A couple of players have decided where they will be plying their talents in 2011, while a few others seem to be nearing an end to the saga of where they will play in the coming campaign.
Scott Downs: The ace lefty reliever left the cold of Toronto for the warmth of Southern California when he signed a 3-year, $15 million deal with the Angels. Downs has been a wonderful reliever since the start of the 2007 season with some rather impressive numbers that Zack Greinke would be proud to call his own – 2.36 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and a 7.80 K/9 over 236.2 innings. Downs is also a dominating force against any left-handed batter with a career .223 batting average against portsiders. Simply put, he is one of the best lefty relievers in baseball.
Is this signing a prelude to the Angels also adding power-armed Rafael Soriano as many thought? The answer would appear to be no. It turns out the Angels are likely done spending on their bullpen and will instead go with a bullpen by committee in 2011. “If we need one or two guys at times to get the last out, we’re going to do it but I don’t think the committee’s going to be very large,” Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia said. Fernando Rodney would appear to be the leader in the clubhouse for the spot, though if the matchup dictates we could easily see Kevin Jepsen, Jordan Walden and Mr. Downs working the ninth inning.
Matt Garza: This impressive right-handed arm is apparently up for auction, and the Cubs are looking at picking up the impressive righty. Why Garza over another available righty, Zack Greinke? As Ken Rosenthal pointed out in Gauging the Value of Garza vs. Greinke, the reason the Cubs, or any team, would be more interested in Garza is the fact that he is in a more financially agreeable position with the end result being he will be paid, over the next three seasons, about what Greinke will make over the next two. Garza also has five playoff starts in his career – Greinke has none – and Matt has pitched very well when the pressure has been on (2-1, 3.48 ERA), and you know teams love to see success in the second season. Both pitchers are solid options who have pitched well the past three years. Here are the numbers for 2008-10.
M.Garza: 34-31, 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.10 K/9, 2.32/BB
Greinke: 39-32, 3.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.37 K/9, 3.74 K/BB
Either one would be a tremendous coup for whichever team acquires their services. From an on-field assessment Greinke would appear to be the better hurler, but in terms of the dinero it will take to sign their checks the next three years the more prudent course of action would be to pull the trigger on Garza.
Bill Hall: The Dodgers appear to be in the lead for his services with a report suggesting that they would even make him their starter in left field against right-handed pitching. For the Dodgers sake let’s hope that report was inaccurate. There might even be a bidding war on the horizon as the Astros too are interested in adding the versatile Hall. To think, all a guy has to do is hit worse than the league average (.247), never get on base (.316) and always strikeout (more than 30 percent of the time) to get paid millions of dollars to play professional baseball. These teams do realize that Hall has hit .225 with a .687 OPS over his last 1,082 at-bat don’t they? The versatility he brings is nice, and he does have some pop with 41 homers over those 1,082 ABs, but there is no way you can legitimately make the argument that he should be an every day player on a club that hopes to make the playoffs.
Brendan Ryan: No longer needed in St. Louis after the Cards brought in Ryan Theriot, Ryan was dealt to the Mariners for RHP Maikel Cleto. Ryan, widely regarded as a plus defender, Ryan hit a mere .223 with a sickly .573 OPS lasts season in more than 430 at-bats for the Cards (perhaps the wrist injury that required surgery was more of an issue than he let on). In a career of more than 400 games in the bigs, Ryan has hit .259 with a .658 OPS, though at least he has flashed some speed (39 steals). Can he hit enough to play everyday? The jury is still out. What we do know is that he will be given a chance to earn a starting job either at second or short for the Mariners. Here is what this move means for the Mariners.
(1) Chone Figgins will likely move back to third base this season. This is a great bonus since he will obviously qualify at second and third, as well as middle infield and corner infield, in fantasy leagues. He hit an awful .259 but he still stole 42 bases in 2010, so bump him up in your rankings a bit with this news.
(2) Dustin Ackley is going to have to impress in spring training to make the club. Despite a strong AFL effort that ended up with him taking home league MVP honors (he led the league in average at .424, OBP at .581 and SLG at .758), Ackley isn’t going to be handed a starting spot at second base, he is going to have to earn it. If Dustin doesn’t prove he belongs, Ryan will play second base.
(3) If Ackley proves capable of handling the rigors of second base and major league pitching, Ryan will then compete with Jack Wilson for the starting spot at shortstop. Wilson was no better than Ryan at the dish hitting .249 with a .598 OPS, and injuries limited him to 193 at-bats. He still plays decent defense, but why wouldn’t the Marinres go with the younger Ryan if everything else was equal?
As for Cleto, the 21 year old has hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but he had a terrible 6.16 ERA in Single-A ball last season and is one of those “projects” that teams simply take a flier on in case it comes together. “Cleto has a power arm,” GM John Mozeliak said. “He’s someone that could project as a back-of-the-bullpen talent with additional development and experience.”
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By Ray Flowers