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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Jon on Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Yankees to Serve Lamb at Third

Texas finally caved, trading their infielder to a powerhouse AL East team. Only, the team wasn’t Boston, and the infielder wasn’t A-Rod. In an unforeseen move, New York will trade minor league pitcher Jose Garcia to the Texas Rangers for third baseman Mike Lamb, as soon as the Yankees free up a spot on their 40-man roster. Can the Yankees’ hole at third base now be considered filled?

With a shortage of other alternatives, New York will probably stick with Lamb and the gang (Houston, Wilson, Cairo), at least until the trading deadline, when better options may become available. As it stands, Lamb is their best option at the hot corner, but he only has one full year of major league experience. Lamb has posted decent numbers in parts of four seasons in the majors (only one as a full-time starter). His career numbers – .282 Batting Average, .336 on-base percentage, and .385 slugging percentage – are decent, especially considering the dearth of quality third basemen in the league. The real reason why I question this move: Lamb’s defense is nothing more than adequate, if that. With him at third, the Yankees’ infield defense will be below average all around.

Having no better defensive alternatives, Lamb easily beats out Tyler Houston as the best option in the Bronx. With the emergence of Hank Blalock, the Rangers had no need for Lamb and sent him down to AAA for much of the 2003 season. He performed dismally in only 38 plate appearances with Texas. In his last full seasons in the majors, although not a full-time starter, Lamb’s numbers are certainly good enough to beat out Houston in New York. Following is a comparison of their numbers in each of their last two full seasons in the majors.

Lamb............AB............BA............OBP............SLG............BB/SO............HR
2001............284...........306.......... .348............412............14/24..............4
2002............314...........283...........354............411............33/48..............9

Houston........AB............BA............OBP............SLG............BB/SO............HR
2002.............97............281...........323.............428............16/62.............7
2003............320...........278...........320.............402.............6/19..............2

Unlike Tyler Houston, Mike reaches base at a league-average clip and Lamb's BB/SO ratio is far better than Houston's. Compared to their other options, the Bombers’ meatiest lineup will be with Lamb at third. He will have to due until the end of July, when New York will trade for some Grade A beef.

Respect Your Elders

After Jesse Orosco officially retired a few weeks ago, I was a tad taken aback. For as long as I’ve been following baseball, Orosco was a part of the game. And he was always old! In the retirement of Orosco, baseball lost its oldest active player. But don’t fret! Another member of the rookie class of 1979 is prepared to take the torch from the old lefty, provided a team allows him to participate in the marathon’s final legs. You know who I’m talking about. You can see his years of baseball in the wrinkles on his face: 3081 little wrinkles – one for each game played in the majors.

For a second straight season, Rickey Henderson will be entering the season without an MLB contract. Rickey refuses to take the hint, though, and remains confident that he’ll catch on, as he did last July with the Dodgers. Like Orosco, who toiled through his worst season in the majors last year with a terrible ERA+ of 53 (easily a career low), Henderson suffered through his worst season at the major league level. He recorded career lows in batting average, OBP, stolen bases, and games played (only 30) – and that’s a long career.

It’s nice to know that one guy from the rookie class of 1979, despite poor performance, refuses to admit defeat. Most likely, Rickey will find a team to take a chance on him next season (maybe GM Billy Beane will pick him up, providing Henderson with a fifth tenure in Oakland. He has the reputation of a poor clubhouse guy, but if any teams are looking for a veteran presence, they can’t go wrong with Henderson.

Coming or Going?

It appears that the Pirates are on the verge of signing Randall Simon, who they traded to the Cubs before the deadline last summer. In exchange for Simon, Pittsburgh received minor league outfielder Ray Sadler, a moderate centerfield prospect. The Pirates are the only team interested in the notorious Sausage Smasher, but they are not the only club to sign a player who they traded away during last season.

