Land Mines Litter Hot Stove Landscape
From the Windup is Matt Snyder's extended look at some aspect of America's pastime each week.
I used to always enjoy lists like our own Frankie Piliere's Top 50 Free Agents. Then Milton Bradley happened. Now, as a Cubs fan whose been scorned by the clubhouse-dividing, unaccountable-yet-entitled lunatic, I can't look through the list without being skeptical of many of them. Which one is going to ruin someone else's favorite team like Bradley ruined mine? With this in mind, I present 11 potentially dangerous free agent signings in this year's class.
(Please note: This isn't a "Milton Bradley" list. He's one of a kind. This is merely a list of guys who I believe teams will be sorry for signing for one reason or another.)
Jason Bay: It's probably more of a gut feeling than anything else here. He's an awful defensive player and is likely going to command a huge contract in a baseball economy that doesn't look to have excess dollars for the next few years. Plus, he was so up and down offensively (OPS below .700 from June-July, but above 1.000 in April and August) it's hard to see him anchoring a good offense. He'd be best served as support, as he was in Boston. With the dollars he's going to make, he needs to be better than a member of the supporting cast.
Rich Harden: No-brainer here. If this was last season, I'd say you might as well roll the dice on Harden because of his insane amount of talent. In 2009, though, he took a major step backward. With his lack of control now combining with his annually high punch-out rate (10.9 strikeouts per nine innings), Harden will overwork a bullpen behind him. He averaged 5 1/3 innings per start in '09, working more than six innings in just five of his 26 starts. That's OK when the ERA is 2.07 like it was in 2008, but not two runs higher like it was this year.
Miguel Tejada: He'll turn 36 this year (if he's not actually older) and has a ton of wear and tear. His power is shot, but he never takes walks. He has no range at shortstop. But, hey, he has led the league in double plays the past two seasons (hitting into them, not turning them).
Marco Scutaro: There was a lot to like about last season, especially the fact that he walked more than he struck out (which enabled a .379 on-base percentage and contributed to him scoring 100 runs). Still, he's more a second baseman than shortstop and I'd be particularly weary of a career year at age 33. The counter-argument would be he just needed a full-time job, but he'd had four seasons with more than 420 plate appearances before and was always a below-average hitter. He'll return to form after signing his shiny, new contract.
Joel Pineiro (If he or Dave Duncan leave St. Louis): Everything adds up to him being a creation of the best pitching coach in baseball. Pineiro threw away most of his 20s underachieving after a promising 2002-03 stretch. He couldn't keep his ERA in the ballpark of the mid-4.00s. Then, at age 30 -- in a contract year, no less -- he clicks with pitching guru Duncan and puts together a sparkling campaign. Consider me skeptical.
Vicente Padilla: He put together a nice run with the Dodgers -- albeit in a small sample -- but last time he signed a big contract he proceeded to post a 4.89 ERA in the following three seasons. He doesn't work deep into games and he always allows more hits than innings pitched.
Russell Branyan: It probably wouldn't be bad for Seattle to retain him, but anyone else would be a mistake. Why pay for the career year of a 33-year-old who fell apart in the second half (hit just .193 and fell injured)?
Carl Pavano: Seriously, who is going to get fooled this time? His only saving grace is he seems to own the Tigers -- oh wait, he allowed seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in what was (at the time) the biggest start of the season for the Twins. What a gamer.
Jarrod Washburn: After signing with Seattle, he goes 23-43 with a 4.55 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in three seasons. Then, in a contract year with a much-improved defense, he starts to throw well. After a trade, injury issues and ineffectiveness contribute to a disastrous stint in Detroit. He'll turn 36 this year, too.
Jose Contreras: Anyone else not buying that 1.59 ERA with a strikeout per inning in Colorado?
Marlon Byrd: Two reasons. First of all, he's had three good (but not great) seasons in Texas, meaning he's supported by a solid offense and hitter's park. Secondly, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has coveted him in the trade market the past two seasons and now he loves him as a free agent, meaning he's destined to sign with the Cubs and greatly disappoint. There's no doubt in my mind.
Man, I'm jaded.