Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Interesting 2011 Non-Tenders, Part 1

No flowery intro today -- just getting straight to work. Below, you'll find a list of a few non-tendered players who I think the Mets should take a look at. Obviously, standard caveats will apply -- if someone goes crazy and offers Edwin Encarnacion $5 million dollars, he should take it. However, I am assuming that most of these guys can be had at or around the minimum salary, and some even on minor league deals. With the Mets needing to buy-low and fill out the edges of their roster, without spending a lot of money, I think that some of these role players could be very, very good fits.

RP Taylor Buchholz: Buchholz is the perfect buy-low candidate, and hence, he is perfect for the Mets in this rebuilding season. Taylor Buchholz was one of the best relievers in major league baseball in 2008, posting a 2.17 ERA in Colorado and striking out almost 8 per 9 innings. He then got hurt and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.

He rehabbed and came back last season, struggling a little but with Colorado's Triple-A affiliate and the major league squad. He was claimed by Toronto and then Boston at the end of the year but didn't see action before being non-tendered by the Sox this offseason.

Buchholz is a great bounce-back candidate if healthy, but it looks like the Red Sox were not willing to take that gamble at the price it would have cost - a raise over the $1.05M he earned last year. One warning sign is that his velocity, which was at 92 in his Rockies days, was down to 89 last season. But you've got to keep in mind that he came back fairly quickly from his surgery.

With that said, I'd love to bring him in, though it appears the Mets have some competition in that regard.

Verdict: If healthy, 1 year/$650K

3B Edwin Encarnacion: It might surprise you to learn that, despite all the abuse he takes from the media and sabermetric types, that Edwin Encarnacion has been worth better than $5M in four out of the last five seasons (source: fangraphs). Even though he's got -44 UZR over those same five seasons, stats like that obscure the fact that he's only been worth -9.5 UZR in the last two seasons, and that third base is a damn hard position to play.

Because of this, he's earned 7 WAR over the last five years despite batting .260/.339/.455. Over his last three seasons, his 162 game average includes 30 home runs (!!) and a 104 OPS+. If he'd play second base, I'd take him. More likely, he'll get a contract to play third base somewhere and it will pay him more than a million dollars. If not - Edwin Encarnacion, come on down, you're the Mets starting second baseman!

Verdict: If he can play second base, 1 year/$1 million

LF Lastings Milledge: Oh, Lastings. I've missed you. I've rooted SO HARD for you to become a star... but alas, it has all been to no avail. What happened to you?

After putting up an OPS of 828 in AAA at the age of 21, and then hitting a nice .272/.344/.446 in the majors as a 22 year old, the world had such big plans for you! I wrote about Milledge last year:
Obviously, Lastings Milledge was never the super-stud prospect that he was made out to be... Both [his minor league seasons] were aided by high batting averages, (for instance, he had a .332 BABIP in AAA) and did not include particularly high walk rates or power... But it is quite possible that he can still be an asset... if he can continue to hit line drives more than 20% of the time (something he has done each year in the majors) and utilize his speed, there is no reason to think he can't be a .300 hitter.

If he can hit .300, and he can steal 20+ bases, and he can hit 15 to 20 home runs, he will be an extremely valuable player. Even moreso if he can continue to establish himself as an excellent left fielder (+16.4 UZR/150 in left field last season). A line of .300/.350/.450 is within reach... and Pittsburgh may have themselves a heck of a ballplayer.
I don't know. I was just wrong on Lastings, then wrong again, then after all hope seemed lost, I was wrong one more time. He stunk last year, split time with Ryan Church, and now, along with Jeff Francoeur, have all been non-tendered. The world can be funny sometimes.

I know Milledge will never come back to the Mets, but Bill James projects for him to have a moderate bounceback season of .284/.347/.413. ZiPS is less optimistic, at .276/.330/.398. Is that good? No. But it is an OPS of 94 from a player who projects as an above-average left fielder, average right fielder, and terrible center fielder. In fact, despite all the haterade, Lastings was worth $2.8M according to fangraphs.

And did you know that a 94 OPS+ would have been 8th among Mets players last season with at least 200 at bats? You could do a lot worse than Lastings Milledge on your squad. With him set to earn around $500K if he was tendered a contract, you can probably assume he'll earn around that number as a free agent. I'd take a gander.

(Side note: Lastings' most similar player on baseball-reference is beloved Met Cleon Jones. Think about that for a second)

Verdict: If we enter an alternate universe where Lastings Milledge coming back to the Mets is possible, 1 year/$650K

SP Ryan Rowland-Smith: You hear people talk about 'changes of scenery' sometimes, and usually it is just an excuse to get someone out the door, or an excuse to take on a player who has no potential to actually help your team. In some rare cases, however, a change of scenery might actually have some real effect (though obviously, no real way to measure such a thing).

One player who might benefit from this 'change in scenery' is Ryan Rowland-Smith. Mr. RR-S was not a bad prospect coming up through the Mariners system from 2004-2007. He always had an ugly WHIP, but he was left-handed and could strike guys out. When he made it to the show in 2007, he pitched effectively out of the bullpen. Then in 2008, he was effective again, split between the pen and the starting rotation. In 2009, he started exclusively and did well. He posted ERA's below 4 in each of those years.

Then, for some reason, the wheels fell off in 2010, and his ERA was north of 6. He stopped striking people out. Lefties hammered him. All of his four pitches were adjudged as negative in value by fangraphs. Why this is is anybody's guess, but I'd give RR-S a look.

Although he doesn't project as a situational lefty, he could always fit in the bullpen anyway if he can't stick in the rotation. and I imagine that he'd be extremely cheap - he was due only a little over 500K when the Mariners released him. Can he imitate Brandon Morrow and see success somewhere else?

Verdict: Minor league deal with the opportunity to start, if he wants it.

UTIL Eugenio Velez: I like Eugenio Velez. It started with my betting big on him in the 2009 fantasy baseball season, but I think he has value. Velez is a plus-plus defender in the outfield (in limited playing time) and can fake it at second base (-15.6 UZR/150). More importantly, he has posted OPS'es of 881, 791, and 792 in AAA in the last three years and has the potential to be a plus basestealer (though he was caught too often last year).

He has totally flopped in the big leagues, though I can't say for sure whether that's a small sample issue or whether major leaguers just knock the bat out of his hands. What I do know, though, is that a guy who can OPS over 800 in Triple-A (even if its the PCL) and who can give us 2B/LF/RF on a minor league or minimum contract is a guy I would like to have. He'll be 29 next season.

Verdict: If the scouts believe he could hit his way out of a wet paper bag, 1 year/$500K

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