Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jon Daniels Report Card: Free Agent Signings

Jon Daniels has done his utmost to deviate from the mistakes of his predecessor. He's been accessible almost to a fault, personable, friendly. His hire heralded change, and as stated in past posts, change as a concept was the important value at that time, not necessarily the specifics of the change itself. JD's held true to expectations in that regard- although all required to be different from Hart was an occasional interview with a local sports show and being seen outside of one's basement or the local golf course without a security detail.

Alas, Daniels has encountered the difficulties that most young GMs do. His most significant moves have backfired horribly, and he's failed in his attempts make any full-blown successes when it comes to player swaps. The biggest victory is probably the swap that brought in Vicente Padilla for Ricardo Rodriguez, and seeing as Padilla is now collecting a monstrous paycheck to pitch in AAA, it may have been subtraction by addition.

But when Daniels is critiqued, most fail to mention one facet of the three-cornered job. The 3 major parts of a GM's job are, obviously, Trades, Contracts, and Drafts. It is far too early to gauge JD's evaluation of amateur talent, but what of his decisions as they pertained to players on the free agent market?

Let's begin with the current staff 'ace'. Kevin Milwood was the best in a limited crop of pitchers willing to come to Texas, coming off a year during which he led the American League in ERA with the Indians. Milwood was in his prime, wanted to come here, and carried a general reputation of consistency. In his first year with the Rangers, Milwood posted a mediocre ERA of 4.52, but won 16 games and ate up 215 innings. The first stat is obviously unimpressive, but one must consider that Milwood was pitching half of his games in the hitter's altar that is TBIA.What he did was give the team a chance to win nearly every time he stepped on the hill, as well as represent that necessary Rock of Gibraltar that could pitch 7 innings and give the bullpen necessary time off. During this season Milwood's been somewhat rocky, although a lot of that can be attributed to early injury problems. All in all, quite reasonable these days for 12 million dollars a year.

While not free agents per se, Gary Matthews and Mark Derosa could have been let go by the Rangers with very few batting an eye. While JD can't fully take credit for bringing them back, then, he certainly contributed to the decision. And seeing as these two signed for barely above the minimum and posted years worthy of compensatory picks in this past draft, I'd have to assign a solid A for both contracts.

Now let us move on to this past offseason. JD let a significant portion of the team, but brought on some worthy replacements. The grading will represent not only the players brought in, but those let go. Let's therefore begin with:

Carlos Lee to Houston. We all knew when the trade was made that the chances of bringing Lee back were very slim. He got a ridiculous deal worth 10 digits from Houston, and while he's been good the Rangers certainly can't be faulted for taking their two picks and parting ways. I'd give him more points here, but it wasn't really a difficult decision to make.

Derosa to the Infant Animals: Personally, I was all for bringing the super-utilityman back. But if he wasn't going to contend for a starting job here, letting him go was the right decision. He got 3 years and 13 million from the Cubbies, and I don't fault them for the decision. I can't fault JD for his, though.

Gary Matthews Jr. to the Halos: One of the most trigger-happy moves I've seen in some time, from an unlikely source. Bill Stoneman has a hard-earned reputation as a methodical, obstinate, traditional Gm unwilling to make controversial decisions. But he gave 50 million dollars to the former ranger centerfielder; the career journeyman coming off of one all-star caliber year. Matching Anaheim's offer would have been asinine. GMJ is a good player, but not worth anywhere near 10 mil a year.

Adam Eaton to the Phillies: I never understood any of the hype around Eaton. He's got good-not-great stuff when healthy, and we've seen a firsthand glimpse of how often that comes along. He's also hot-tempered and displayed control problems during his time here. The Phillies drastically overpaid for intermittent decency in Eaton, It's only a shame that Texas didn't get a draftpick out of the centerpiece of the Young/Gonzalez debacle.

All in all, I'd give JD a B+ overall for his decisions to let people walk. The only guy I would have considered bringing back at such rates would be Mark Derosa-and even that would be iffy to pull off, seeing as he seemed quite content with Chicago as his destination.


