Saturday, December 1, 2012
Value to be found in non-tendered players
By Chris Quick
This time of year baseball news is very sluggish. Scratch that -- extremely sluggish. Outside of a few early signings, there isn't much happening in the game. However, with the non-tender deadline passing on Friday night, baseball gets a brief jolt of activity before we head to the winter meetings.
Non-tender means just that -- a team chooses not to tender a player a contract and, in turn, the player becomes a free agent, able to sign with any team. Teams will non-tender players for a multitude of reasons -- injury, cost, and roster crunches are among the most popular -- but savvy teams will be able to cruise this new pool of free agents to find value. And make no mistake, there is value to be had among the recent crop of non-tendered players.
Let's take a look:
If Brian Wilson wants to close again, it likely won't be in San Francisco.
Brian Wilson, P -- Probably the biggest and most widely recognized non-tender, Wilson's days as a Giant appear to be all but over. The team can still negotiate a contract with the bearded Wilson, but most reports indicate that Wilson is unlikely to remain. Wilson -- rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery -- looks to find a new team to call home. As a two-time TJ survivor, Wilson carries significant risk, but if there was anyone who could overcome those odds, it would be Wilson. From 2009-2011, Wilson ranked as the fourth-best reliever in the majors by FanGraphs' WAR (5.6), throwing 202 innings with a 2.50 ERA. He'll most likely have to settle for a lower base salary with performance incentives. The talent is there. The big question is: Is the health?
Mark Reynolds, 1B/DH -- Rather than paying him about $9 million through arbitration, the Orioles decided to let the home run masher and strikeout accumulator walk. Over the past three years, Reynolds ranks 14th in the majors in home runs at 92. (That's more than Matt Kemp, Robinson Cano or David Ortiz.) But while Reynolds' power is prodigious, it comes at a great cost: strikeouts. Piles and piles of strikeouts. Only Adam Dunn has whiffed more over the past three seasons, and while Reynolds is still an asset with the bat, he's a complete liability at third base (although he was acceptable at first when the Orioles moved him there). He'll find work -- guys that can launch 30 home runs annually almost always do -- but he should stick in the American League where his defensive issues can be minimized.
Nate Schierholtz, RF -- This might seem to be Giants-centric, but Schierholtz, another ex-Giant, profiles as a fringe starter on lower-tiered teams and a fine fourth outfielder on higher-tiered teams. You can boil Schierholtz down to the following: slightly below average bat, great glove, good baserunner. Schierholtz owns a career batting line of .270/.319/.409 while playing half his games in a park (AT&T Park) that's mighty tough on left-handed batters. The advanced fielding metrics, such as Ultimate Zone Rating, peg him as about a half-win net on defense each year, and it's hard to imagine anyone playing a better right field. And he's shown himself to be an adept baserunner. When you add everything up, it's a nice package that will attract a few teams needing outfield depth.
Tom Gorzelanny, P -- Pitching his first year as purely a reliever, Gorzelanny found success in Washington in 2012. Gorzelanny tossed 72 innings with adequate peripherals (20.1 percent strikeout rate; 9.8 walk rate) to pair with a 2.88 ERA. Being a left-handed pitcher, he's naturally been tough on left-handed batters, holding them to a career line of .227/.295/.367. He profiles as a middle reliever, or lefty specialist. It's possible that a team hurting for starting depth might take a look at him as a starter.
Jeff Karstens, P -- Jeff Karstens was limited to just 15 starts in 2012 because of shoulder inflammation. He doesn't throw exceptionally hard, strike out scads of batters, or look like an ace pitcher. What he does, however, is throw strikes (career 6.1 walk percentage). He'd be great filler for a rotation that might need a little extra time for prospects to develop, or for a rotation (or bullpen) that needs more depth. Over the past two seasons, Karstens has posted the following numbers: 3.59 ERA, 253 IP, 252 H, 101 ER, 48 BB, 162 SO. That's pretty much the definition of a fungible starter.
Andres Torres, OF -- Torres is clearly no longer the batter that he was with the Giants from 2009-2010 when he hit .269/.343/.492 over 740 plate appearances; since then, Torres has batted a meager .226/.320/.334 in 832 PAs. The decline in Torres' bat moves him from a starting role to a bench role. The good news for Torres is that despite some health issues, he still profiles as an above-average defender in center field and an above-average baserunner. Every team needs a guy like Torres on its bench.
None of the players listed above -- outside of Brian Wilson, maybe -- will draw the sort of attention that the marquee free agents will receive. And rightfully so. However, teams looking to fill certain needs would be smart to check in on some of the recently non-tendered players. If used properly, there's value to be had in this year's crop of non-tendered players.