Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Something New

First things first (and if you don't want to hear an incredible long shot/bit of old news, skip on ahead to the second paragraph - my feelings won't be hurt, I promise) - Yesterday I mentioned the possibility of a new wrinkle in the Jason Michaels trade involving some catching being shipped between the three teams involved (Red Sox, Indians, and the Phils in case you haven't been paying that close attention). It is something that hasn't been really confirmed by any major media outlet (the Boston Globe mentioned it yesterday, but as a reader of that particular paper every morning I tend to wait until I see a rumor in some other paper before taking their word for it - these Boston papers are useless in many ways) and is more speculation than anything else, but there are whispers in some baseball circles (how vague is that?) that the Indians and Red Sox had expanded their deal to include six players: C Josh Bard, RHP David Riske, and OF Coco Crisp would go from Cleveland to Boston and C Kelly Shoppach, 3B Andy Marte, and RHP Guillermo Mota would go from Boston to Cleveland. The Phillies would then send OF Jason Michaels to the Indians, who would send LHP Arthur Rhodes and newly acquired catching prospect Kelly Shoppach to Philadelphia. There is about a 1% chance of any of this being true, but I'd advise Phillies fans to gear up for some kind of confirmation on the highly reported Rhodes-Michaels swap rather than any believe any, less heavily reported deal involving Michaels.

The real point of that above paragraph: a Michaels/Rhodes trade looks to be about a...95% certainty at this juncture and any other rumor disputing the Michaels/Rhodes trade should be taken with a rather large grain of salt. That's all there is on that for now. Time to move on.

The New York papers today are reporting on possible Phillies interest in free agent catcher Mike Piazza. Why do I believe the New York papers and not the Boston Globe? I'm not saying the New York papers are any more or less credible than the Boston papers (or Philly papers, or whatever papers), but rather the nature of the rumor (random team believed to have interest in random player) reported in today's New York papers is more plausible than the very different rumor (deal rumored for days to be one way is suddenly drastically rearranged) being reported out of Boston. It is merely a judgment call on my part. Either agree or don't. Anyway, here is what Newsday (first) and the Daily News (second) had to say...

In addition to the Phillies, the Orioles, Blue Jays and another National League club are believed to have some interest in Piazza. The interest of the Phillies and at least one other NL team corroborates Lozano's original assertion from early this offseason that multiple NL teams have interest in Piazza as a catcher... It is estimated that he could make $2 million to $3 million.

The Blue Jays are already loaded with 1B/DH types, but have let it known this offseason that they are willing to upgrade at catcher if the right deal came about. Piazza might fit there. Any move to the Orioles would seem to be contingent on the O's finding a taker for Javy Lopez - not impossible, but not likely to happen. The Yankees say they are fine with Andy Phillips and Bernie Williams at DH, but it's the Yankees so you really never know what they are thinking. Most years this would have seemed like a very Yankee-ish move to make, but they have exhibited some kind of fiscal restraint this offseason and appear to be less willing to gobble up "name" players just for the sake of doing it than in years past. The Angels, Dodgers, and Padres (detect a geographical theme?) could all also still be in the running for Piazza's services.

According to sources, Piazza, who hit .251 with 19 homers and 62 RBI with the Mets last year, has minimal offers from the Padres, Phillies and Indians to play a reserve role, but none of them are anywhere near his believed asking price of $7 million-$8 million a year.

The two papers report different salary figures - maybe we should assume Piazza will make anywhere between $2 and $8 million in 2006. How very helpful. I think the general idea is this - Piazza wants between 7-8 million, but will more likely have to settle on 2-3 million. I think some team will come up with at least the $3 million to bring him in for the year, but who knows.
The Phillies popped up twice in one day's worth of newspaper columns about Mike Piazza - there could be something to this rumor. Piazza would be a very interesting fit on this ballclub. He could see plenty of time as a backup catcher considering Phillies starting catcher Mike Lieberthal played in only 118 games last season. Is it so inconceivable that the Norristown native could come home and get 50 starts at catcher in '06 for the Phils? He would also be a good option as a backup first baseman who could start in place of Ryan Howard on days a tough lefty is on the mound. Piazza is a disaster in the field, but who are the candidates to spell Howard on the roster as it stands today? The Phillies are reluctant to move OF Pat Burrell to play 1B once a week (despite earlier reports hyping this idea) and the only other in-house options appear to be IF's Abe Nunez and Tomas Perez. Ouch. Piazza would also be an ideal DH during the Phils interleague schedule. Last, but certainly not least, if the Phillies do pull the trigger on the Jason Michaels deal, they will have lost their best bat off the bench (and second best righthanded hitter on the team for that matter). Mike Piazza could fill that void.

