Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Analyzing the RFA Insanity

By Ken Grashoff
Portland Posse

Rafael Palmeiro SIGNED by Portland for $ 7.5m ($ 1.5m bonus; $ 2m x 3 yrs.)

Returned to Baltimore, where he recorded some of his best seasons in a long and distinguished major league career. He registered his lowest output for home runs and RBI since 1994. His .258 batting average was his lowest since the 1997 season. The highlight of his season came in September, when he batted .318, belted nine home runs and drove in 23 runs. In the end, though, his season was a disappointment. Clearly age has caught up with him as he nears the end of his career. Palmeiro signed a one-year, $3 million deal to return, most likely as a designated hitter and fill-in at first base. His struggles against southpaws may cut into his playing time. It's conceivable he'll hit 20 homers again, though he's nothing more than an average hitter.

Analysis: As a platoon DH with a .890 OPS vs. righties, is worth 3.5 million for last year. The key of the contract will be if he can produce one more above average season on his way to Cooperstown. Contract Worth - $6.5M

Kris Benson MATCHED by Louisville for $ 21m ($ 4.2m x 5 yrs.)

The Mets acquired Kris Benson's services from the Pirates on July 30 along with infielder Jeff Keppinger in exchange for infielder Ty Wigginton, pitcher Matt Peterson and infielder Jose Bautista. After posting a 3.01 ERA in his final 10 starts with Pittsburgh, Benson pitched well with the Mets, including a career-best shutout streak of 18.1 innings from September 9-19. Benson re-signed with the Mets and received a healthy raise, inking a three-year deal worth $22.5 million with a club option for a fourth campaign at $7.5 million. For the deal to work for the Mets, Benson must continue to make refinements in his game while staying healthy enough to take the mound every fifth day. If he can do those two things while maintaining his solid repertoire and his overall stuff, Benson could be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher for the length of the contract.

Analysis: A reasonable deal for a guy that should be a #3 starter for the next 5 years. Health will always be an issue, but then again, it’s an issue for all pitchers.

Contract Worth - $21M

Erubiel Durazo MATCHED by Phoenix for $ 21m ($ 4.2m x 5 yrs.)

Considering how slowly Erubiel Durazo got going in 2004, it is amazing that he generated the totals he did. It took until April 21 for Durazo to register his first RBI of the season, and he had just one home run until he homered twice on the last day of April in Tampa. Perhaps that offensive outburst was in response to the Tampa Bay spectator known as "The Heckler," a fan with a loud voice who always targets an opposing player. The Heckler picked on Durazo that day, but it may have lit a fire, as Durazo went on to produce career highs in just about every offensive category in 2004. General manager Billy Beane knows there is an even better year in Durazo's future. Surely he is capable of banging 30 homers and knocking in 100 runs. He inched closer to those numbers last season. Perhaps a more-confident Durazo will see his walk totals return to normal, and with that should come a better season than his solid 2004 campaign.

Analysis: One of the more solid FA resignings, well worth every penny that he received. Look for him to have 2-3 more consistent years.

Contract Worth - $23M

Troy Percival MATCHED by Phoenix for $ 10m ($ 1m bonus; $ 3m x 3 yrs.)

Each season that goes by, it becomes harder and harder for one of the most consistent closers of all time to do his job. But each year, Troy Percival finds a way. After dealing with a degenerative hip condition in 2003, he had inflammation in his right elbow last year that kept him out for most of June. But after struggling in May and June, Percival returned with a vengeance. He converted 21 of his final 22 save chances while picking up his 300th save along the way. Percival is one of only five pitchers to reach 300 saves with one team. Just as Percival once took over for an aging Lee Smith, he now yields to Francisco Rodriguez. The Angels announced in early November that they would not be offering Percival a contract extension after 10 seasons in Anaheim. They felt Rodriguez was ready for the job, and that's probably a wise business move as well. Percival signed a two-year, $12 million deal to work the ninth inning for the Detroit Tigers.

Analysis: Over rated for 2004, look for a continuing decline in performance. Not worth the $10M.