The Orioles recently (re-)sig;ned Sidney Ponson to basically the same contract he rejected (a 3-year $22.5 million deal) before he was traded to the Giants. In the trade, Baltimore received pitchers Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and minor-leaguer Ryan Hannaman, who could end up as a decent starter or late-inning reliever, according to Baseball America.

In a way, the Pirates essentially rented their first-baseman out in exchange for the rights to a minor leaguer. Baltimore pulled the same trick, acquiring three pitchers of varying talent, health, and development, only to reacquire Ponson after the season. These something-for-nothing deals are pretty sweet for teams out of competition by the trading deadline. A team that likes a player enough that it plans on paying more than market value for him after the season, should trade him for some prospects at the deadline, and try to then resign him during the off-season. Whether their strategies were purposeful or not – Ponson knew that Baltimore’s deal would stand after the season – aside from the Rule 5 draft, there’s no better way to add prospects for free.

Coming or Going? – Part II: Burks Returning to Beantown

Speaking of teams reacquiring former talent, it appears that Ellis Burks is close to signing with the Red Sox. Burks wants to play in Boston in 2004 and Theo wants him there. He is in Boston now, ready to undergo a physical.

While his career has spanned eight fewer seasons than Rickey’s, at 39 years old, Ellis Burks is no youngster. Red Sox fans weren’t happy when Burks was sent packing in 1992 after contributing a lot to Boston: he was a standout 20/20 rookie contribution in 1987, he became recognized as one of the best centerfielders in the American League (Gold Glove in 1990), and was an All-Star in 1990. My father, who had a special knack for predicting Burks homeruns, was unhappy with the move. “He’s injury-prone,” the Red Sox said. “He won’t last another few years in the majors.” Did he ever prove them wrong!

Following his time with the Red Sox, Burks put up consistent numbers over the last ten seasons, including another All-Star appearance in 1996. Following a season filled with injury, Burks, now a regular DH, is determined, having never won a championship on any level, to return to baseball for one more season, probably in the form of a Boston homecoming.

The Red Sox are searching for a right-handed bench hitter, and Burks has a recent, history of dominating lefties (note: the sample sizes are relatively small and are not be conducive to extrapolating predictions for the future):

Burks..................AB............HR............BA............OBP............SLG
2002 vs. LHP.......136............9.............316............400............581
2003 vs. LHP........59.............3.............322............444............576

Burks, a capable right-handed bench bat or platooner at DH (with Kevin Millar), is exactly the type lefty-killing hitter Boston is interested in signing. Since Oakland signed Eric Karros, Boston’s list of such options is dwindling. Watch for a deal to be signed within the week.

Are the Twins insane?

After finally allowing him to cement himself a spot in their rotation, Johan Santana – a left-hander – appears to be the best starter pitcher on the Twins, and one of the brightest young pitchers in baseball (he’ll be 25 this year). Since his first start after regular rest on July 11, Santana posted some wonderful numbers: a 3.25 ERA, 95 strikeouts, and only 25 walks in 91.1 innings. After the All-Star break, opposing batters only .216 against him and starting on August 3, he did not lose a game in his last eleven starts, tallying eight wins during that span. Minnesota would probably do anything to keep such a young, potentially dominating pitcher a happy member of the Twins, right? Wrong!

Santana has filed for salary arbitration, asking for $2.45 million. Considering his performance as a reliever and a starter over the last two years, this sum appears quite reasonable. The Twins, though, refused to offer that much, beginning their offer at a mere $1.6 million, which is not fair compensation for a pitcher of his caliber. The Twins just upped their offer by $300k, but they will most likely lose the case if it goes to arbitration.

After mismanaging his career for the last two years, the Twins are now mismanaging his contract negotiations. Consider this: Brad Penny, two years away from free agency, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $3.725 million contract with the Marlins. Carl Pavano, a free agent after 2004, did the same, agreeing to a $3.8 contract with Florida. Santana is a better pitcher than both Pavano and Penny, despite having less experience as a starter. When he becomes a free agent, Santana will probably be happy to take the next available flight out of Minneapolis.


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