I got nothing but rumors to discuss today, though I’m sure you won’t mind that given the clarity that I will bring to each free agents potential for the coming season.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Angels remain the most likely landing spot for Adrian Beltre. There are still rumblings out there that Beltre is seeking upwards of $85 million which seems like a crazy amount of dough to spend on a guy who is already 32 years old and one who has only one 30 homer season and just two with 100-RBI. Will the Angels bite since they missed out on their top target, Carl Crawford, who signed with the Red Sox? For more on Crawford give The End of Baseball? a read.
There are three relievers whose names are in the hopper right now as front burner type guys. Here are my thoughts on each.
Grant Balfour: On the Orioles radar, Balfour is the hardest thrower of this threesome. However, his average fastball is down two mph from its peak in 2008 when he was murder on hitters with a massive 12.65 K/9 mark as he held batters to a .143 average. He regressed in ’09 seeing his ERA almost triple to 4.81 as his K/9 rate plummeted to 9.22. While his K/9 rate was even worse last year at 9.11, he was able to cut a walk and a half off his BB/9 mark down to 2.77 (a career best) and that was a huge key to his return to success (2.28 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). Somehow he has been able to avoid allowing homers year after year despite the fact that 45 percent of batted balls have gone skyward. At this point, he has proven that this is a trend to be taken seriously as his HR/FB rate has been below nine percent each of the past five years. A nice addition to any pen if expectations are kept in check.
Hideki Okajima: On the A’s radar, Okajima is coming off his worst season – by a lot. He missed his career ERA by more than a run and a half at 4.50, while his WHIP was above 1.26 for the first time in four years at a sickly 1.72. Hideki also saw his K/9 rate dip one and a half batters below his career rate of 6.46 per nine, while his BB/9 was also a career worst (3.91). Already 35 years old, someone will take a chance on a rebound from Hideki and just write off last season as an injury induced slump, though I have my doubts it was only that.
Chad Qualls: Also on the A’s radar, Qualls is the hurler from this group I would most like to see “my” team sign. How can I say that when his ERA was 7.32 last year? Am I off my rocker? Possibly, but hear me out.
(1) Qualls can be had on the cheap coming off that dreadful season, and that’s a huge check mark in his favor with middle relievers getting massive deals this offseason.
(2) From 2005-09 he was one of the most consistent relievers in baseball. In that time he had never posted an ERA higher than 3.76 or a WHIP worse than 1.32 with an average effort of a 3.30 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.
(3) Qualls is one of the best pitchers in baseball in terms of generating ground balls with a career GB/FB mark of 2.30. Even last season, when he was awful, he still posted a strong 1.95 mark. When you induce that many grounders, success will usually follow.
(4) Despite atrocious ratios last season, Qualls still pitched pretty well – and no, I’m not still hungover from celebrating my Sirius/XM Experts League Championship in fantasy football. Look at the numbers.
2010: 7.47 K/9, 1.95 GB/FB, 16.8 LD-rate, 55.0 GB-rate
career: 7.35 K/9, 2.30 GB/FB, 17.3 LD-rate, 57.6 GB-rate
So why the struggles. How about an utter lack of anything resembling even an iota of good will?
2010: 16.8 LD-rate, .399 BABIP, 53.0 LOB%
career: 17.3 LD-rate, .309 BABIP, 71.9 LOB%
Clearly, this guy left his rabbit’s foot at home last year. His BABIP mark was the worst in baseball amongst pitchers who threw 50-innings, despite better than a career average line drive rate. That will not repeat in ’11. Qualls also went from a slightly better than average pitcher in terms of stranding runners to being an abysmal failure as he was, again, the worst pitcher in baseball in that category (min. 50 IP). Given the totality of his work last season I’m betting on a strong rebound after last year’s dismal showing that, quite simply, makes no logical sense.
By Ray Flowers