Tag: Jeff Baker

6 Hidden Free-Agent Gems That Are Being Overlooked for 2014

The main focus of the MLB offseason will soon turn to Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, who will be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and free-agent starters Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, who are all still on the board.

While most interested teams have been waiting to see how the Tanaka situation unfolds, top free-agent hitters Nelson Cruz and Stephen Drew are also still available, along with closers Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney.

Aside from those players, there aren’t many available on the free-agent market who are expected to make a significant impact on a big league roster. That doesn’t mean there aren’t those who could fill an integral role and help a team in some way, even if it’s at the back of the rotation or off of the bench.

In July, contending teams will be looking for these types of players, who can be had now at a likely bargain rate. 

Here are six such free agents who are still available. 

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Jeff Baker Acquired by the Atlanta Braves in a Subtly Brilliant Move

On August 31, 2012, the Atlanta Braves made a deadline deal that rounded out the club in a very significant way: they acquired Jeff Baker.

Hold on, hold on.  Hear me out.  I’m actually being completely serious here.

The Atlanta Braves do not hit left-handed pitchers—this is a fact of life.  The lineup stacked with four left-handed bats (and a switch-hitter whose power comes almost exclusively from the right side) has hit .247 with a .317 OBP and a .382 SLG against lefties in 2012.  

Dan Uggla, one of the right-handed bats responsible for hitting lefties well, has posted a .239 career average against southpaws, a ways south of his .258 career average against righties.

So consider this: Atlanta just added an infielder (who primarily plays second base) with a career slash line of .298/.346/.505/.851 against lefties.  

Now the move becomes more interesting, doesn’t it?

Before the Baker deal, the Braves boasted the best bench in baseball.  Amongst Atlanta’s reserves were a veteran catcher capable of reaching 20 home runs, a third baseman with ridiculous power (no really—the power Juan Francisco possesses is quite silly), and a gutsy fourth outfielder with plenty of hustle who may just be the best pinch-hitter in the game.

Atlanta then decided to bolster its left-handed hitting supply by signing first baseman Lyle Overbay, who got on base at nearly a .370 clip in 110 plate appearances with Arizona earlier this season.  A professional hitter, Overbay will compete with Eric Hinske, who has been completely ineffective in 2012, for playing time.  

And if Hinske continues playing like he has this season, Overbay and his career .354 OBP will win out.

With the left-handed bench bat shored up, the Braves then turned to their infield, and found that Tyler Pastornicky’s .289 OBP was simply not good enough to continue getting at-bats.  Enter: Jeff Baker, the veteran infielder who can play both second base and first, and who is OPSing .851 against lefties on his career.

Suddenly, Atlanta has five viable bench options.  Baker even has the potential to start at second against southpaws if he can live up to his career averages.

Far from a glamorous move, Atlanta has solidified its bench and strengthened one of its biggest weaknesses by acquiring Jeff Baker.

That’s probably a sentence you never expected to read.

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Chicago Cubs: Fontenot to Giants a Sign of Things to Come?


The Giants and Cubs had a little unfinished business to attend to before they matched up Wednesday night in San Francisco. With the owner’s meetings getting underway in Minneapolis, Jim Hendry and Brian Sabean completed a trade that they reportedly began talking about as the trade deadline was approaching.

Mike Fontenot was sent from the visiting clubhouse to the home clubhouse in exchange for 22-year-old outfield prospect Evan Crawford. In a corresponding roster move, the Cubs called up 24-year-old middle infielder Darwin Barney from Triple-A Iowa.

But what does this mean for the North Siders going forward?

To begin with, it appears that the youth movement is in full effect. Between this trade and the one that sent Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to Los Angeles before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Cubs basically replaced three players aged 34, 30, and 30 (Lilly, Theriot, and Fontenot) with another three aged 27, 24, and 24 (Thomas Diamond, Blake DeWitt, and Barney).

It also reduced the cost of this roster.

Lilly was heading into free agency, Theriot into his second year of arbitration, and Fontenot into his first year of arbitration following his Super Two status last off-season. Meanwhile, DeWitt will not hit arbitration for another year and Diamond and Barney are three years away from that milestone at the very least.

It might also mean that the Cubs are set up the middle of their infield for the next few years.

