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Free Agent Redux, Part One

May 22, 2008 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

With the second month of the baseball season dwindling, I thought it was prime time to revisit the free agent signings this offseason, and check in on the winners and losers. We’ll do this on a team-by-team basis, breaking it up into bite-sized parts.

American League

Baltimore: The only free agent acquisition for the O’s was the signing of righty Steve Trachsel to a minor league deal. Trachsel was actually somewhat useful for Baltimore in 2007 before being dealt away to the Cubs at the deadline. Asking for lightning to strike twice was probably a stretch, and – surprise – that’s the way things have turned out. A major breakdown in his already shaky control has left Trachsel with a butt-ugly 6.75 ERA and his rotation spot on seriously shaky ground. The O’s have responded by skipping him twice over the last two weeks. Next stop is off the roster.

Boston: The BoSox were busy, sealing deals with six free agents, in some cases their own, in some cases, signing players away from other teams.

Mike Lowell was re-signed to a three-year, $37.5 million deal. The 34-year-old parlayed a career year into a very sweet deal when the perceived market for third basemen suddenly shrunk and he was pretty much forced to return to Boston. Expecting him to duplicate such a brilliant 2007, when he was arguably the MVP of the Red Sox, is unwise, and an early-season injury all but guaranteed it wouldn’t happen. Still, after a sluggish start, Lowell is beginning to pick up his productivity, but I have serious doubts about his ability to drive in 120 runs ever again.

Reliever Mike Timlin re-signed for one season at $3 million. While Timlin experienced yet another renaissance last year (how many is that for him now?), maybe he should have quit while he was ahead. His season began late this year thanks to an injury, and really, he’s still waiting to get his act together. He’s 42 and is averaging 1.5 strikeouts per nine innings. “Hello? Acme? Can you please send over your finest ice floe?”

The club also re-signed back-up catcher Doug Mirabelli to a one-year, $550,000 deal. Of course, Mirabelli’s value can’t be measured on the stat sheet; his main purpose – and he’s damn good at it – was to corral Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball every fifth day. But midway through Spring Training, Boston opted to release Mirabelli and go with Kevin Cash as its backup. Cash is swinging a potent bat – something Mirabelli hadn’t showed in several years, and so far Wakefield’s results haven’t suffered. In fact, he’s improved.

Boston lured Sean Casey away from the Tigers to act as a backup to Kevin Youkilis at first base, signing him for one year and $800,000. This is a move that seems to have affected Detroit more than Boston, as some have pointed to the loss of Casey as a reason the Tigers are struggling with clubhouse chemistry. Having said that, Casey is definitely paying dividends and is adjusting to life as a part-time player seamlessly, judging by his .355 BA. Should either Youkilis or Lowell go down with an injury, the BoSox are covered, making this a very smart investment.

In another move designed to provide insurance to the big league club, the Sox re-signed outfielder Bobby Kielty to a minor league deal. When the Sox failed to deal Coco Crisp, Kielty accepted an assignment to the minors. Boston will likely keep Crisp around for now, with Kielty out thanks to hand surgery, but once he’s ready to return, the team will probably start seeking trading partners again, so Kielty may still play a part on the big league team this season.

In what may have been Boston’s best signing, the team inked a seemingly done-like-dinner Bartolo Colon away from the Angels for one year and $1.2 million. The Sox called him up Wednesday, with Clay Buchholz going on the DL a few days ago, and Colon got the job done, earning the win for his five innings of work. Reports are that his velocity is returning, but he’s definitely not yet at full strength. Colon makes for a great waiver wire selection, as he’s got a chance to help your team if he can stay healthy.

Chicago: The White Sox concentrated on upgrading their woeful bullpen, signing a pair of righty relievers. It’s definitely helped, as the pen’s collective ERA is down over two runs per game this season.

Scott Linebrink, signed away from Milwaukee for an eyebrow-raising four years and $19 million, has helped the most. He’s been almost untouchable and has shown improved control en route to a 1.35 ERA through 21 games. Why he isn’t getting scooped up in more AL-only leagues is beyond me. If your league tracks holds, he’s a must own.

Octavio Dotel, who spent last year with the Royals and then the Braves, was also given a multi-year deal (two years, $11 million). He’s performed well, but better still, he’s been healthy so far. Dotel could also be of use in AL-only leagues, once again especially in those tracking holds.

Cleveland: The Tribe was pretty quiet this offseason, merely luring reliever Jorge Julio away from Colorado for a year and $1 million, to upgrade an already strong bullpen. Shifting back to the AL seems to have worked wonders for Julio, who has continued to revitalize his career. I’d like to see better command, but he’s pitched well enough to work his way into more important assignments should the opportunity arise.

Detroit: The Tigers’ only free agent move was to gamble on the Gambler again, re-signing Kenny Rogers for one year at $8 million. While Rogers has been healthy so far (a rarity in and of itself), and he actually leads the team with four wins, I think we can learn the most from an ERA (6.66) that only the Devil himself would be proud of.

Next up, we’ll examine the second of the American League.

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