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The All-Bargain 2012 MLB Free Agency Team


Monday November 21, 2011

MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen:  Every baseball offseason, we all seem to fall into a familiar trap.  The focus always seem to be on the “prize” free agents, while bargains always seem to be had (especially when the big spenders have reached their budgets).  So while Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson and company are the majority of the headlines- are they truly the difference makers? Getting quality players that are more economical may in fact have a stronger impact on a team that is looking to compete.  It allows for a team to fill needs while devoting financial resources to other resources, including scouting, signing draft picks and locking up younger players before they hit free agency.  Remember: a team has many expense areas but only a certain amount of money to go around. Devoting $100 million+ to 1 player tends to significantly limit a team, regardless of the strength of such a player.  “Spreading the wealth” so to speak, will limit the risk of putting all the eggs in one basket.  It is a similar to diversification of stocks.  A well-rounded portfolio will tend to outperform most others.  But if those assets can be acquired at a reduced cost, the return will look even better.

Now, imagine that we were going to build a starting lineup based purely on free agents.  What available free agents would give a team the best bang for the buck? If we were to look at the 2012 MLB free agency list, our All-Bargain team would probably look a little something like this:

C:  Ryan Doumit (starter) and Jose Molina (backup): At approximately $5 million combined, Doumit and Molina should offer fairly solid production at a reasonable rate.  Doumit also offers versatility by playing first and some outfield.  If (and when) Doumit gets injured, Molina can handle the starting chores for a stretch with a minor leaguer backing up.  In my estimation Doumit has the potential to breakout in a Mike Napoli manner.  He has the skills and power.  The guy just has to stay healthy.  As far as overall offense and defense from the catching position, there are fewer solid backups that Jose- part of the great “Catching Molinas.”

1B:  Carlos Pena:  This one area that I am prepared to splurge.  For all the talk of the low average, Pena should offer good power, a solid OBP and gold glove defense.  At approximately $10 million per season, he will still be a bargain to the other heavyweights at the position.  This is one area that you need top-notch offense and Pena should deliver again in 2012.

2B:  Kelly Johnson:  See Carlos Pena but at a more reasonable ticket price.  Johnson has a strong knack for getting on base and has excellent power for the position.  He is a gamer that will always have a spot on my team.

SS:  Ramon Santiago:  You can’t fully appreciate what Santiago offers unless you watch him on a daily basis.  Few infielders have a glove as strong as his.  While not the most gifted offensive player, he can chip in the occasional big hit while holding his own as a #8 or #9 hitter.  Another versatile player to have on the roster.  Options are always good.

3B:  Kevin Kouzmanoff:  The “Crushin’ Russian” is on the squad.  Yes, I am still holding out hope that he will come together.  I would take a chance on a breakout.  At the very least you will get good “D” and some offense at a bargain basement price.  If he doesn’t come together, I would grab Casey Blake or Wilson Betemit to sit on the bench if they come dirt cheap.

CF:  Grady Sizemore:  I like the style of Ruben Amaro Jr. and Pat Gillick.  I would have been at Sizemore’s house on the first day of free agency as well.  Given his high upside and apparent health, I would sign him as quickly as possible.  If you get even 75% of the old Sizemore, you still have a likely All-Star.

LF:  Raul Ibanez:  I’ve heard about his defense.  But I am still signing him.  Rauuuuul will come at a fraction of his last big contract.  The man owns his own rejuvenation chamber and still has the body of a 35-year old.  Strong leader, 20+ home runs and all at a maximum of cost $5 million per season.  Mark him sold.

RF:  J.D. Drew:  Hungry for one more big contract?  With Scott Boras as his agent, this on-base machine should be hungry to prove that he is healthy and productive.  He may cost $3 million per season.  Well worth the risk.  Just to cover ourselves, Johnny Damon is also coming on board as a 4th outfielder.  Between Sizmore, Ibanez, Drew and Damon, we should be able to run out an outfield most days.  If David DeJesus or Rick Ankiel are prepared to hang around as 5th outfielders/designated hitters, we may find some spare cash for them as well.

DH:  If we are talking non-National League team, then we HAVE to grab Josh Willingham as our designated hitter.  Or even a right fielder if we must.  The Hammer still carries a heavy bat and should anchor the offense.  He still has a couple of more productive years in him.  He should come at a relative bargain price considering 25+ home run bats are not easy to come by.

SP:  Chris Capuano, Bruce Chen, Aaron Harang, Paul Maholm, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis:  From these six selected starters, we should have ourselves a fairly decent rotation.  Pitching is one of the most difficult areas on any roster to fill, especially starters.  You have to catch lightning in a bottle and hope many factors, especially health, work out.  Maholm and Harang should be our “aces” with approximately 12 wins a-piece.  Capuano will be the third starter, who should be even better with another healthy year under his belt.  Between Chen, D-Train and Penny, we will count on veteran inning-eaters who are able to squeeze out wins.  Not the team’s greatest source of strength, but all six of these pitchers combined will cost less per season that C.C. Sabathia on his own.