Starlin Castro has six years of team control remaining and a seemingly bright future with both the glove and the bat; Barney has a glove that should keep him in at least a defensive substitution role for those same six years of team control; and DeWitt should be able to provide solid enough offense and defense to hold down the keystone while he plays out his four years of team control.

While many Cubs fans will be waiting for Hak-Ju Lee or one of the many other middle infield prospects to develop and burst onto the scene, those three may very well be able to do the job. If nothing else, the lack of large salaries gives enough flexibility to make additions to the position group down the road.

The most important takeaway for this season, though, is this: the Cubs didn’t stop looking for trade partners when the non-waiver trade deadline passed. There may very well be more moves to come.

So who might be on their way out before September 1st?

Since Derrek Lee already rejected a trade to the Angels and Carlos Silva landed on the disabled list with heart troubles, I am hard-pressed to believe that either of them will be going anywhere this season.

In my mind, that leaves only three names that are likely to find their way onto the backs of new jerseys: Xavier Nady, Kosuke Fukudome, and Jeff Baker.

Nady was originally a part of the negotiations that just sent Fontenot to San Francisco and also drew interest from the Rangers earlier in the year. With about one million dollars left on his contract this season, he might get picked up by a contending team looking for a first baseman or designated hitter down the stretch.

The Angels lost out on Lee, so maybe they would be interested in the cheaper (both in terms of money and players sent in exchange) option from the same team. Although it’s purely speculation on my part, I believe they might have interest in the Salinas native.

Fukudome is on the block mainly because of his prohibitive contract. He offers a level of defense, patience, and occasional power that would be much more attractive if he weren’t making more than 3.5 million for the remainder of this season and 13.5 million in 2011.

Those dollar amounts mean that he is a likely candidate to clear Trade Assignment Waivers and open up negotiations with anyone who’s biting, but his no-trade clause makes any such move slightly more difficult. It isn’t because he wouldn’t approve a trade right now, but because (as I’ve said before) part of a player’s value is how easily you can get rid of him.

Because he only has one year remaining on his contract and does provide the defense, patience, and occasional power that he has shown in the past, there is no reason that the Cubs should be leveraged into eating too much of his contract or getting next to nothing in return. He can still be a valuable backup outfielder for this team if the negotiating parties fail to realize that fact.

Baker, on the other hand, might be the least likely of the three to get moved. The reasoning for that is fairly simple in my mind: he hasn’t hit consistently well in his major league career and doesn’t provide enough in the way of defense to inflate his value much.

He has some versatility in the infield and at the outfield corners, which helps, and is still under team control for three more years, which also helps, but I’m not sure that’s enough to draw serious interest.

Still, it wouldn’t surprise me (and shouldn’t surprise anyone else, in my opinion) if a few more trades are made in the next few weeks. In return, look for prospects or young major leaguers instead of established veterans.

This season may be all but over, but a solid foundation is being built for the future. Just wait and see.

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Chicago Cubs: Who’s the Odd Man Out?

Friday is Aramis Ramirez’s 32nd birthday. It’s also the day that he will be activated off of the disabled list.

In order to make room for the embattled third baseman, somebody needs to move off the 25-man roster. Since the team has only just started a stretch of 20 days without an off day, they can’t afford to go with fewer than 12 pitchers.

That means, while Ramirez might have a very happy birthday tomorrow, one of the club’s position players will be less than thrilled.

I think it’s safe to say that Colvin has earned himself some job security in the outfield. No need to worry about him catching a plane to Iowa.

Catchers Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill are obviously safe, too. There’s no way this club is going to carry fewer than two catchers at any point in time.

If for no other reason, Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady, and Marlon Byrd are all unlikely to get demoted because they have more than five years of major league service time. As such, they would have to consent to the demotion.

Since Kosuke Fukudome has a partial no-trade clause, he would also have to consent to a demotion, putting him in the same boat.

That leaves Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Starlin Castro, Jeff Baker and Chad Tracy.

Theriot’s season has been very much a down year so far and has only improved to inconsistent lately. He would have to clear optional assignment waivers first, but “The Riot” does have two options remaining.