Contract Worth - $5M

Julio Lugo MATCHED by Minnesota for $ 8m ($ 2m x 4 yrs.)

Julio Lugo established himself as a starting player with a solid 2004 season, though it isn't clear where he will be starting. The Rays briefly moved him to second base, then quickly moved him back to shortstop. Lugo seemed to tire as the season wore on, but he still put up solid numbers. He led the Rays in hitting with runners in scoring position at .309, but his 25 errors were the second most by any major league shortstop. Tampa Bay officials debate whether they should pay Lugo his arbitration-inflated salary or trade him, and whether they should keep him at shortstop or move him to second to make room for top prospect B.J. Upton. At the same time, manager Lou Piniella said he expected Lugo to be at shortstop and went so far as to call him the heart and soul of the team. Eventually, Upton will get his chance at short, but Lugo may keep him waiting.

Analysis: While we might not like him due to his off field behavior, it was smart to match. He is slightly better than average, with $2M the right amount for his contract. With some of the inflated contracts that were signed, this one ends up looking good.

Contract Worth - $7M

Kevin Millwood SIGNED by Louisville for $ 20m. ($ 4m x 5 yrs.)

Kevin Millwood pitched his way out of the Phillies' plans in 2004. That was a crushing disappointment both for the team, which had made him the No. 1 starter for the second straight season, and for Millwood himself, who filed for free agency on the first allowable day after the World Series. He made only 25 starts, mostly due to elbow tendonitis that landed him on the disabled list. Conditioning became an issue-he never went deeper into a game than seven innings and only managed to pitch that long six times. When healthy, Millwood has shown the ability to pitch 200 innings. That alone should give him some value on the free-agent market after the Phillies declined to offer arbitration. There will be teams willing to take a chance that they can get him back on track, although it remains to be seen if he still can command the kind of four-year deal that he turned down from the Phillies in 2003.

Analysis: 3.24, 4.01, 4.85, hmm, notice a trend? Arm trouble may be catching up with him. That Estrada/Millwood deal sure looks better for the Braves, doesn’t it? While he may have a good season still in him, a very dangerous signing at $20M.

Contract Worth - $11M

Trot Nixon SIGNED by Phoenix for $ 20m. ($ 4m x 5 yrs.)

Despite Boston's success, 2004 was a trying season for Trot Nixon. Back and quadriceps problems originally thought to be minor kept him out of action until June. The quad injury forced him back onto the disabled list in late July. He returned in September and received regular postseason playing time. He batted .357 in the World Series. Nixon's bat got hot at the end of the season, which may mean his injury woes are behind him. If he's healthy, he should provide his usual mix of timely hitting, solid defense and all-around hard-nosed baseball. How often he will play against lefthanders is less certain.

Analysis: Health is the key issue here. If he stays healthy than this is a good FA pickup. If.

Contract Worth - $18M

Tim Wakefield MATCHED by Chicago for $ 9m. ($ 2.25m x 4 yrs.)

For the second consecutive season, Tim Wakefield spent the entire year in Boston's starting rotation and produced respectable results. Yet there were ups (six wins in seven starts in late July and August) and downs (a record six home runs allowed at Detroit on August 8). In an unselfish act likely to be forgotten over time, Wakefield volunteered 3.1 innings of relief in a painful 19-8 ALCS Game 3 loss, saving the staff and making a series comeback possible. A Red Sox fixture since 1995, Wakefield is the team's senior member. The Sox once again will look to him to eat valuable innings near the back end of the rotation. Wakefield's versatility, durability and willingness to shift roles at a moment's notice are the secrets to his value in Boston. Don't be surprised if Wakefield has a few quality seasons left in him.

Analysis: A good backend of the rotation guy that should keep you in a ballgame. How long will he keep going, who knows, he’s a knuckleballer.

Contract Worth - $7M

Brian Giles SIGNED by Chicago for $ 36m. ($ 1m. bonus; $ 7m x 5 yrs.)

