Baseball Notebook: Flurry of Moves

By: Robert Griggs

A flurry of MLB moves have taken place before the holidays, including the Blue Jays taking a page from the Cardinals and locking up a superstar to a long-term deal.
Vernon Wells has agreed to a seven year deal worth $126 million with the Blue Jays. The deal has two major perks: a no-trade clause, and an “opt out” clause after the fourth year of the deal. For the Blue Jays, they were able to backload the contract, and put much of the money in “performance bonuses” that Wells should easily make as long as he stays healthy. Wells is an outstanding defender, and on the cusp of being an offensive stud, so from a performance standpoint, the deal’s fine.
However, the deal goes against Blue Jays GM J.P. Riccardi’s solemn proclamation just two months ago that the team wouldn’t sing Wells for “Beltran-type money”, referring to the seven year, $119 million deal Beltran signed with the Mets after his excellent 2004 season. Now, the Jays have agreed to pay Wells $7 million more than the Mets paid Beltran. The question is was this reversal of thinking caused by the market or by Blue Jays ownership?
Some Toronto media reports indicate that there’s a bit of a rift between Riccardi and the owners, while some media reports state that the change of heart is simply due to the booming free agent market. Nonetheless, the Blue Jays keep a player that wants to stay and performs very well there. Health is always a question with this kind of contract, but a $126 million gamble on a player like Wells is far and away better than the gambles taken on players such as Gil Meche, Ted Lilly, and the next deal we’ve learned about.
Our webmaster can’t be that happy to hear that his Mariners have agreed to a three year, $27 million deal with pitcher Miguel Batista. The 35 year old right hander has basically been the definition of a league average pitcher for the past three seasons.

He generally doesn’t go deep into games, and his age and durability are certainly questionable. $9 million per season for league average is both unbelieveable and painful. The Mariners starting rotation currently consists of Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn, Batista, and Horacio Ramirez, with one open spot due to the team non-tendering Joel Piniero. Better hope that Hernandez blossoms and Washburn rebounds in a major way, or it’s going to be a long 2007 for the Mariners & their fans.
However, there are many smart moves found in MLB, and the Devil Rays signing Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura to a three year, $7.7 million deal may be the best of the season. The D-Rays have a total of just over $12 million invested in Iwamura, taking in account the $4.5 million posting fee. Iwamura will start his Devil Rays tenure at third base, but would likely move to second if Evan Longoria excels in Triple A and is called to the big club. Iwamura is an excellent defender and has hit very well in Japan, but critics believe Iwamura will regress a bit, and will be more comparable to either Tadahito Iguchi or Hideki Matsui offensively. For the money, that type production would be fine for the run-starved Devil Rays.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox have traded a minor league reliever to the Angels for reliever Brendan Donnelly. It’s a salary-dump move by the Angels, as the 35 year old middle reliever is due $2 million this season. While the move is a reasonable one by the Red Sox, Donnelly should not figure in the closers role at Boston.

Speaking of closers, the Rangers are kicking the tires on a possible Akinori Otsuka trade. Otsuka took over as closer at Arlington after Francisco Cordero became ineffective. Otsuka was excellent as the Rangers closer, converting 32 saves in 36 chances. However, the Rangers have agreed to a contract with effective but oft-injured closer Eric Gagne. While early reports on Gagne are extremely positive, I wouldn’t be so quick to move Otsuka yet if I were Texas GM Tom Hicks. Reports on Gagne at mid-season were excellent too…but he only made two appearances before being shut down again and hasn’t pitched in a game since. The Rangers have a deep staff of relievers, but I think only Gagne and Otsuka have the stuff to close.

In a whimsical turn of events, the Braves have non-tendered second baseman Marcus Giles. GM John Schuerholz is usually very sharp, but he dropped the ball on this situation. The Padres were interested in trading for Giles at mid-season and even simply trading for his rights when the season ended, but Schuerholz tried to get to much for him. Even when the Padres balked at trading top setup man Scott Linebrink, the Braves should’ve been able to work out a mid-season deal for prospects or at least a lesser reliever and a prospect. Remember the addage that something is better than nothing…hopefully the Braves will remember it after bungling this situation with Giles. As it stands, the Braves get nothing for Giles, and he will probably sign with the Padres sometime in the next few weeks.
The biggest prizes, pitchers Barry Zito and Jeff Suppan, are still up for grabs. Suppan’s agent has stated that he will not sign until Zito is signed, as that ups Suppan’s value. Zito is likely looking at $16-18 million a year for at least five seasons. Suppan was looking at $10 million a year for four years, but $11-12 million per year for four to five years is possible, given how the market has blown up this off-season. Only two things are certain…both will receive big paydays, and we at To the Point and Back will bring you the info once either is signed! For all the latest off-season baseball, and for in-depth commentaries in entertainment, sports, and politics, keep checking To the Point and Back!

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