Search for a RH power batter - Part 1 - Free Agents
Just about everyone under the sun has said that the A's glaring need this off-season is a right handed power bat in the middle of the lineup to give Eric Chavez some support, and obviously it is high on the A's agenda. However, Billy Beane has also said that he will not sacrifice the long term success of the franchise for a short term fix, basically saying if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.
With the A's budget and the high price of power batters being what they are, acquiring a RH power batter will be difficult to say the least. Most likely, if it happens, it will happen via one of Billy Beane's famous deals, rather than via the free trade route. But, in an effort to really look at the entire picture, we will take a look at all the options on the table for the A's in an effort to determine what is available. In Part 1 of this series, we will look at the free agent market and see who is available and who might fit in with the A's.
Paul Konerko – 1B - BA 0.283, OBP 0.375, SLG 0.534, OPS 0.909, VORP 56.1
Konerko is one of the most coveted free agent batters on the market, which means that the A’s chances of signing him are less than zero. He is looking for a big money contract and the White Sox got the ball rolling by offering $52 Million over 4 years to keep him in Chicago. Konerko supposedly is looking for something closer to $14 million per year over 5 years, and there are plenty of teams interested. That means you can forget the A’s ever getting their hands on Konerko. Konerko is a very good batter who probably deserves whatever contract is thrown his way. He averaged 4.15 pitches per plate appearance, has a career OBP of 0.349, and averaged a HR every 14.4 at bats. Let’s not forget his IsoP of 0.250 either.
Conclusion : Still hoping the A’s might get crazy with their wallets ? Keep waiting for hell to freeze over….
Frank Thomas – DH – BA 0.219, OBP 0.315, SLG 0.590, OPS 0.905, VORP 9.2
Ok, so Frank Thomas didn't hit for average, but the guy managed to hit 12 HR in only 105 at bats, or 1 HR every 8.8 at bats. The guy had a 0.905 OPS with only a 0.219 BA. He has not had a sub-0.500 SLG since 2002, and that year he still managed to hit 28 HR. Over the past 3 seasons, he has averaged roughly 1 HR per 12 at bats. That translates into roughly 44 HR over a full 162 game season, averaging 3.3 at bats per game.
But that’s exactly the problem – when was the last time Frank Thomas was able to play a full season? In the past 5 years, Thomas has only had 2 healthy seasons. Injuries kept him out almost all of 2005 and a large portion of 2004. He is 37 and not getting any younger.
Perhaps with all that in mind, Chicago decided to decline their $10 million dollar option on Thomas, opting instead to pay the $3.5 million buyout. That means that either Chicago plans on letting Thomas go or is gambling that they can re-sign him later for less money. Bottom line, they don’t think Thomas is worth $10 million, so if they are planning on re-signing him to less money then that means they hope to get Thomas for less than $6.5 million.
Thomas might be a good gamble for Billy Beane : This is a great player in his twilight years who is an injury risk, which greatly reduces his expected salary. If the A’s are willing to gamble that Thomas will remain relatively healthy next season, then they might be willing to plunk down $4-6 million per year for a short 1-2 year contract.
Again, if this happened it would be another Billy Beane gamble, and lately his results have not been too good. Think Arthur Rhodes, Eric Karros, Keith Ginter, and Keiichi Yabu. Also, if Thomas went down again for any extended period of time, it would leave Chavez alone in the lineup.
Conclusion : The rumor mills have already started and the A’s and Thomas have been mentioned in the same sentence. A risky gamble for the A’s, certainly possible, but I don’t think it will happen.
Mike Piazza – C/DH – BA 0.251, OBP 0.326, SLG 0.452, OPS 0.778, VORP 25.1
Mike Piazza’s days as a catcher are done, his only hope for survival lies with the American League, where he can finish off his career as a DH, thereby saving his body from the physical strain of being a catcher. However, it is arguable whether Piazza’s numbers will actually improve as a DH or if he is in a state of continual decline. His OPS and OBP have dropped consecutively 3 years in a row. 2005 marked the first season since his rookie year that his OPS dropped below 0.800. And let’s not forget that he is 37 years old, which makes him about 100 in catcher years.
But in spite of all this there are some things the A’s might like. He has a career OBP of 0.382 and doesn’t strike out very often : in fact, his highest number of SO was 93 in 1996, but that was also the year he racked up 81 BB with an OBP of 0.422. His past 3 years he has averaged about 1 HR every 21.67 at bats, way off his career average of 15.6, but in a full season that would still translate out to roughly 24-25 HR. Being a catcher he could also occasionally spell Kendall behind the plate, although he would best serve the A’s just being a DH.
Conclusion : Despite being in decline, Piazza is still a big name in baseball and could still command a salary far beyond his worth, making him unaffordable for the A’s. Despite some solid career numbers, his ability to hit a large number of HR is questionable and there is great doubt he will improve, even if turned into a DH.
Reggie Sanders – OF – BA 0.271, OBP 0.340, SLG 0.546, OPS 0.886, VORP 27.4
I know his name has been tossed around quite a bit on the messageboards. Looking at his raw numbers, there seems to be a lot to like. He’s averaged more than 20 HR per season the last 3 seasons, his SLG has not fallen below 0.450 since 2000, he has averaged 1 HR per 16.3 at bats over the last 3 seasons, and he sports a career IsoP of 0.223, which is not too shabby. He does tend to strike out quite a bit, but his career OBP has managed to stick around 0.344.
The problem with Reggie Sanders, like Piazza and Thomas above, is that he is well past his prime at 37 years old. While he still managed to hit 21 bombs this year in 295 at bats, he was a poster boy for the DL. Getting older is not going to help this battered warrior.
Still, he is relatively cheap at $4 million for 2005 and I expect he can be picked up for about the same, if not cheaper.
Conclusion : Another aging slugger in an already long list of aging sluggers. Don’t count on it.
Brian Giles - BA 0.301, OBP 0.423, SLG 0.483, OPS 0.906, VORP 65.1
Brian Giles is the prototypical “Moneyball” player. He walks at a ridicul0us rate with a career OBP of 0.413 and hits for plenty of power with a career SLG of 0.542. While his HR totals for the past 3 seasons are down from his loftier totals from ‘99 - ‘02, he has managed to maintain +30 doubles per season for the past 7 seasons. While no longer considered young in baseball years - he will be 35 next season - he should still have some good years left in him.
The problem is, being such a good player - and a free agent - immediately puts him out of the A’s price limits. According to numerous news reports, the Yankees have set their sites on Giles, and what the Yankees want, they usually get.
Conclusion : Giles will be in pin-stripes next season.
Preston Wilson - BA 0.258, OBP 0.322, SLG 0.491, OPS 0.813, VORP 12.1
Preston Wilson is in this list simply because, excluding 2004, he has averaged about 26-27 HR over the last 7 seasons. Unfortunately those HR totals come with a career OBP of 0.333 and a seasonal average of 162 strikeouts. Not to mention that he made $12.5 million in 2005 and chances are someone will be stupid enough to pay him just as much, if not more.
Conclusion : Wilson makes no sense for the A’s. They already have a superior CF in Mark Kotsay and whatever extra wins they would get from Wilson’s HR would be negated by his low OBP / high SO totals.
And that's just about it. Bottom line, I don't see the A's chasing any of the above mentioned names. Rarely has Billy Beane gone the free agent route, except when it was a perceived bargain. If the A's are going to acquire a power bat, I honestly think it will happen via one of Billy Beane's trades. Still, in the rare case it does happen - and that would be quite rare - I have a feeling it just might be one of the names above.