Getting a head start

Just because Bud Selig doesn’t want anything to upstage the World Series—like firings, hirings or trades—that doesn’t mean the other 28 teams spent the latter part of October spinning their wheels, doing nothing.

Take the PR departments in front offices throughout baseball, for example. They’ve been busy all month, cranking out updates on player and personnel moves that might fly under the radar while the playoffs are under way. There’s been plenty of action off the field. Here’s a look at some of the notable press releases of the past month.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim exercise 2009 options on outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and starting pitcher John Lackey and decline their option on outfielder Garrett Anderson.

Nothing too shocking here, but let’s take a look at these.

  • Within the Angels’ press release, we learn that Guerrero posted a .300 batting average and at least 25 home runs for the 11th consecutive season, something only Lou Gehrig accomplished. That’s quite impressive. But what the release left out was that Guerrero’s 2008 line of .303/.365/.521 was, across the board, the worst year of his accomplished career.

    Still, how great a player has he been that an OPS+ of 130 is considered a disappointment? To be fair, his right knee bothered him all season. Watching him move from first to third on a single was one of those cringe-worthy moments in which his pain actually transferred to my knee. I hope a winter of rest and rehab will lead to an improved 2009.

    Guerrero will earn a raise of $500,000 in bumping his salary to $15 million.

  • Lackey received a $2 million raise to bring his total contract to $9 million. Lackey missed the first month and a half of the year with a strained triceps but was generally strong once he returned to the rotation, posting a 2.95 ERA in his first 19 starts. He struggled down the stretch, allowing 23 earned runs in his final 26 innings.

    It was probably just a matter of not having a full spring training to prepare for the season and running out of gas at the end, but Lackey is becoming a pitcher whose workload should be monitored by Angels management. Three times last year, he threw 110 or more pitches. In the starts immediately following those outings, he paid the price:

    July 5: 6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 7 SO – Game Score: 40
    Aug 3: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 4 SO – Game Score: 42
    Sep 26: 2.2 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 2 BB, 1 SO – Game Score: -7

    Those starts represent three of his seven lowest Game Scores of the year.

    He recovered from his rough patch in September and did well in his two starts in the ALDS against the Red Sox, going 13.2 innings with a 2.63 ERA.

  • It seems like Anderson has been wearing a halo forever. It has been since 1994 when he collected 13 at-bats as a 22-year-old. Had the Angels picked up his 2009 option, it would have cost the club $14 million. That’s a hefty price for a a player who will be 37 next season and is coming off a season in which he hit .293/.325/.433 with an OPS+ of 97. Those numbers are nothing to be ashamed of and are nearly identical to his 2005 production, but the Angels made a budgetary decision in not picking up his contract.

    Mark Ellis

    Ellis will earn $5 million next year and $5.5 million in 2010, and the A’s hold the option for 2011 at $6 million with a $500,000 buyout.

    Tangotiger called Ellis “irresponsible” and questioned his sanity. I’m with Tango on the issue of Ellis’ mental acumen, as his contract is obviously way below market value for a player of his age, experience and skills. But I disagree that the deal was irresponsible on Ellis’ part. It’s a curious deal, to be sure, and the underlying factors of injury history and hometown discount were obviously enough to motivate him to sign this deal. Ellis underwent surgery in September to repair cartilage damage in his right shoulder, and was reportedly concerned about his ability to attract anything more than a one-year deal. Besides, we do occasionally see players sign for below market value. Sure the MLBPA might be peeved, but one man isn’t strong enough to stem the tide of escalating salaries.

    As many have pointed out, Ellis isn’t anything special with the bat, but shines with the glove. According to The Fielding Bible, his +/- rating was at +26 last year, ranking him behind only Chase Utley (+47!) among second basemen.

    By the time he’s 34 (assuming the A’s pick up his option in ’11), he will have played nine years in the majors as an everyday player (because the A’s won’t pick up his option if he’s a backup) and will have earned roughly $28 million. If we’re going to be discussing his financial acumen, it should be noted that he was drafted originally by the Kansas City Royals in the ninth round of the 1999 draft. That was back when the Royals’ draft strategy was entirely about picking college seniors and lowballing their bonus. Ellis signed for $1,000.

    I’m just guessing that he’s not a client of the Boras Corp.

    The “R” in WAR
    How a person can be a hero by being a zero.

    The Toronto Blue Jays attempt to corner the 2002 draft in signing Adam Loewen and Bryan Bullington.

    This is another fun one.

    The fourth overall draft pick in the 2002 draft, Loewen has been hampered by arm problems and decided while he was on the DL in July that he would like to become the “next Rick Ankiel.” So he rehabbed his injury, worked out with the Orioles in September and then reported to the Instructional League to begin his transition. The only problem was that the Orioles weren’t too keen on keeping Loewen on the 40-man roster and he would need to pass through waivers to move to the minors. Instead, the Orioles and Loewen decided that he would be released and then resigned to a minor league deal so he could continue his transition next summer in Single-A.

