Scott Miller's Starting 9: Last-Minute Bargains as Spring Training Beckons

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Scott Miller's Starting 9: Last-Minute Bargains as Spring Training Beckons
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1. Best Unemployed, Still-Available, Brother-Can-You-Spare-A-Job Free Agents

To quote that great philosopher Cam Newton, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” OK, hmmm.

Here are some impact targets who can help MLB teams try to avoid being losers in 2016. These guys still need to pounce on a fumble...

Dexter Fowler: Coming off of a summer in which he compiled career highs in hits (149), runs scored (102) and home runs (17), and with a career on-base percentage of .363, it just doesn't add up as to why Fowler remains unsigned. At least, it doesn't add up in any other area than the fact that he declined the Cubs' $15.8 million qualifying offer, so clubs are reluctant to give up a draft pick for signing him.

Scout's take: "For me, he is a guy who's gotta be a fit on a team. Decent player, average player in the major leagues, but on a championship team I might want a little more. If he's a fit and you need a center fielder, he can fit that role."

Best fit: St. Louis, Los Angles Angels or Baltimore

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Yovani Gallardo: Several reports indicate he's down the road on a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, and he should be. Not that Baltimore's rotation is lacking, but word is Jim Palmer is considering a comeback.

Scout's take: "I'll tell you what. His stuff is going backwards, but this guy is a complete gamer. He gets after it. In a short deal, two years, I'd take him in two seconds. He knows how to win. Competes like a son of a gun. He does throw up the innings. If you watch him, you think he's not going to because he has become a nibbler a little bit. But knows how to put [people] away. On a short-term deal, I'd love him. But long term, no chance."

Best fit: Baltimore

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Ian Desmond: Granted, his defense slipped last year. Combined with his anticipated price tag, that scared off more folks than the bear in The Revenant. Still, he's punched 63 homers over the past three seasons and owns a career .312 on-base percentage.

Scout's take: "He makes the routine plays look tough, and by June you look out and say, 'Why in the hell did we sign this guy?'"

Best fit: Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Mark Buehrle: He'll be 37 next month and word was he was set to retire, but buzz circulating throughout the industry is that Buehrle may change his mind yet before the winter ends. He did go 15-8 with a 3.81 ERA in 32 starts for the Blue Jays last summer.

Scout's take: "I think where he lives is the big thing. I think he might end up with the Cardinals. Buehrle's Buehrle. You want him on your team. If he's your fifth starter, that's a pretty good deal. If you have a good defensive team behind him, he works fast and fielders love him. It depends on what he wants to get paid, too. He should get paid like a fifth starter. Then any team would be happy to have him. I think he might end up playing."

Best fit: St. Louis or Kansas City   

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Pedro Alvarez: Have bat, will travel...but not to too many places.

Scout's take: "He needs to go to an American League club. He's a DH and for the right fit, in the right ballpark, he could be a good pickup. Money-wise, you're dealing with DH and 1B. He's limited defensively, so that's why he has to be the right fit."

Best fit: New York Yankees (With Greg Bird out for 2016 following a shoulder injury, the Yanks could use another first baseman/DH type with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in their golden years). 

Matt Brown/Getty Images

David Freese: The Angels, in the midst of failing to take advantage of Mike Trout's best years, may regret not re-signing him. Freese was never going to live up to expectations following his incredible 2011 postseason (MVP of both the NLCS and World Series), but he's still helpful.

Scout's take: "I'll tell you what: I like David Freese. I think the Angels should have signed him back, to be honest with you. I call him an RBI whore because he understands how to drive in runs. He doesn't hit for great average, but he's a good complementary bat on a team and if you're going to win I'd take him. You can win with him at third base. His defense is better than people give him credit for."

Best fit: Cleveland

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Austin Jackson: Where have you gone, onetime hot prospect who is still only 29? At this point, the best play for Jackson will be to find a home as a fourth outfielder, providing depth off the bench for a contender.

Scout's take: "I think he's going backwards. He's not a good hitter. His defensive skills are going backwards. He's probably an extra outfielder for me at this point. Some clubs might be interested. If you're gonna get somebody, I'd say go get Peter Bourjos, somebody who can play center field."

Best fit: Houston or Texas

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Juan Uribe: There's one way to describe Uribe and that is...

Scout's take: "This guy is a winner. He can still throw, he can still catch the ball and he is dangerous. He's a dangerous hitter because he guesses, and he does a lot of things right. On a winning team, I'd like to have him on the bench. He can help you. He's a veteran who knows his role, which is valuable because then there's never any [complaining]."

Best fit: Houston

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Justin Morneau: After leading the National League with a .319 batting average in 2014, Morneau played in just 49 games for Colorado last year as concussion symptoms returned. Here's hoping Morneau, a terrific fellow, can come back strong in 2015.

Scout's take: "I think people just don't know what he's going to be. He's getting older, and with the concussions, people just don't know what to expect. He's going to be a late sign. A filler, maybe for an organization who has a guy coming and he's more of a stopgap. He might perform, he might not. I couldn't tell you which."

Best fit: Pittsburgh or Miami

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Cliff Lee: Comeback Player of Year? Or is he never to come back? Lee has done it long enough that the guess is, if he signs, he thinks he's close to full strength. Because veterans know a few things about avoiding embarrassment.

Scout's take: "If his arm's healthy, he's always been able to pitch. Incentives only, and that's it. You cannot, in my opinion, pay guys for what you don't know, or what they've done in the past. I'd like to have him. But it's all incentives and that's it. You're basically flipping a coin. It might come up heads, might come up tails and you might lose either way."