Fontenot has slowed considerably off of his hot start, but that cooling has only been very recent. He has a slash line of .091/.130/.091 in his last 23 plate appearances heading into Thursday, and has one option remaining, but would also have to clear optional assignment waivers.

Castro started his big league career very hot, but has cooled off since (.193/.255/.227 in his last 99 plate appearances). Cubs fans might not like to hear it, but the front office could decide that he could use some seasoning in Triple-A.

Baker is out of options, meaning that he’ll have to be put on waivers before a demotion, and he’s been hitting better recently (.324/.350/.486 in his last 40 plate appearances), but he just hasn’t had a very good year overall (.250/.299/.417).

Tracy has more than five years of major league service time, like the four veteran Cubs I mentioned earlier, but he consented to being optioned on May 7. Although he did great in Triple-A during his most recent stay there, he just hasn’t swung the bat well for the major league Cubs.

The fact that the two LSU alums (Theriot and Fontenot) would need to pass through optional assignment waivers makes me think that they wouldn’t be moved unless a trade was imminent. Since Theriot has been included in trade rumors lately, he could get designated for assignment, but I just don’t get the feeling that that move will happen any time soon, if at all.

Castro may or may not benefit from spending some time in Iowa, but there is probably too much hype surrounding him to send him down, unless he continues to struggle. The simple fact is that he’s the type of player that could just as easily get his seasoning in the big leagues as he could in Triple-A.

In other words, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

So now we’re left with the two players that are widely believed to be the front-runners for a move anyways: Jeff Baker and Chad Tracy.

Baker can play anywhere in the infield and at either corner outfield position, has been hitting better lately, and would have to clear waivers before being sent down. Tracy can play the corner infield (and possibly corner outfield) positions, provides a left-handed bat, hasn’t been hitting in the big leagues this year, doesn’t have to go through waivers, and might be willing to consent to another demotion.

The Cubs already made this decision once, so I would assume that they’ll go in the same direction again.

I’m not a betting man, but I’d put my money on Chad Tracy being the odd man out. It’s simply the move that takes the least away from the team right now and gives them the most flexibility with their roster going forward.

EDIT (6/25): Apparently, I overlooked a clause in Tracy’s contract that only allowed him to be optioned in the first 45 days of the season. It appears that whoever gets moved off the 25-man roster might end up out of the organization altogether.

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Chicago Cubs Best Statistical Lineup

Recently, Lou Pinella said he had to start the players who were swinging the bats the best. So he promptly started Xavier Nady’s glistening .222 batting average (though he has been getting better lately).

However, just looking at overall season performance, here’s the best possible offensive lineup for the Cubs.

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Chicago Cubs’ Potential Trade Chips

On Wednesday, Carrie Muskat wrote an article in which she said that “There are no deals pending, no scouts scouring other rosters to find help.”

It wasn’t a quote from Jim Hendry. It was just a line added into the article between quotes from the Cubs’ general manager.

More specifically, it came immediately before the following quote from Hendry:

“There really isn’t anywhere to look,” Hendry said. “I would think our position players are not a weakness at all. We’re just in one of these funks where we can’t get over the hump and get runs in. It’s not for lack of talent or lack of these guys working.”

Obviously, Hendry is simply saying that there’s no reason to look for offensive help in the trade market. At no point does he say anything about trading for pitching, most notably bullpen help.

Unless Carrie was holding back other comments from Hendry which did state that the team isn’t currently looking for bullpen help, her addition to the article is a bit misleading.

Most people seem to be under the impression that Carlos Zambrano’s move to a setup role is temporary, including “Big Z” himself.

After Friday’s game, I’m sure many people are hoping that his time in the bullpen is drawing near an end, including Zambrano once again.

If they aren’t looking for trade partners, then they aren’t doing their jobs. For the sake of my own sanity, I’m just going to assume that they are.

In that light, they obviously need to have in mind which players they are willing to trade away. I’m not going to claim to know who the Cubs have on their provisional list of potential trade chips, but I do have my own ideas.

Those ideas do not include Aramis Ramirez or Alfonso Soriano.

While others were writing why Soriano should get traded, ESPN’s Jayson Stark was doing a poll of who MLB executives thought had the most untradable contracts. The Cubs’ outfielder was first on the list .