I've gone a little crazy with pro-Piazza speak here, so time for a little reality check. Piazza is a 37-year old, worn down catcher with a six year run of declining OPS numbers. That's the bad news. The better news is that Piazza was once one of the most feared hitters of his generation - this puts the six year decline in OPS into some context - the starting point of that slide was really, really high. His OPS in 2000 was 1.012. That is amazing. His OPS in 2005 was .778. That is less amazing, but still not bad at all. With more time off from behind the plate and a move from a pitcher's park like Shea to the Phillies hitter's park, Piazza could stop that OPS drop with a (nice round) number like .800 or so. Hopefully there is more to report on this in the coming days.

Because I have it in my archives (it's weird to finally actually have archives), here is a little blurb I wrote up about Piazza on 11/30/05...back when I was still doing that Free Agency Tournament (by the way that was far too ambitious a project for this year and is officially dead, maybe next year I'll be able to pull it off). For reference sake, I'm comparing Scott Eyre to Mike Piazza in the first paragraph. They went head to head to see who would be the more valuable addition as a free agent somewhere. That was the premise of the tournament anyway. Anyway, this is what I said then (I'll bold the part I like best):

I don’t like either guy – how could I have ranked Eyre the 25th best free agent? Eyre has been worked like a dog the past few seasons and he’ll wind up an overpaid, broken down middle reliever who will cost whatever team he signs with a first/second round pick. Piazza will be a 37-year old catcher/DH type coming off the two worst seasons of his career. Would you rather blow your money on middle relief or a fading slugger without a real position? This matchup comes down to what kind of contract each will receive – I think somebody will give Eyre more years than Piazza will get (baseball rule number one: don’t ever pay for middle relief unless it is a special, special player or it is on a one-year deal) and that swings this battle to the old catcher.

VICTOR: Mike Piazza

Piazza is the best hitting catcher to have ever played the game. He is the greatest player to ever come out of Norristown, PA and the most accomplished 62nd round pick of all time. He was flat out dominating for an entire decade beginning with his rookie year in 1993 to his last truly great season in 2002. That is ten years of dominance. His best stretch was from 1995 to 1998. Piazza was a catcher. Not a good one, but a serviceable one. For a catcher to hit like this…it really boggles my mind. During that stretch his worst line would have been .336/.417/.563 with 32 homers. His 1997 was one for the ages - .362/.431/.638 with 355 total bases, 40 homers, 201 hits, and 5 steals (!) in 6 chances. Piazza is a 12-time All-Star and winner of 10 straight Silver Sluggers (1993-2002). He has made over $110,000,000 in his career and was once involved in a megadeal that Sports Illustrated proclaimed the “Trade of the Century” (I still remember the cover to that week’s issue, the article itself was one of the best I have ever read too). Piazza was dealt on May 14th, 1998 from Los Angeles (I never in a million years thought he’d play anywhere but L.A.) to Florida for a package including Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, and Gary Sheffield (Manuel Barrios was also included). Just about a week later (May 22nd, 1998) the Marlins dealt Piazza (there was never any doubt he wouldn’t be a Marlin much longer than the week that he was) to the Mets for young prospects Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz. Fascinating trades all around which fit in nicely with the overarching theme of the really amazing, storybook career Mike Piazza has had. Baseball Reference has no real strong comparisons to him because no catcher has ever put up numbers quite like he has before. Piazza was (is) a one of a kind ballplayer.

My view on signing Piazza has changed slightly since then, but I think I can be forgiven for that so long as his salary demands have changed as well. Paying for middle relief can either be with free agent dollars or with your one true valuable trading chip/important fourth outfielder and bench player. To make one last thing clear about Mike Piazza - I am a big fan of his as a ballplayer and he is as true a first ballot Hall of Famer as you'll find. That does not mean, however, that I like Mike Piazza on any kind of personal level. I am not a fan of his (nor his family's) politics or off the field comments/behavior over the course of his career. It doesn't make him a bad guy per se, I just don't agree with 99.99% of what comes out of his mouth. I endorse his signing because he is a good ballplayer still capable of adding something to this team (for the right price), but that is the extent of my Piazza fandom. Sorry for all of that, I just didn't want to confuse the two. Thanks for bearing with me there.


Anonymous braveswin said...

You unleashed some posts, didn't you. The word with Piazza is either Cubs, Phillies, or Padres. A decision is to be made this week. Your right, he'll want 7-8M but will end up with $4M tops. I can't see any of the teams paying more than that for a guy who might play 80-100 games. Piazza still can play ball, just not #1 on the depth chart anymore. Piazza hasn't been Piazza since '02. Regardless, he still puts up good numbers. They look very similar to what Leiberthal put up last year.

2:55 PM  
Blogger XXX said...

I figured if I could get a good bit out of mileage squeezed from just one trade rumor, I had to go for it.

Piazza to San Diego is the latest buzz.

8:32 PM  

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