When the Padres traded Oliver Perez and Jason Bay for Brian Giles in August 2003, they were hoping to get the player who was seventh in the majors in OPS (on-base plus slugging) from 1999-2002. Instead, they got more of a complementary player than a star who could carry the team for stretches. Giles' production was reasonably consistent, and he was one of the few hitters who's numbers were better at Petco, but his season has to be viewed as somewhat of a disappointment. Giles undoubtedly will be focused on atoning for his 2004 showing, and a move to left field may help if the Padres can re-tool their outfield. They love his effort and quiet leadership, so regardless of whether Giles returns to his pre-2002 levels, they will feel bringing him home was a good deal.

Analysis: Was last year an aberration, or is he getting old. If he can improve slightly, then this was a good pickup. I look for more of the same for the next couple of years, than a decline. By the way, looks like Pittsburgh made a great trade here.

Contract Worth - $23M

A.J. Burnett MATCHED by Scottsdale for $ 34m. ($ 1m. bonus; $ 6.6m x 5 yrs.)

The unquestioned ace of the Marlins' staff before he blew out his elbow in April of 2003, A.J. Burnett made a triumphant return from reconstructive elbow surgery. He made it back a little over 13 months after the operation, and after some early spottiness became the club's second-most reliable starter after Carl Pavano. Burnett was shut down with some minor inflammation in his elbow following an 11-strikeout win over the Cubs on September 12. He might have made another start or two, but with the playoffs out of reach, caution was exercised and he made just one relief outing. Due a substantial raise from $2.5 million through salary arbitration, Burnett could be the highest-paid pitcher on the staff if Pavano leaves via free agency. Regardless, Burnett will be counted on to be a 200-inning horse who regularly gives the Marlins 120 pitches per start. He still has the stuff to contend for a Cy Young someday soon.

Analysis: Which will come first, Cy Young or injury. If he can pitch 200 innings 4 out of the next 5 years, then this will be a good contract. Otherwise its money down the toilet.

Contract Worth - $24M

Melvin Mora SIGNED by Phoenix for $ 36m. ($ 1m. bonus; $ 7m. x 5 yrs.)

Melvin Mora's season began with a rash of errors at his new full-time position-third base. It ended as his most productive season in the majors. He finished with the second-highest batting average and the best on-base percentage in the American League. Mora's 27 home runs and 104 RBI were major surprises to the Orioles. A torrid May had Mora hitting .391 as late as May 28, and he showed more power during the second half. Mora will be the Orioles' starting third baseman this season with two more years left on a three-year deal. The 33-year-old Mora won't sneak up on American League pitchers this season, and he shouldn't be expected to improve upon his 2004 performance. Look for his batting average to drop closer to the .300 mark.

Analysis: Coming off of a career year, he is actually worth his contract for the first couple of years. The key will be years 4 & 5 as we see him hit his late 30’s.

Contract Worth - $32M

Eric Milton MATCHED by Minnesota for $ 25m. ($ 5m x 5 yrs.)

Eric Milton was the Phillies' most dependable starter, the staff leader with 14 wins and the only member of the rotation to pitch at least 200 innings. Milton was on his way to a terrific season with 11 wins at the All-Star break. He held opposing hitters to a .227 batting average in the second half, but poor run support resulted in only three more victories. Milton always has been a fly ball pitcher, and pitching in cozy Citizens Bank Park resulted in a league-leading 43 home runs allowed. Milton filed for free agency at the end of the season. The Phillies made an early offer, but Milton said he wanted to see who the next manager and pitching coach were going to be and also made it clear he wanted to test the market. The Phillies decided to not offer Milton arbitration, as they were unwilling to get into a bidding war when they would prefer to restock their staff with groundball pitchers.

ANALYSIS: If you can keep from hurting you’re neck watching all the HR’s fly out, not a bad pitcher. He’s also not a good pitcher either, with his career 4.76 ERA. $5M over 5 years is asking for trouble. Signing in Detroit or San Diego might have been a smart move for him.

Contract Worth - $13M

Bret Boone SIGNED by Columbus for $ 15 m. ($ 1m. bonus; $ 3.5m x 5 yrs.)