And after Aramis Ramirez’s name started to emerge in hypothetical trades, I jumped in with why such a trade is highly unlikely.

Although he wasn’t listed in Stark’s aforementioned article, Zambrano’s critics should realize that he’s probably in a similar boat to Soriano.

So who does that leave?


The Veterans

Because of their expiring contracts, Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly could eventually be available as late-season rentals for a contending team. That, of course, would require that the Cubs were out of contention early enough for a deal to be made.

It also means neither player would be involved in a trade for immediate bullpen help unless Hendry’s search continues deep into the season. It’s much more likely that a trade of either player would resemble Hendry’s trade of Mark DeRosa before last season that yielded three prospects from the Indians.

Another possible trade chip with an expiring contract is Xavier Nady, who I believe is available as soon as another team mentions his name in negotiations.

With Soriano, Marlon Byrd, and Kosuke Fukudome all producing, the offensively struggling Nady is just taking away playing time from Tyler Colvin and being a defensive liability with his still-recovering throwing arm. He’s still a promising hitter, but he would be much more valuable with an American League team that he could DH for.

Sam Fuld is a very good defensive outfielder and hitting well in limited action at Triple-A Iowa, so he could potentially be the perfect fifth outfielder for the Cubs after moving Nady.

Back in early April, Fukudome’s name was actually being thrown around in trade talks with the Nationals.

I’ll admit that it’s a possibility, but I’d say that it’s 50-50 at best.

With his well-known trend of early-season success and late-season slumping, the numbers that he’s put up so far probably won’t increase his value very much. The Cubs would most likely have to eat part of the remaining salary for this season and part of the 13.5 million he’s due in 2011, but might still be able to get something of value in return from a team that values defense.


The Backup Infielders

Then there’s Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker. One of them will most likely be in different uniform by season’s end.

Fontenot might fetch more in return since he has been better offensively this season and can play shortstop in a pinch, but Baker might be the one that the Cubs are more willing to part with for the very same reasons.

With Chad Tracy tearing up Triple-A, it wouldn’t surprise me if either of the second basemen were traded by the time I woke up in the morning. If Starlin Castro starts smoothing out his game in the big leagues or Darwin Barney picks up at the plate in Iowa, the clock on that trade will be accelerated.

On the other hand, Chad Tracy might end up on the trading block himself.

His being the odd man out when Castro was called up might be indicative of his status with the team and could offer other teams an alternative to Hank Blalock, who might or might not be moved by the Tampa Bay Rays in the coming days.

Trading Tracy would also slow down any trade talks involving Baker or Fontenot, but by no means indicates that both players are staying.


The Pitchers

Now we’re only left with three players: Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva, and John Grabow.

Honestly, I will be shocked if both Gorzelanny and Silva are with the Cubs on August 1 for the simple fact that Zambrano needs a spot in the rotation to return to. Also, as shown by Zambrano’s move to a setup role, neither pitcher is much of a candidate for a spot in the bullpen.

In fact, going one step further, I’ll be a little surprised if either pitcher is a Cub on August 1.

Both Andrew Cashner and Jay Jackson are doing very well in the minor leagues and should be pushing for some starts with the big league club before too long. Casey Coleman might even get a look if he pitches well for the next few months, although I think it’s much more likely that he will stay in Triple-A for the duration of the season.

Gorzelanny offers the most upside of the two players and, in my mind, is the piece that is most likely to land the Cubs a setup man.

Silva would need to stay healthy and productive, but he could get moved as soon as the Cubs decide to call up Cashner.

Grabow, the Cubs veteran left-hander in the bullpen, is much less likely to go than the other two to be moved during the season. There aren’t too many teams that have three lefties in the ‘pen and the Cubs could use every advantage that they have.

Still, if the Cubs have enough confidence in Sean Marshall and James Russell going forward, Grabow could end up on the trading block. Jim Hendry just has to decide if he’s wants to free up the $3.75 million that the former Pirate is due next season.

No matter who the Cubs feel willing to move that’s currently on the roster, I can guarantee you one thing: they are going to make a trade at some point.

I don’t know if it will be sooner or later, but the faces of this team will be at least a little bit different by season’s end.

Hopefully a key difference in those faces will be the exuberance of victory and not the sagging look of disappointment.

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