It has not been unusual, in the past, for big baseball moves to happen at or before the Thanksgiving weekend. This season, it was catcher Victor Martinez who set the market in motion, when he signed with the Detroit Tigers Tuesday. From there on, the dominoes began to fall.
Three notable pitchers switched uniforms from Wednesday evening through Sunday, and a handful of other rumors worthy of our attention cropped up in the meantime. What follows is a round-up of the best and most important info you might have missed during your holiday hangover, along with a brief look ahead to a busy week in Major League Baseball.
Zach Duke 2010 stats: 29 GS, 159 IP, 8-15, 5.72 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 4.48 xFIP
After a miserable season in Pittsburgh, Duke was a serious non-tender candidate. The Pirates' pitching staff has little else, but Duke so struggled to stop the hit parade that opponents enjoyed all season that the team had designated him for assignment the previous week.
Arizona gave up a player to be named later to keep Duke off the open market, although Duke's $4.3-million salary for 2010 can go no lower than $3.5 million in 2011 and will more likely hover in the $4.25-$4.5 million range. The move adds depth but not much else to an Arizona rotation that features recently-acquired young hurlers like Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson.
Jon Garland, 2010 stats: 33 GS, 200 IP, 14-12, 3.47 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.35 xFIP
After standing in line for weeks with a handful of other interested teams, the Dodgers stepped forward and bought Garland on Black Friday. It is not immediately clear whether they got a door-busting bargain, or whether Garland (like so many Black Friday purchases across the country) became a sought-after commodity only in the midst of the buyer's market into which he waded, a later regretted expenditure that is tragically non-refundable.
Garland's base 2011 salary of $5 million seems eminently reasonable, but he could actually make up to $8 million, and a vesting option at the very reachable plateau of 190 innings would give him another $8 million in 2012.
The Dodgers, to their credit, have broken their 18-month habit of sitting and watching other teams make the moves they ought to have made: They moved quickly after the season to retain Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda, then added Garland to fill out their rotation for next season in full. They overpaid slightly to do it, but now they can focus on the various avenues through which they could add more offensive muscle.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2010 stats (Japanese Pacific League): 144 G, 596 AB, .346 batting average, .423 on-base percentage, .482 slugging average; Pacific League batting champion
Perhaps the better bargain on Black Friday was the Twins' victorious low-ball bid of $5 million in a posting fee to Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines, allowing them exclusive opportunities to negotiate with second baseman and shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Nishioka will probably sign, and could thus replace Orlando Hudson (a free agent) as the Twins' starting second baseman for next season. Nishioka has speed, hits well enough for average and has sufficient patience to bat near the top of the order and plays sparkling defense at either middle infield spot.
Javier Vazquez, 2010 stats: 31 G, 26 GS, 157.1 IP, 10-10, 5.32 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.90 xFIP
Ignore all those numbers. Vazquez cannot pitch in a Yankees uniform, but in Florida (where he can face the pitcher, where home runs—his greatest vulnerability—are tough to come by, where strikeouts happen about six percent more often than in the average park), he will once again dominate the NL East.
Vazquez is second among active pitchers in strikeouts, and the only man in front of him (Jamie Moyer) has pitched roughly 1400 more innings than he. The results have rarely been elite, but Vazquez's ability to miss bats and not walk batters make him very valuable.
With Florida's improving defense and their favorable home park, Vazquez could have a reprise of his dominant 2009 performance. The Marlins got him for one year and $7 million, a bargain at twice the price.
The usual amount of speculation and gossip about where the next free agents will land crept up over the weekend. Here are the highlight for position players:
Magglio Ordonez: The Tigers, for whom Ordonez has toiled for so long and where he fits very well, reportedly remain interested in keeping him even after signing Martinez. They do still need another outfielder (at least one), and Ordonez is and has been a wonderful fit. Still, they might want to consider shoring up a miserable starting rotation before focusing on that spot.
Juan Uribe: The Dodgers are hot on Uribe's path, presumably envisioning him as a second baseman alongside Rafael Furcal. Uribe's versatility has value to LA, too, because of Furcal's fragility and third baseman Casey Blake's age. The Cardinals are probably still in the mix, but LA makes a lot of sense for Uribe.
Carlos Pena: The Cubs have apparently reached out to Pena, who would be a fair replacement for Derrek Lee and satisfies the team's prerequisite that their free-agent bat be a left-handed slugger of some stripe. Of course, the team also has a smoother road to signing Adam Dunn now that the Tigers have inked Martinez, so this is no sure thing.
Lance Berkman: Berkman insists he is ready to rebound in a big way next season, and he seems to think about half the big leagues are interested in being there when he does. He listed mostly National League teams, hardly surprising because that is where he wants to end up. The most intriguing teams listed were Colorado and Toronto, where he would be a good fit.
More updates, this time focusing on hurlers who are getting close to signing:
Brandon Webb: Webb has a lot of teams dangling their feet to test his waters, which is an understandable approach: No one wants to be the guy who didn't even explore acquiring a former Cy Young winner, but Webb's injury history is ugly enough to eventually scare away almost everyone. The Nationals have separated themselves from the pack a bit and look like the favorites to land him.
Jesse Crain: If a given team has a well-documented need for relief help, that team is likely interested in Crain. By Peter Gammons' reckoning, nine teams have already knocked on his door. This is one of those moves that won't happen until the end of the winter meetings, when a fair number of those teams have moved in other directions or prioritized other things. Crain will get a multi-year deal, though.
Kevin Gregg: As stupid as you would have sounded for suggesting it not long ago, Gregg is perhaps the second-best hurler with closer experience on the open marketif we assume that Mariano Rivera is not seriously considering anything but the Yankees. So far the Blue Jays and Rockies are definitely interested, and although it seems like a nightmarish fit for the homer-happy Gregg, Colorado is the team more in need of his services.
The case of Jeter v. New York Yankees continues to drag its way toward resolution, but the only solution may be the dissolution of their relationship, especially if Jeter's head stays in the clouds the way it is right now. The early tactic employed by both sides—negotiate through the media, because that always lends itself to mutual trust and an even keel—has created such confusion that it is hard to tell if the sides are moving closer together or further apart.
As improbable as it sounds, Jeter could leave the Yankees this winter, and if he does, Brian Cashman and his staff will have to seriously entertain an intriguing option: The other New York team's shortstop, Jose Reyes. Reyes is a free agent after 2011, and the Mets are willing to trade him for the right price. That price is quite high, as some reports have New York asking for four or five players in return, but the fact remains that Reyes can be had.
What if the teams indirectly swapped shortstops? Jeter could sign with the Mets after a potential trade of Reyes to the Yankees, and one could argue that both teams would be better off for making the change. It's radically unlikely, but it would be a fascinating new chapter in the symbiotic history of all New York baseball.