Bret Boone got off to a slow start at the plate in 2004 and never recovered. He hit .195 in May and .213 in June as the Mariners continued their freefall in the American League West Division. Boone's .251 batting average with 24 homers and 83 RBI were, by far, the worst offensive numbers he's posted in Seattle. Part of Boone's struggles in 2004 might have been attributed to nagging back problems. While Boone struggled offensively in 2004, he's still regarded as one of the top defensive second basemen in baseball and won his fourth Gold Glove (third straight). By reaching 500 plate appearances in 2004, Boone triggered a $9 million option for the 2005 season. There was speculation last season that Seattle might be interested in trading Boone. However, after a down year and the fact that Boone will be almost 36 on Opening Day, he might not attract the kind of attention he once did. If the Mariners are to rebound in 2005, they'll need Boone to revert to his old form at the plate.

ANALYSIS: Once a top 10 2B, his age, combined with the difficulties of hitting in Seattle could see continued decline in his performance. I expect to see a buyout of the final year of his contract.

Contract Worth - $10M

Jeff Suppan MATCHED by Philadelphia for $ 16m. ($ 4m x 4 yrs.)

Jeff Suppan proved to be yet another shrewd acquisition by the Cardinals' canny general manager Walt Jocketty. Signed to a two-year contract plus a club option in December 2003, Suppan won a career-high 16 games, including 10 on the road-the second most in the National League. He finished strongly by winning 13 of his final 18 decisions, then becoming the Cardinals' best starter in an otherwise disappointing postseason rotation. The Cardinals could not have expected more out of Suppan than they received. Signed for another season with an option in 2006, he would appear to be set in the St. Louis rotation unless the club elects to shop him to save money for use somewhere else. With a good all-around club like the Cardinals, Suppan should be able to win 13-15 games and be a durable asset to the rotation.

ANALYSIS: A decent number three or four starter, needs a good defense behind him. May see his numbers decline next year as the St. Louis defense declines.

Contract Worth - $11M

Eric Chavez MATCHED by Scottsdale for $ 60m. ($ 2m. bonus; $ 11.6m x 5 yrs.)

So many little things hurt Oakland's performance in 2004, and a major one was Eric Chavez breaking his hand, causing him to miss the entire month of June and a week of July. His mates certainly picked up most of the slack in Chavy's absence, but having its biggest bat present for the entire season was part of the Oakland road map to the postseason. As it was, Chavez matched his homer output of 2003, but in 113 fewer at-bats, suggesting there was more he would have provided if he had been healthy.
As natural a hitter as one will find, Chavez has good reactions and ever-improving strike-zone judgment, as his quantum leap in on-base percentage in 2004 reflects. Once again it looked like Chavez was going to put up that .300-30-100 season everyone has come to expect, but his 2004 season was cut short by injury. He did come back strong, though, and the skills set is still there. Chavez is primed with the experience and discipline necessary to deliver an MVP-type season. Watch for it in 2005.

ANALYSIS: That’s a whole lot of money, the most to any player in Free Agency. Definitely overpaid this year, he may earn his money when he puts together his MVP season next year.

Contract Worth - $42M

Rheal Cormier SIGNED by Columbus for $ 10m. ($ 2m. bonus; $ 2m x 4 yrs.)

At age 37, Rheal Cormier set a franchise record for appearances by a lefthander by pitching in 84 games. And he got better as the year went on, posting a 2.28 earned run average after July 31 as the preferred left-handed setup reliever in the bullpen. While he couldn't repeat his career best numbers (8-0, 1.70) from 2003, he remained an important member of the staff. Cormier's stuff may not be as good as it once was. However, he has enough veteran's savvy to use his fastball (which routinely sits at around 88 MPH), slider and changeup to set hitters up for his out pitch, the splitter. He's equally effective against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. He fields his position well and has a good pickoff move. Because of his role, he rarely is called on to bat. Cormier had talked about retiring after the 2004 season, but his strong finish changed his mind and he signed a two-year, $5.25 million extension. While he's reaching the point of his career that may require him to be used more as a middle reliever than a setup man, he still projects as a valuable member of the bullpen.

