Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hot Stove boiling over: Lilly, Schmidt, Piazza sign

With the winter meetings winding down today the action heated up last night as no less than 5 big signings were announced.

Three of the best available pitchers found homes, along with an aging catcher and aging outfielder- no, not Bonds- he's still soliciting anyone to give him a job & a fat contract. He's starting to become uncannily Sosa-esque.

-Jason Schmidt has $47 million reasons why he loves being a Dodger
The second best FA pitcher available, Jason Schmidt, moved down the California coastline, leaving the Giants after agreeing to a 3 year, $47 million dollar deal to wear Dodger Blue. The 33-year-old right hander went just 11-9 last year with a 3.59 ERA but was an All Star and the guy is a pure horse. He's a strikeout pitcher (career high 16 in a game June 6th), an innings-eater (200+ 3 of last 4 years), and he guarantees you more than 10 wins per season (9 out of the last 10 years.) He will join a rotation that includes Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Randy Wolfe, but one that lost crafty vet Greg Maddux. Not exactly the 1970 Orioles staff but Schmidt will give the Dodgers a front line starter should it make it back to the postseason. All for a mere $19 mil/year.

The only other major pitcher yet to sign is Oakland's Barry Zito (other than Houston's bobsey twins Clemens & Pettitte.) Texas is leading the race for the lefty's services but many experts (Sir Peter) seem to think he is going to sign with the Mets. Whomever it is he is guaranteed to make a lot more than Schmidt ($100 million range.)

As for the best of the rest:

-Ted Lilly gets 4 years and $40 mil from free-spending Cubbies
Believe it or not this was one of the deals everyone was waiting to go down because Lilly's signing would set the market for the second tier of pitchers available. The Cubbies had already comitted $136 million to Alfonso Soriano, $75 million to Aramis Ramirez and $10 million to manager Lou Pinella. Now Lilly, 30, an 8-year vet who has pitched for Montreal, the Stanks, Oakland and recently Toronto, joins the North Siders in their quest to break their championship curse. He was 15-13 with a 4.31 ERA last season and has mediocre career numbers of 59-58 with a 4.60 ERA. But he is a skilled lefty who possesses a devastating curve that freezes many major league batters, and he has had some of the best outings of his career against the Sox. He has suffered from some nagging injuries that have prevented him from pitching up to his capabilities, and he also can get into trouble with the long ball. In 160 career starts he has allowed 144 homers, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that's almost 1 for every start. Some of those are meaningless solo shots that do no damage, but other times it's a 3-run bomb to the upper reaches of a stadium that can be a pure game-killer. Bonds, Manny & Papi have all had memorable such shots off of him.

I've stated in the past that Teddy is a good friend of my good friend Butchie. I e-mailed Butch and said "how does it feel to be buddies with a man making $10 million a year?!" I met Teddy once and have seen him pitch many times, both in spring training and from his seats at the Trop, and my son & I own autographed baseballs he gave us, so I am a little biased towards the guy. He's a really nice kid, very laid back but he is a dedicated & determined player and when he's on he has no-hitter stuff. Many people will remember him for the blowup he had on the mound last August with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. Let me tell you Gibbons and pitching coach Brad Arnsparger had been a thorn in Teddy's side for 2 years. They tried everything to disrupt his pitching motion, which had been fine until they started tinkering with it. In fact he had the highest ERA of his career last year (5.56) when they did start messing with it. And Gibbons is the same guy who challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight, so he has to be glad to be leaving that asylum. I'm just glad he's not going back to the Stankees or the AL so now I can root for him again. Butchie, get some good seats ready for us for next summer- I've always wanted to go to Wrigley.
Now I'm really praying for a Cubs/Sox World Series.

-Meche follows suit by signing with...the Royals?
Gil Meche was running neck & neck with Teddy as far as the second tier guys go. You knew as soon as one signed the other was going to quickly get a deal done as well. It's pretty surprising that the small market Royals stepped up and got the deal done, though. Lilly and Meche are similar in age (30 -28), and record (Meche is slightly better at 55-44), and their career ERAs are close as well (Meche's is 4.60.) He is a #3 or #4 type guy on most teams, but with the Royals he could very well end up being their #1. He was 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA last season with Seattle which earned the righty a 5 year, $55 mil on pact with Kansas City. Not. too. shabby.

-Piazza agrees to become a DH, leaves SoCal for NoCal
Veteran catcher and career NL player Mike Piazza signed a 1-year, $8.5 million contract to DH for the A's. The 38-year-old holds the all-time record for home runs by a catcher (396) but it doesn't appear that he will add to that total much by the Bay, where he will be the third-stringer behind Jason 'Footloose' Kendall and Adam Melhuse. The 14-year vet still has some pop in his bat-last year he smacked 22 homers in 126 games with the Padres and batted .283 with 68 ribbies- and Oakland is hoping he will be able to offset the loss of production from the departure of Frank Thomas.

-Little Luis Gonzalez heads to Los Angeles , too
The Dodgers had a busy day yesterday. On top of the Schmidt signing they inked Tampa's Luis Gonzalez to a 1-year, deal worth $7 mil. Gonzalez, a 16 year vet of 5 teams, is best known for his winning hit in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series that knocked off the Evil Empire (one of the best sports memories of my life), and also for the way he ballooned from a banjo hitter who had 164 home runs in 11 seasons before mashing 57 dingers in 2001. Which caused many a baseball fan to go "hmmmm, guess he's the next Brady Anderson." 'Roids aside it is a well known fact that Little Louie is one of the nicest men in the sport who routinely takes care of everyone from bench warmers to clubhouse attendants and has endless energy & enthusiasm despite the fact that he is the father of triplets! The 39-year old Gonzalez will play left while promising youngster Andre Eithier moves to JD Drew's spot in right. This is a good pickup for the Dodgers; Gonzo will bring his leadership, confidence, a career .284 average and postseason experience to the club and also plenty of spending money to the LA clubhouse minions and valets.

LA also signed Mike Lieberthal to a deal to be their backup catcher, which obviously signifies the end of Toby Hall's brief career in Dodgerland. Hall had been miffed at his treatment ever since he was shipped to LA in the Julio Lugo deal and made no secret of the fact that he didn't want to sit around and play second fiddle to rising stud catcher Russell Martin. Good moves by LA, especially after the departures of Maddux & Drew.

In other news: the Chisox sent Freddy Garcia to the Phillies for former #1 pick P Gavin Floyd... the D-Rays lost former can't miss prospect but current recovering drug addict Josh Hamilton to the Cubbies (who then traded him to the Reds) in the Rule V draft; Hamilton could return to the team that has stuck with him through more than 6 years of unfulfilled promise due to numerous addictions if he does not remain on Cincy's major league roster for the entire 2007 season...6-time Gold Glover and all-around good guy J.T. Snow announced his retirement and will become an instructer/ambassador for the San Francisco Giants. Snow, son of NFL legend Jack Snow, finished his stellar career in Boston last year, but the writing was on the wall that his time was up when he could hardly make get onto the field despite his terrific fielding ability...and speaking of San Fran, Barry Bonds continues to push for a deal somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 years/$40 mil, and his big-headedness (pun intended) reminds me of what happened to Sammy Sosa a couple of years ago. Both are prolific sluggers tainted with steroid questions who thinks his value is greater than it actually is. No one in their right mind is going to give him that kind of money, just as Slammin' Sammy found out, and he may just end up playing nowhere in 2007, just like Sosa did(n't) last year. I doubt that will happen, but if BB keeps asking for that kind of cash it could.

Pretty busy day all around, and we'll see what happens on the final day today.

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