Best fit: Baltimore, Colorado

 

2. Yankees Ready for Liftoff

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Two key starting pitchers. Two optimistic spring stories.

Masahiro Tanaka threw off of the mound Tuesday for the first time since having arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow. Tanaka went went 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 24 starts last season. 

"From what I've been told, his throwing program was right on target," Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild told the New York Post's Dan Martin. "He's on schedule to have a normal spring training and season. We'll have to monitor his rest and his elbow, but that goes for a lot of guys."

That goes for CC Sabathia, too.

"CC looks better than I've seen him in a few years," Rothschild told the Post.

Sabathia texted the Post's George A. King III: "I feel the best I have in three years. I am excited to get to Tampa with a clear head and a healthy body."

 

3. Lurking in Toronto...

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Prediction: Eric Wedge, the former Cleveland and Seattle skipper, will become the next manager of the Blue Jays.

Why?

In a little-noticed move, the Jays named him player development adviser last week. New Toronto president Mark Shapiro is a huge fan of Wedge and launched his managerial career in Cleveland when Shapiro was the Indians general manager.

John Gibbons is secure for now, coming off of Toronto's first AL East title since 1993. But with former general manager Alex Anthopoulos having departed for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the club now firmly under the control of Shapiro, Gibbons has less wiggle room as the Jays already have a potential replacement in the fold.

 

4. Who knew bears get hernias?

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Bummer for Evan Gattis, affectionately known as El Oso Blanco (The White Bear).

He had dropped significant weight this winter so he would be versatile enough to catch or play first base for the Houston Astros. Then came hernia surgery, per MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, and Gattis will miss four to six weeks. 

He slammed 27 homers with 88 RBI for the Astros last summer. Now, he hopes to pick up some at-bats in mid- to late March and be ready shortly after opening day.

 

5. Incentives of the Week

Veteran Mat Latos, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Chicago White Sox, has never been a threat to win a Cy Young Award or strikeout title. And yet, as MLB Network's Jon Heyman noted:

 

6. Tryout of the Month

Tim Lincecum is scheduled to throw soon in front of a bunch of scouts in Arizona, and some clubs remain leery that he will want too much money. He will pitch somewhere this season, it's just a matter of where—and in what role. As of Wednesday, scouts were still awaiting a date to be scheduled.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

"He's a wild card," one scout told B/R. "It's a matter of how his arm feels. I think he's a good risk because he's a competitor and he's a great athlete. It's all about the money with him. If he wants to prove himself, he's a one-year deal only for me, and see how he does. He might end up making himself money if he does well. Starting depth or long reliever, a bullpen piece, that's what you're looking at him as. He might surprise."

Best fit? Let's say Seattle (he went to the University of Washington), San Francisco or San Diego. West Coast pitcher-friendly parks.

 

7. Feel the Bern, Baseball Edition

DAVID KHOL/Associated Press

Spend enough time around the game, and it isn't only the Buster Poseys and Brandon Phillipses who hook you. No, if you're lucky enough to be allowed to dig deep underneath the game's surface, you get to know hundreds of wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to baseball, but remain (happily) far under the radar.

Bernie Stowe, the longtime Cincinnati Reds clubhouse manager who passed away this week at 80, was one of those gems. He worked for the Reds long enough to have participated in 67 (count 'em!) Opening Days. He probably washed more jerseys than Tide. And he may well have had more stories than Mark Twain.

He was hired by the Reds as a bat boy in 1947 and retired, finally, in 2014. He sparred verbally with the late Joe Nuxhall, worked with Sparky Anderson and was beloved by Johnny Bench.

Jerry Crasnick, the fine baseball writer at ESPN.com, spent some time in the 1980s and '90s covering the Reds and wrote about one of Stowe's most beloved and well-known pranks:

Cincinnati players through the years recall his fondness for clubhouse pranks—most notably, the "mongoose" gag. Stowe brought in a padlocked steel cage and stamped it with signs reading "Danger, Wild Mongoose." He talked up the alleged viciousness of the sleeping creature inside while banging on the sides to build suspense. When he finally popped the door to the cage and a faux tail came flying out, petrified rookies scattered to all corners of the clubhouse.

 

8. Billy Ball Notes

From stats guru Bill Chuck, whose work you can find at Billy-Ball.com:

Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

  • During the 2015 season, Boston had a 4.94 ERA in the sixth inning, while the Yankees compiled a cumulative 4.94 ERA in the seventh inning. Thus, Boston acquired closer Craig Kimbrel, bumping Koji Uehara to the eighth inning and Junichi Tazawa to the seventh. The Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman to add to their late-inning mix of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
  • Playing with Mike Trout as a regular since 2012, the Angels have gone 337-275 (.550) and 0-3 in the postseason. 
  • Yovani Gallardo compiled a 1.226 WHIP before last season's All-Star Game but a 1.718 WHIP after.
  • What did Max Scherzer have in common with Jeff Samardzija last year? Each allowed a major league-high 17 homers after the All-Star break.

 

9. The Newest Sun Devil

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

According to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com), former commissioner Bud Selig, 81, has been hired to teach sports law and business at Arizona State University.

 

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week

Pitchers and catchers, so close now. Pack up the glove oil and sunblock, baby, and the grapefruit and the cactus:

Hotel in Arizona made us all wanna feel like stars

Rental cars and tinted windows

Leave another number for me.

—Wilco, "Hotel Arizona"

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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