ANALYSIS: The best reliever available in RFA, he will justify his salary for the next two years. Anything after that would be gravy. His usage in Philly will be the key.

Contract Worth - $ 6M

Mike Piazza MATCHED by Kansas City for $ 21m. ($ 1.75m bonus; $ 3.5m x 5 yrs.)

A left knee injury that cost him more than three weeks in August and an unsuccessful stint at first base led to another disappointing season for Mike Piazza. He batted a career-low .266, nearly 50 points lower than his career average, to mark the third straight year he has batted below .300. With a roundtripper on May 5, he became the all-time home-run leader among catchers. Assuming he remains with the Mets, in part because of his $15 million salary, Piazza should catch in the neighborhood of 110 games this year if healthy. The wear and tear of catching means Piazza is not a young 36, and his decline is reminiscent of what Johnny Bench endured at a relatively early age. But with Piazza apparently unable to make a change in position, his days as an offensive standout appear to be numbered.

ANALYSIS: While worth the first two or three years of the contract, expect the last couple years to be an anchor, weighing down the team. Can you say 5th year buy out?

Contract Worth - $15M

Barry Zito SIGNED by Kansas City for $ 52m. ($ 3m. bonus; $9.8m x 5 yrs.)

What happened to the Barry Zito magic in 2004? Had the league simply figured him out? Were hitters sitting on his curve? Was he hurt? Was he tired? Did he miss former pitching coach Rick Peterson? There were no easy answers, as Zito struggled for most of the year. Although Zito was a bit better during the second half, 2004 has to be considered a disappointment for a pitcher who traditionally has been a dominant force after the All-Star break. Heading into the 2005 season, more eyes will be focused on Zito than just about any other Oakland player. Looking back at 2004, perhaps Zito's biggest problem was that he is cerebral, and when he encountered problems, he probably did think too much. That was part of how Peterson helped Zito-and all Oakland pitchers-by keeping them in the moment, reminding them that "this pitch is the only one that matters." Ideally, Zito will remember that and leave his 2004 struggles behind him. That's the ticket to rediscovering his prior success.

ANALYSIS: This really amounts to a 4 year contract with the hopes of a rebound, as the current year is mediocre at best. Even with a rebound, the south paw will be hard pressed to produce numbers that equal the value of his contract.

Contract Worth - $26M

Jim Thome SIGNED by Minnesota for $ 56m. ($1m. bonus; $ 11m x 5 yrs.)

Jim Thome is coming off a disappointing season-at least, as disappointing as a 42-homer, 105-RBI season can be. The problems started in spring training when a bad-hop grounder during infield practice fractured the tip of his right middle finger. It ended with a bruised chest in September. Partly as a result, Thome hit only 14 homers in the second half. Despite that, he recorded the 400th home run of his career and had his sixth straight season with 100 walks and 100 RBI. There's no doubt that Thome remains the key hitter in the Phillies' lineup, and the one player his teammates most look up to. He has the never-too-high, never-too-low approach to every game that's considered ideal for the daily grind of baseball. The Phillies believe that if Thome stays healthy and gets some protection around him, there's no reason he can't bounce back and have a terrific season.

ANALYSIS: One of the best hitters in baseball, put him in the #3 spot and watch him tear it up. The big question is will he reach 600 HR’s? Not worth $56M, but hey, its play money anyways.

Contract Worth - $38M

Ramon Ortiz SIGNED by Louisville for $ 13m. ($1m. bonus; $ 3m x 4 yrs.)

Two years ago, Ramon Ortiz won 16 games. That just obscured what wasn't a very good year, and his downhill trend continued in 2004. Ortiz won the fifth-starter job in spring training, but lost it after April. After that, Ortiz was relegated to the bullpen, where he wasn't very happy. Ortiz grumbled, demanding a trade at several points, but was actually fairly solid as a reliever. The Angels declined Ortiz' $5 million option for 2005, making him a free agent. It appears his future will lie elsewhere, because the Angels have plans to upgrade their rotation and won't need Ortiz as a long reliever either. There's no reason he can't rebound and be a solid starter on another team.

