most of the season with a neck and shoulder injury (sustained in late 2008 that came back to haunt him in 2009) and missed some games late in the summer because the neck "locked up" on him. There is talk that he may be having surgery to correct the problem. He is a quiet guy who doesn't use excuses, but it could very well be the injury that hurt his offense the last two seasons.

    He's a real professional and the pitching staff loves the guy.

    The guy had one passed ball and three errors all season.

  3. Broadway,

    You may be right about Gomes. I actually like Jonny.

    He was an impact bat in a lineup that sorely needed one. The advantage Rocco would potentially have over Jonny would be on defense. In addition, Gomes is likely looking at a pretty decent payday, which the Reds may not be interested in meeting. Jonny is eligible for arbitration for the first time, so he's likely going to land a payday between $2.5M-4.0M. It's possible that Rocco could be enticed for less money and the promise of more playing time.

    Anyway, I do like both Gomes and Dickerson, so an in-house option may ultimately be best. Still, Rocco intrigues.

    As for The Duke, he could be a nice option at the back of the rotation on a low base salary with incentives. You can't ever have too much pitching depth.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!


  4. Anon,

    I do like the idea of Varitek. I don't view Hanigan as a guy who can start 135-140 times and Varitek would bring a lot of experience to the table. I don't like Ramon Hernandez as an option either, so 'Tek could be an intriguing one year option.

    He could work wonders with our pitching staff, as the young pitchers obviously need help, Arroyo could use more consistency, and Harang needs help getting back to his old performance level.

    At the very least, it's interesting to think about. Thanks for the comment!!


  5. Lark what about shortstop?

    I think that is our biggest need in the offseason, Id rather see hanigan starting everyday than janish.

    I wouldnt mind getting veritek, but arn't their any other younger catchers available? We would be pushing our luck with rhodes, rolen and veritek. one of them is going to suffer from their age this season

  6. Hey Smitty,

    The only real free agent option for filling our shortstop hole is Marco Scutaro. I actually like Marco. He is a solid, fundamentally sound player. He has very strong control over the strikezone, rarely chasing bad pitches and walking at a very high clip. He's also solid on defense. In addition, I know some A's fans thought they were foolish not to keep and felt he brought some intagibles to the team. That said, I think the risk/reward balance may be upside down on Scutaro.

    He's not a young player and he's coming off a career season. Also, he may well qualify as a type A player, which would mean we cough up a 2nd round draft pick (as our 1st round pick is protected). Despite all that, I might be tempted to sign him up. He was among the league leaders in walks, which is a rarity in a premier defensive position. Still, the potential for a regression seems rather high, which makes him a rather risky option.

    However, I do wonder if we would simply be better off handing the reins to Paul Janish with Chris Valaika as an option if Janish doesn't step forward. Personally, I don't think Janish is very far away from being Jack Wilson, which would have significant value in his pre-free agency seasons.

    As for catcher, you won't find many young catchers available in free agency. Catchers typically arrive in the majors at an older age, which when coupled with the required 6 years of service time and the tendency of teams to buy out a year or two of free agency of good young players means that they won't hit free agency at a young age.

    So, if you want a younger catcher, then you'd have to explore a different avenue than free agency. which were outside the scope of this post.

    Still, if we want to explore the trade market, then I would really kick the tires on Taylor Teagarden. He had a rough offensive season in limited duty, but I still really like his game. If the Rangers really do re-sign Pudge Rodriguez, then they have a log-jam behind the dish with Saltalamacchia and Teagarden. One should be priced to move and I'd try to take Teagarden off their hands at a reasonable rate.

    But, as for free agency, I don't see any options for a young-ish catcher or a shortstop. I like Scutaro, but I'm just not sure I like the risk/reward on him in free agency.

    Anyway, my $.02. Thanks for the comment!