Upgrades That Won’t Cost An Arm Or A Leg
As we talked about last week, my perception of the roster as it stands is that the team lacks at least four solid Major League regulars – an outfielder, a third baseman, a catcher, and a starting pitcher. And, if they take my advice and dangle guys like Michael Pineda and Brandon League to get the Reds to entertain trading Joey Votto, they’ll need another starting pitcher and open up a hole in the bullpen.
Even the Yankees couldn’t fill all these holes in free agency, and the Mariners aren’t dealing with a New York sized budget, so they’ll have to bring in some players who can contribute without requiring substantial paychecks. No matter whether they end up spending on a guy like Votto, Fielder, or any other high profile star, the team needs more production from low cost guys in order to fill out the roster and keep the team from sinking due to having a few great players surrounded by a bunch of scrubs.
In this post, I’ll lay out suggestions for guys who I would target as potential acquisitions to fill needs on the roster who won’t command big paydays in 2012. They show up by order of preference, so I like the guys at the top more than at the bottom. Without further ado:
Chris Volstad, RHP, Florida
The owner of the quietest breakout season in recent memory, Volstad pulled a pretty nifty trick – in one season, he lowered his walk rate, upped his strikeout and groundball rates, and yet he still managed to see his ERA rise from where it was in 2010. The culprit – a crazy-high 25.5% HR/FB rate against left-handed batters. Volstad’s change-up is still a work in progress and he’ll always be better against RHBs than LHBs, but there’s a lot of positive regression likely to come his way in 2012, and with a bit better luck on keeping balls in the park, he could be a very useful innings eater in the middle of the rotation. He’s just 25-years-old and will be arbitration eligible for the first time, so the Mariners would control his rights for three years at discounted rates. The Marlins won’t give him away, but given that they had to watch all those home runs leave the park with their own eyes, he could probably be had for less than what he’s likely to be worth going forward.
Angel Pagan, OF, New York Mets
Perhaps one of the easiest buy-low opportunities in baseball, someone is going to get a steal with Pagan this winter. Most reports have the Mets looking to unload him and find a new center fielder, and given that he’ll likely make about $5 million in his final year of arbitration and is coming off an undoubtedly poor season, it’s not hard to see why. However, Pagan’s underlying offensive skills showed no real signs of decline, and his abysmal UZR looks like an outlier when viewed through the lens of the rest of his career. He’d be a fantastic option for the M’s, who could give him regular work in left and could use him to spell Gutierrez in center field, creating more roster flexibility by not having to carry another backup CF. He’s not a power bat kind of player, but he’s been a league average hitter over his MLB career, he’d likely be one of the league’s best defensive left fielders, and he’s a high-contact switch-hitter who could give the team a lot of flexibility in the line-up. Think of him as Randy Winn 2.0, just with a better arm. For roughly $5 million and whatever peanuts it takes to acquire him in trade, the team would be hard pressed to find a better option anywhere else.
Casey McGehee, 3B, Milwaukee
While everyone else is lusting after the Brewers first baseman, I’d take a run at the guy who plays third base instead. Or should I say played third base. McGehee’s poor season cost him his job, and he’s been displaced by Jerry Hairston in the playoffs, but like Pagan, he’s a pretty easy pick to bounce back in 2012. Nearly all of his struggles can be credited to a massive drop in his BABIP, which fell from .306 in 2010 to .249 this year. His small drop in power is slightly disconcerting, but there’s no reason to think that his ability to drive the ball just dried up at age 28. He’s not a star or anything close to it, but he’s a right-handed third baseman with some power and contact skills who could easily be a league average player in 2012, and given his poor season, won’t command a big paycheck in his first trip through arbitration. He’s also not the kind of guy who would stand in the way of future playing time for Kyle Seager or Alex Liddi if they show they’re ready for more regular playing time in the big leagues – McGehee could slide into a part-time 3B/1B/DH role without any issues. At the very least, he’d give them depth at the position so they had the option to let Seager and Liddi start 2012 back in Triple-A and evaluate further how the position will shake out long term, and they might just find that they picked up a decent third baseman for the next few years in the process.
Chris Snyder, C, Free Agent
If Snyder was left-handed, he’d be the exact opposite of Miguel Olivo. Where Miggy swings at every pitch thrown his way, Snyder brings a good approach to the plate. While Olivo is known for playing every day, Snyder has a long list of injury problems. Each are flawed players, but they’re differently flawed, and if given one job to share, it’s possible that the team could actually come up with a reasonably productive catcher platoon using them both. Snyder can’t be relied on as an everyday guy, but his offensive potential is something the line-up could really use, and Olivo’s reputation for being remarkably durable gives the team some security for those inevitable days when Snyder needs a day off. Back surgery and limited playing time will likely make all contract offers he gets very heavily incentive-laden, so there won’t be a big financial cost if he gets hurt again, but the upside is worth making him next year’s version of Erik Bedard.
There are a host of other guys who fit similar molds and would be able to fill gaps on the current roster without requiring too much of the team in terms of financial commitment or sacrifices of talent to acquire them, but these four are my favorites for the winter. By filling holes with low cost Major Leaguers who can provide significant upgrades over what the team has on hand internally, they can afford to make a push for one significant star that could improve the team dramatically. Like, say, Mr. Votto…