ANALYSIS: Look for Ortiz to have two decent years out of the next four. Is that worth $13 million, no. Then again this contract won’t kill the team, and they may have a number 4 starter for the next 3-4 years.

Contract Worth - $8M

Moises Alou SIGNED by Denver for $ 22m. ($ 1m. bonus; $ 7m x 3 yrs.)

After a miserable June (.192 BA), Moises Alou performed like an old warhorse and wound up with a career-best 39 home runs. He also was able to shake off nagging back and calf injuries to play in 155 games, second-most in his career. In a clubhouse lacking vocal leaders, Alou did his best to prod his teammates, but his comments in July complaining about the team broadcasters being negative may have been misguided. Umpires grew weary of Alou slamming his equipment to the ground and complaining after calls went against him. Alou talked hopefully of returning to the Cubs in 2005, but the club did not pick up his option, making him a free agent. Although he will be 39 in July, he is coming off two productive seasons in which he played 150-plus games. If he stays healthy, he may have at least one good year left.

ANALYSIS: Whats a little urine between friends. A great season last year, needs to have one more huge year to make this contract worthwhile.

Contract Worth - $17M

Curt Schilling SIGNED by Denver for $ 56m. ($ 1m. bonus; $ 11m x 5 yrs.)

Returning to the club that originally drafted him, Curt Schilling won his first seven decisions at Fenway Park en route to a 21-6 mark. While dominant only occasionally, Schilling always was solid, pitching six or more innings in 28 starts. He did this while battling various ailments that never placed him on the disabled list. Schilling's fortitude was best displayed when he won games in the ALCS and World Series, despite pitching with a torn ankle tendon that bled through his sock. By the end of last season, Schilling had supplanted Pedro Martinez as Boston's ace. His torn right-ankle tendon required surgery in November, putting his status for Opening Day in doubt. Schilling is under contract through 2006 with a mutual option in 2007. He fits right in with rabid Red Sox Nation, as his frequent "Curt in a car" calls to Boston radio shows attest. He's not getting any younger, but Schilling's conditioning and competitive fire mean he should remain one of the league's top pitchers for another couple of years.

ANALYSIS: A number one ace, but this contract was the worst one of all the contracts(unless retirement is an escape clause). Even 4 years 44 million was too high. Long term effects of a torn ankle tendon, who knows?

Contract Worth - $28M

Jeff Bagwell SIGNED by Pawtucket for $ 14m. ($ 3.5m x 4 yrs.)

Jeff Bagwell always has had early- and midseason slumps. But this year's started in June and lasted much longer than the previous ones, haunting him all the way through August. He began to come out of it in September and was instrumental in the team's late-season surge, tying Jeff Kent for most September RBI on the team with 22 apiece. He also shook his history of poor playoffs by hitting .286 with a pair of homers and eight RBI. Bagwell no longer is the player he once was, but he doesn't need to be to help this team. His quiet intensity and professional approach have a settling effect on the younger players. And if he can continue to adjust his swing to the shoulder problems, he can help the team at the plate. Only time will tell how quickly his skills will continue to deteriorate.

ANALYSIS: Worth the money for last year, may have one more superstar year in him as he adjusts his hitting to compensate for his shoulder problems. Astro effect may see his numbers lessened.

Contract Worth - $18M

Kerry Wood SIGNED by Carolina for $ 51m. ($ 1m. bonus; $ 10m. x 5 yrs.)

After exceeding the 30-start mark in each of the previous two seasons, Kerry Wood missed two months of the 2004 season with a strained right triceps. The injury allowed him to pitch only 140.1 innings, his lowest output since 2000, when he was coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery. Wood also finished below .500 for the first time in his career. Inconsistency plagued Wood down the stretch, when he won just one of his last eight starts. Nobody has to tell Wood he had a subpar 2004. He's his own worst critic, and he's not afraid to say he's failed when it's true. The Cubs locked up Wood with a two-year contract extension last spring. His offseason conditioning has gotten better each year. Reaching 200 innings is a point of pride with Wood. No doubt he'll come to camp driven to reach that goal.