    Then a funny thing happened.

    The Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners began showing interest in the pitcher-turned-outfielder. Although there had been talk of a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the Orioles and Loewen, he decided he would like to become the “next Rick Ankiel” in Toronto rather than Baltimore. That move has caused some angst among Orioles fans, but why get so worked up over an oft-injured pitcher with a career 5.38 ERA in 164 major league innings who is attempting a long-shot transformation to become a hitter?

    The day of the Loewen signing, the Jays announced they won a waiver claim for Bullington, the No. 1 overall draft pick from 2002. Like Loewen, he’s missed significant time because of injuries.

    However, Blue Jays fans who have been in suspended state of reality since June 2002 are pumped.

    The Chicago Cubs exercise the option on starting pitcher Rich Harden

    Harden was part of the midseason pitching purge in Oakland and pitched well after moving to the NL. In 12 starts for the Cubs, he had a 1.77 ERA and a strikeout rate of 11.3 per nine innings in 71 innings of work.

    But when you’re talking about Harden, his durability and injury history always will be a factor. He missed a month early in the year with a muscle strain in his right arm and has been on the DL six times since 2005. The Cubs waited until he had an MRI on his shoulder that revealed no tears of the labrum or rotator cuff before picking up the option. Smart move.

    Because Chicago picked up the option, he’ll earn $7 million next year. The Cubs could have refused the option and either renegotiated a contract or gone to arbitration, but at the price they locked in for Harden, if he can make 25 starts (and that’s a huge if), they likely got him for a bargain.

    The Cleveland Indians exercise the option on infielder Jamey Carroll

    With Carroll in the fold for next season, he’ll resume his duties as the Indians’ infield utility man.

    Possessing a .351 career OBP (.355 last year in 402 plate appearances) he’s a good right-handed bat to have on the bench if you need a baserunner late in the game. Defensively, he’s okay at second and showed some decent range when he was at third. He also can play shortstop in a pinch and has been spotted in the outfield.

    He’ll make $2.5 million, and since he’s not taking away anyone’s playing time, it’s a fine move by the Tribe.

    Atlanta Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren retires

    For those of us who watched TBS in the early days of cable, this is another sign that time marches on. Van Wieren and the late Skip Carey were a team for 33 years on the superstation and were the soundtrack to summer back in the days when having cable meant choosing between the Cubs and the Braves.

    Van Wieren was a 10-time Georgia Sportscaster of the Year award winner and was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame (along with Carey) in 2004.

    Seattle Mariners name Jack Zduriencik their new general manager

    Zduriencik arrives in the Pacific Northwest with an impressive resume.

    Most recently with the Brewers as vice president/special assistant to the general manager for player personnel, he was named Baseball America’s Executive of the Year in 2007, the first non-GM to win the award.

    There’s a ton of work to be done in Seattle, and he’s wasted little time in shaking up the Mariners off-field staff, dismissing scouting director Bob Fontaine and bringing Tony Blengino and Tom McNamara from Milwaukee to join the Mariners’ baseball operations department.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates name Joe Kerrigan as pitching coach

    He returns to the bench after spending 2008 as a pre- and post-game analyst on Phillies broadcasts. He’s been the pitching coach in Philadelphia, Boston and Montreal and compiled a 17-26 record as a manager for the Red Sox in 2001. replacing the fired Jimy Williams.

    Kerrigan has a daunting task ahead of him. Last season, Pirates pitchers surrendered 657 walks, second-most in the majors, and threw an average of 16.75 pitches per inning, fifth-worst in the National League. The staff’s 1.47 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked 29th in the majors.

    The Detroit Tigers decline the option on shortstop Edgar Renteria

    Acquired last October in a trade for starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens, Renteria was brought in to play shortstop, allowing Carlos Guillen to move to first base. On paper, it looked like a good idea, but reality was cruel.

    Maybe it’s the league. After struggling .276/.335/.385 in 2005 with the Red Sox, he posted a similar .260/.317/.382 line for the Tigers. It was his worst offensive season since 2001. His glove work suffered as well; his plus/minus rating of -9 ranked him 24th out of all shortstops.

    Renteria was due $11 million if the Tigers retained him. Instead, he’ll receive a $3 million buyout and the opportunity to return to the NL.

    The Minnesota Twins set television viewing records

    This is kind of impressive.

    According to the release, the Twins drew the third highest viewership of all major league teams, with an average rating of 7.47, an increase of 9.2 percent over the 6.8 average rating in 2007. Their July 29 game against the White Sox earned a 13.73 rating and became the highest-rated program in the history of FSN North.

    A lot of people saw Bert Blyleven drawing circles in the northern plains this summer.

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