After Carlos Beltran, Matt Clement might be the most important free agent on the market. With the exception of run support and thus wins, his numbers were very similar to those of Cy Young winner Roger Clemens last year. Plus, he’s an extreme groundball pitcher, making him suitable for any park. The main concern is the muscle stiffness he experienced in his back and neck that sent him to the sideline in September. A Pennsylvania native, the Phillies would be a great match for him, but he will greatly improve the postseason hopes of any team he signs with.
Since the Yankees have proved they aren’t very interested in good infield defense and that they are willing to spend obscene amounts of money on famous players, they should probably throw a mound of cash Jeff Kent’s way. He’s below average on defense, but his glove was actually better last year than anyone the Yankees used and he’d be a huge upgrade offensively. He talked about retiring last year, but perhaps another shot at a ring will be enough incentive for one or two more seasons. With the Yankees' budget, that shot is an annual birthright.
There are a few pitchers I expect to stay put. Jaret Wright, for one. If
he has bought into the hype that Leo
Mazzone resurrected his career – the turnaround began in San Diego when
bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds suggested just
before he was demoted to AAA Portland that he start throwing his sinker
again – then he’ll probably stay loyal to the
team that gave him his chance to start again.
Kris Benson will also stay put.
The Mets gave up some decent talent to get him and he showed
improvement once he left Pittsburgh.
The Padres want to re-sign David Wells and the only way he won’t
is if the Yankees come calling again.
That may happen, but it’s hard to imagine that the Yanks will
starter who’s past his prime, especially given their experience last
year. Matt Morris will probably stay in
because his 2004 season wasn’t impressive enough to elicit better
offers from other teams than
what he’ll get from the Cards.
Also, I doubt that Roger Clemens will pitch anywhere but Houston
year. The reason he came out of retirement was to pitch in his
hometown with his buddy Andy Pettitte. With the Astros just
missing out on the World Series, he has no incentive to go elsewhere if
he chooses to pitch one more year.
Odalis Perez is intriguing because he’s just two years removed from an outstanding season and he’s still only 27. He probably should go to a team that has a big park because his home and road splits are similar to those of Chan Ho Park before he left the confines of Chavez Ravine. Florida is a great fit, but I’m not sure they’ll want to spend the money to get him. Great America Ballpark played big in 2004 and the Reds could certainly use a quality starter, but they might be as reluctant to spend money as the Marlins. One team that could use a good starter and rumored to be opening its checkbook is the Mariners. Joel Piniero will probably be on the shelf for the first half of 2005 and Bobby Madritsch is still an unknown quantity, although I like his chances. Jamie Moyer pitched like a guy who should be thinking about becoming a pitching coach this spring, which leaves Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche as the only “reliables” the M’s have in the rotation. Perez has fared well in his brief interleague exposure, posting an ERA of 3.56 and Safeco is even more pitcher-friendly than Dodger Stadium.
Other starting pitchers who
have a significant impact are Jon Lieber, Derek Lowe, Brad Radke and
Kevin Millwood. The Twins are actively seeking to retain Radke,
which comes as somewhat of a surprise since they are loathe to spend
money and they have several excellent candidates to fill Radke's spot
with Grant Balfour, JD Durbin and the return of Joe Mays. Scott
Baker had a nice year advancing three levels, then continued to pitch
well in the AFL. The prize of the lot may end up being Jon
Lieber, especially if he finds a team with an infield that can get to
the ball. His numbers this year were almost back to his 2001
levels when he won 20 games for the Cubs. He becomes a big time
sleeper if he signs on with the Marlins, Cardinals or Dodgers.
Even though Lowe was dominant against the Cardinals, his numbers in
interleague play haven't been that good: 7-7 with a 4.38 ERA
career. His best success has come in Comerica Park where he has a
career 2.12 ERA, but that may be as much to do with the team he's faced
as the park. However, he's also had good success against
Cleveland (2.45 ERA) and the White Sox (3.45), so pitching for the
Tigers might be a good fit for him. As for Millwood, he needs to
find a comfy pitcher's park where his flyball tendency doesn't cost him
big innings. Of the teams that are capable of forking over the
money he'll be asking for, the Cardinals might be the best fit,
especially if they let Woody Williams (who's now 38 years old) walk.
There are some outfielders who
have impacts as well. I expect that Atlanta will do everything in
their power to re-sign JD Drew. It's still not clear whether he
was just the victim of bad luck with all his injuries his first few
years, or whether it was Tony LaRussa's notably erratic usage or
whether he is simply injury prone. He could be one of those
players who just plays hard in contract years. Who knows?
It will take another year to know one way or the other, but he's
certainly a talent worth risking $8-12 million a year on to find
out. Moises Alou picked a good year to have a career season,
especially with the market as robust as it appears early on. He's
almost 40 so whatever contract he ends up with will likely be two years
or less. From 2000-2002 he averaged only 131 games played and his
defense has deteriorated to the point where he needs to consider DHing
part-time. But if his salary demands are reasonable, he could be
an attractive pick-up for the Blue Jays, who can afford his defense
with Rios and Wells covering most of the outfield. They need a
potent bat to replace the expected departure of Carlos Delgado.
Baltimore, if they lose out on Ordonez and Beltran, could also be a
decent fit, as could Texas. However, I don't imagine he feels
ready to become a DH and he seems like a decent fit for the
Dodgers. Jermaine Dye hasn't posted big numbers since 2001 and
has had a devil of a time staying healthy. The talent is still
there for a big season and unlike Juan Gonzales, he has the drive to
play even when he's hurting. It's hard to imagine some team
upping his salary from last year of $11 million given his recent
health, but he could be a nice bargain for a team like the White Sox
who now have a gaping hole in right field.