ANALYSIS: One of many pitchers signed during FA that are overpaid, injuries(notice a trend here) have kept him from being the kind of pitcher that we expect. Look for a strong season next year.

Contract Worth - $31M

Brad Radke - $ 45 million, St. Louis

Based purely on how he threw the ball, Brad Radke may have had his best season as a pro in 2004. Yet, a lack of run support and the Twins' strange propensity to lose close games that Radke started cost him an 18-20 win season. Usually, Radke suffers through a dead-arm period somewhere in the middle of the season, which damages his statistics and victory totals, but he remained strong and durable throughout 2004. His ability to pitch 219.2 innings was one reason the Twins' bullpen was so effective. Radke is the kind of pitcher for whom the quality-start statistic was invented. Even when he lacks his best stuff, he's capable of pitching seven innings and allowing just two or three runs. Although he has won more than 12 games only three times, he's the kind of smart, put-it-in-play pitcher who can win 18 to 20 games if he stays healthy and receives good fielding and run support from his team. He will stay in Minnesota after agreeing to a two-year, $18 million extension over the winter.

ANALYSIS: Had a great season last year. Equally effective vs. lefties & righties. Will make a nice number one for this year, then a number three starter for the next two/three years.

Contract Worth - $29M

Kevin Millar - $ 22 million, Louisville

For Kevin Millar, the ringleader of the 2003 "Cowboy Up" Red Sox, 2004 began inauspiciously. His first-half power production and RBI were down, and by June he was hearing regular boos from the Fenway fans who'd once adored him. When his playing time briefly waned, he offered the season's most public criticism of manager Terry Francona's use of lineups. Then, just before the All-Star break, Millar caught fire. He batted .322 with 53 RBI from July 1 on, pushing his full-season numbers into their typical range while providing his usual enthusiasm. Millar may be best suited to a full-time DH role, but that won't happen in Boston with David Ortiz on the roster. Still, Millar's bat is strong enough that the Red Sox are willing to live with his shaky glove. Millar is streaky, but barring a prolonged slump, he should be a fixture in the fifth or sixth spot in the Red Sox' lineup again.

ANALYSIS: Underrated, put together his best OBP of his career by getting hit 17 times(previous high of 8). Who did he piss off(see Moises Alou). Now 33, Look for a couple more years of continued success.

Contract Worth - $16M

Garret Anderson - $ 31 million, San Francisco

The Angels locked up one of their homegrown talents just as injuries began to slow down his stellar career. Garret Anderson had bouts with arthritis and some stubborn tendonitis in his left knee that cost him 43 games and much of his power and outfield range. In part because of the injuries, the Angels are committed to moving their best left-handed hitter to left field to avoid the wear and tear of running down balls in center. With the Angels signing Steve Finley to a two-year deal to play center field, Anderson will move back to left in 2005. If he can return to playing more than 155 games and to hitting more than 25 home runs, he could provide a big boost to this team. However, his arthritic knee condition likely won't go away and injuries could continue to plague him. The Angels made a big investment in Anderson, locking him up through 2008, and they need him to be the player he used to be. With Troy Percival gone and Tim Salmon's career in jeopardy, Anderson is now Mr. Angel.

ANALYSIS: Will we see the Anderson of 2003 again, I say yes. Even with that, he is still overpaid with a career OBP of .329

Contract Worth - $18M

Esteban Loaiza - $ 10 million, St. Louis

The makeup wore off as Esteban Loaiza could not repeat the Cy Young-type performance of 2003 in 2004. He returned to pre-2003 form before being acquired from the White Sox on July 31. The trading-deadline deal proved to be fruitless for the Yankees, as Loaiza amassed just one win and an 8.50 ERA with New York. A free agent, Loaiza might not get many offers. He is drawing interest from Colorado and Tampa Bay, places that he would be under far less pressure to perform. It is unrealistic to ever expect a year like 2003 again from Loaiza.