Frankie the Cat
. Catallanatto embodied the underrated, tool-less outfielder who usually put up good stats nonetheless. The move made sense for the Rangers, especially seeing as he played with the team in the past. His utter failure throughout this season is worrisome, but the real irritant is the fact that the Rangers had to give up their first rounder (#16 in the draft) to get him. I don't blame JD for the signing, it certainly seemed to make loads of sense. But there's no way around the fact that in retrospect, it was a mistake.
Grade: D-

Jamey Wright.
He's always had the alleged and elusive 'stuff'. But he's also never delivered for anyone on a consistent basis. Wright has been decent throughout his intermittent 35 innings, but intermittent is the key word. He can't stay off the DL, and that certainly hurts his value. Wright blocked Kameron Loe throughout the first month of the season, but that only barred Kam from one or two starts, so not a significant deterrent to the extent of Sammy blocking Jason Botts.
Grade: C

Kenny Lofton
. Coming off of a solid year in LA that many labeled an aberration, Lofton's signing prompted a lot of criticism-a 40 year old career mercenary who had always relied on speed. But Lofton's been nothing if not the consummate professional. He's hitting around .310, displaying a bit more power than he showed at previous stops, and stolen more than his fair share of bases. Big props to JD on this one, and It's a shame that the season didn't pan out as planned. I'd be very content with Kenny Lofton as my leadoff hitter and centerfielder in a stretch run.
Grade: B+

Sammy Sosa. Nobody expected anything. The prose is clunky, but it sums up people's sentiments to a tee. Samuel Peralta Sosa had last been productive 3 years prior, and was shipped from his team (Chicago, all ye absentminded) on bad terms. Sosa Isn't on pace for 40 home runs, and he likely won't post an on-base percentage over .300. But what he's managed to do is fill a spot in the middle of the order better than almost anyone. I hate to point at a singular stat in order to identify a player's worth, but the man has 69 RBi-and that's no laughing matter. I reiterate, he hasn't been great. He may not even be good. But he's done far, far better than anyone expected him to. And at the MLB minimum, he's been a bargain.
Grade: A-

Marlon Byrd. Another whose signing was given barely a cursory glance. Byrd was a well thought of prospect a while ago. This odd duck wasn't drafted until the age of 22, but vaulted through the Phillies system and into prominence in the early portion of this decade. He had played well for one year: 2003. All other indications had him pegged as a talented but mechanically flawed fourth outfielder. Jon Daniels brought him in to spring training, sent him down to Oklahoma. He was called up to compensate for injuries to Frank Catalanatto, and has wowed players, coaches, and spectators ever since. The Byrdman (to borrow the nickname granted to Marlon by Adam J. Morris) is hitting .352, has become a veritable triples machine, and has shown the versatility necessary to play all three outfield slots. I know It's Marlon Byrd, and It's very likely that he's going to regress into his standard level of play sometime soon. But I'd like to remain in Neverland a little while longer.
Grade: A

Eric Gagne
. Injuries. Uncertainty. A history of dominance. All three trail Eric Gagne like badges worn on one's chest-irremovable, displayed prominently where one cannot bother noticing. JD knew the risks of bringing in the dynamic Canadian. Gagne has done nothing but save 16 games in seventeen opportunities, gradually eliminate any lingering doubts about his short-term health, and bring himself back to respectability. There's no doubt in my mind that he is the top reliever available to other teams during this stretch run-but I don't think he'll be dealt. Here's something nobody saw coming- Gagne seems content here. Not only content, but genuinely pleased. If the man is truthful and really does want to pitch here for the long haul, I sincerely hope that our dear GM is working on a deal to secure his services for many years to come. And if he goes? We're in great shape there, too... Gagne's numbers make him likely to be a type-A this offseason.
Grade: B+.

I realize that Daniels has erred-and erred significantly-on several occasions when presented with a trade. But one must realize that there is more to the job that straight up swaps, and JD has done that job with success that is absolutely shocking when put in contrast with the past mistakes of guys like Hart or-call me a heretic if you must- the Great Melvin.

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