RP:  Matt Capps, Jonathan Broxton, Jeremy Accardo, Shawn Camp, Fernando Rodney, Damaso Marte, J.C. Romero:  Going with the Tony La Russa formula, we are putting together a veteran pen with several closing options.  If at full strength, Broxton should be the ninth inning guy.  Otherwise, the role will fall to Capps or Rodney.  Accardo and Camp should be decent middle relievers with Marte and Romero balancing out the pen.  Used to their capabilities, our pen should help us contend.

Conclusion:  Building a team on a budget is not the easiest process.  This team will cost us likely north of $80 million dollars, but should stay under the magical $100 million mark.  Considering it is a team built from scratch and based on availability, “Team MLB Reports” should be a veteran squad that stays in the pennant race.  Even with the relative slim pickings in some areas, this year’s free agency squad offers value at most positions.  While no teams will be built based solely on free agency this year, there are enough complimentary parts that any Major League team can find good value.  It is just a question of shopping smart and buying at the right time.

Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

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MLB reports:  On January 11, 2011, after weeks of speculation in the media the news became official:  Brad Penny was officially a Detroit Tiger.  The deal was announced as a 1 year, $3 million dollar base salary with an additional $3 million in incentives.  The overall reaction was positive- a low risk and high reward situation for both the team and player.  With Penny in Motown and spring training a mere days away, let’s review the factors behind this signing and how Brad Penny in 2011 will become the “King of Comerica”.

After the 2010 season came to an end, one of my first projections on the free agent market was that Brad Penny and the Detroit Tigers would be a perfect match.  I had the pleasure of corresponding with Brad Penny in early December and asked him directly whether he was considering Detroit for his new home.  Brad’s response was, “wearing the blue and orange would be sweet.”  Taking a look at the team that he is joining, it is easy to see why Penny could not contain his excitement.

The Tigers enjoyed a relatively strong 2010 campaign and as their roster became molded during the offseason, the future of the Tigers appears to be very bright.  The team has a potent offense led by Cabrera, Ordonez, Jackson and newly acquired V-Mart, combined with a rotation led by Verlander, Scherzer and Porcello and a deep bullpen including Valverde, Benoit, Zumaya and Perry.  Dombrowski in constructing the team covered off the key components and contention in the AL Central appears to be a lock.  Penny as a veteran starter however brings many intangibles to the Tigers that could be the difference maker in a playoff spot.

With young starters Scherzer, Porcello and Coke, Penny serves as a mentor and role model for the young hurlers in learning the finer points of the game.  The experiences and successes that Penny has enjoyed in his 11 seasons in the bigs will rub off on the rest of the Tigers’ pitching staff and hopefully take each of them to the next level.  As well, Verlander and Penny as potentially #1 and #2 potentially on the staff will bring up the game of the other in competing every 5th day to be the best possible starters that they can be.  Lets not kid ourselves, bragging rights in the clubhouse counts and Penny is one of the most focused and intense warriors that you will find in baseball. Comerica, known as a pitching friendly venue, will also prove to benefit Penny as his home field.  Brad Penny will bring out the best in his Tigers’ mates and having a solid core of talent on the team will take his own game to the highest levels.

Standing 6’4” and weighing a solid 230 lbs, the 32 year old Oklahoma born Penny has an outstanding baseball resume. 16 win campaigns and All-Star game appearances in 2006 and 2007, a 3rd place Cy Young finish in the NL in 2007 and near perfection in the 2003 World Series title run with the Marlins, with 2 wins in 2 starts with a 2.19 ERA.  Penny has played for a total of 5 teams in his career.  Penny started off very strong in 2010 for the Cardinals, with a 3-1 record in April and 1.56 ERA.  A strained lat muscle ended Penny’s season on May 21st with the pitcher not returning for the rest of the year despite intense rehab and attempts to return.  Now healthy and raring to go, the Tigers represent a fresh start and promise for the right-handed pitcher.

Offseason reports have been positive on Brad Penny.  He recently got engaged to Karina Smirnoff of “Dancing with the Stars” fame.  As well, Brad mentioned to me on several occasions that he was working out hard at the gym and the impression that I got was that Penny is in the best shape of his life coming into the season.  Secure in his personal life with the hunger to win, Penny is focused on doing all the right things to make himself successful.  His commitment to training and evolution as a pitcher means that at the still young age of 32, Penny has many quality years ahead of him.  Observers need to remember that coming off a strain is much different than arm troubles and/or surgery.  The bonus from last year’s experience is that Penny will come into camp with a fresh arm and more motivation than ever to reclaim his position as one of the top pitchers in baseball.

The Tigers in signing Brad Penny could very well have secured themselves the #2 pitcher in their rotation as part of the drive to return to the playoffs. Penny’s goal in coming to Detroit is to win and to surely get another World Series title under his belt.  At this stage of his career, Brad Penny does not focus on the past and any impressions that people have of him.  As my projected 2011 American League comeback player of the year, Brad Penny will simply let his pitching do the talking and the ranking of the Tigers as a team being his only statistical goal.

Good luck on the season Brad Penny and welcome to Motown.  Tiger Nation awaits your arrival.

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