ANALYSIS: Hmm, how do you evaluate Loaiza. Current year worth nothing. Can he repeat 2003, no. Can he match his career ERA of 4.7, yes. So lets say one year at 4.4, one year at 5.0. Whats that worth, oh, about $5M.

Contract Worth - $5M

Reggie Sanders - $ 17.75 million, Philadelphia

Playing for his seventh different team in as many years, Reggie Sanders had an inconsistent, but overall solid season in St. Louis. Sanders got off to a blistering start with eight home runs in April, but struggled for the remainder of the first half of the season. His playing time during the second half was often limited, especially after the Cardinals acquired right fielder Larry Walker. However, Sanders still ended up with the fourth 20-20 season of his well-traveled career. He also reached the 20-homer mark for his sixth different team, an all-time record. For the first time in a long while, Sanders entered the offseason not having to worry where he would play the next year. St. Louis already has him signed for 2005, and he should remain both a valuable part of the lineup and positive force in the clubhouse.

ANALYSIS: A good third outfielder to have one your team. Does better in the odd years(check it out). If he can have one more good odd year(yes, I just said that) then he’ll be worth more than what I have him listed at. I don’t think it will happen.

Contract Worth - $8M

Rondell White - $ 12 million, Portland

A free agent who signed a two-year, $6 million contract to play with his sixth team in five seasons, Rondell White started out quickly and faded fast. During the first six weeks of the 2004 campaign, White had seven home runs and 30 RBI. But over the final 18 weeks of the season, he had just 12 home runs and 37 RBI. In mid-May, his batting average was .331. By the end of the year, it was .270. He also missed some time in September with a strained hip flexor. There is a role for White in the major leagues, but it is not as an outfielder. He can be the regular DH on a winning club, but it is not a good sign for a club when he is playing in the outfield. Teams keep trading for or signing White because they like his bat, but the honeymoon is often short because of his struggles in the field.

ANALYSIS: See Reggie Sanders. He may outperform his numbers since he plays in Detroit. Interesting that he is scouted as a poor OF, but DMB gives him a VG in LF. Expect more of the same.

Contract Worth - $10M

Vinny Castilla - $ 19 million, Columbus

After a four-year absence, Vinny Castilla returned to Colorado in 2004 and regained his old Rockies magic. He led the National League with 131 RBI. Castilla took advantage of Coors Field when it came to hitting for average, but had 21 of his 35 home runs on the road. After declining the Rockies' option for 2005, Castilla signed a two-year, $6.2 million deal with Washington, where he is expected to provide a run-producing, middle-of-the-lineup bat and big-time leadership for the young Hispanic players on the team. But will he enjoy life outside of Coors Field? The last time Castilla left the Rockies, he suffered through such a bad time that the Devil Rays released him with almost a full year remaining on his contract.

ANALYSIS: Two negatives. How will Colorado affect his DMB numbers when he plays at a neutral field, and how will leaving Colorado affect his future numbers.

Contract Worth - $13M

Jason LaRue - $ 18 million, Los Angeles

Jason LaRue had maybe his best all-around season, batting over .250 for the first time and setting a career high in RBI. LaRue was in double figures in home runs for a fourth straight season as well. He came on strong in the latter part of the season, batting .280 after the All-Star break. The Reds know that LaRue strikes out too much and can have his share of trouble behind the plate. However, he has become an increasingly dependable receiver, and he brings the added dimension of power with his bat. The Reds think that if LaRue can carry his second-half improvement into this season, he can take his play to another plateau and perhaps reach 20 homers and 70 or so RBI, which would be a huge bonus for the Cincinnati lineup.

ANALYSIS: A good catcher, his OPS has went up for 3 straight years. Expect his numbers to remain consistent for the next couple of years, then decline.

Contract Worth - $14M

Over $800 million spent in FA this year. The average player was overpaid about $8 million(in this writer's opinion).


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