Mets Finally Snag a Big One: New York Signs Jason Bay to Four-Year Deal.

Jason Bay certainly has talent at the plate, but the Mets still have plenty of holes left to fill in they want to catch Philadelphia.

After a relatively low-key beginning to the offseason the New York Mets took a major step towards reestablishing themselves in the NL East on Tuesday, signing free-agent slugger Jason Bay. Along with Matt Holliday, Bay was one of the most prized bats in a fairly weak free agent crop and should be able to help an anemic Mets’ offense that was one of the worst in all of baseball during the 2009 season. The deal is reportedly worth $66 million over the next four seasons, with a vesting option for 2014.    

Despite the fact that Bay hit 36 home runs last season there seemed to be little real interest around the league for the 31-year left fielder. The economy is partly to blame, with many teams cutting payroll and avoiding big name free-agents, but Bay’s defensive ability has also been scrutinized–a problem that may be exacerbated in spacious Citi Field. Although he still possesses good speed (13 stolen bases last season) and plate discipline, Bay is increasingly becoming a one-dimensional player, making teams hesitant to commit a long-term contract to someone who hits for power and contributes little else. The Red Sox originally looked like the frontrunners to resign Bay but after acquiring Jon Lackey and Mike Cameron last week, it became clear that he was no longer part of their plans for 2010. The Seattle Mariners were also rumored to be a player in the Bay sweepstakes (he played his college ball at Gonzaga in Washington) but the team traded for a left fielder in Milton Bradley and weren’t likely to meet his salary demands regardless. New York was always the logical destination for Bay, but does that mean it’s the right move for both sides?   

Will a return to the National League benefit Jason Bay and the Mets?

A top-tier power broker, Bay won a Silver Slugger award for his work at this dish in 2009, hitting .267 with 36 longballs, 119 RBI’s and 103 runs. Although he struck out a career-high 162 times last season, Bay coaxed 94 walks out of opposing hurlers, which led to a healthy .384 OBP. Bay benefited from playing in a strong Boston lineup last year, but showed his ability to thrive in the clutch, hitting .360 with runners in scoring position. He should be an immediate upgrade for the Mets as their cleanup hitter, protecting number three hitter David Wright and helping to set the table for Carlos Beltran and the rest of New York’s lineup. The team hit a league low 95 home runs last year (led by David Murphy’s 12) and at the very least, Bay should allow them to reach triple digits in long balls for 2010. With a healthy Jose Reyes, Beltran, Wright and Bay anchoring their lineup, the Mets will have a strong lineup on paper, but the team still needs to add more depth (first base, catcher, right field) if they want to match the Phillies firepower in the NL East.  

While Bay was one of the best players available this offseason, his signing doesn’t come without some question marks. The Mets’ new stadium, Citi Field, is one of the most pitcher friendly ballparks in baseball with deep power alleys and lots of foul territory. For Bay, whose primary value comes from his ability to hit the ball out of the park, this might prove to be a difficult transition from Fenway’s short porch in left field (though Citi Field is easier on right-handed pull hitters than other batters). Moreover, Bay will have to cover a much more expansive outfield than he did in Boston, though the Mets claim his defense suffered from the Green Monster. With the deal likely to reach five years and $80 million dollars the Mets must believe that Bay is a good fit for their lineup and park (especially in the last few years of the deal when he’s 35 and 36), or the team is once again just throwing cash at a problem and hoping it goes away.

Has that ever worked?

Merry Christmas from Viva La Vidro!

Merry Christmas from all of us (ok, it’s just me) at Viva La Vidro! I truly appreciate the support of everyone who stopped by this blog and took the time to thoughtfully comment on my posts. Viva La Vidro received almost 30,000 views this year and 200 comments; numbers far beyond my wildest expectations. A special thanks to my loyal readers John Ellings, Dave Gerig and Kyle Ritter. Without you, this blog would not be possible. Your support is invaluable and greatly appreciated, I would get you each a present if only I could afford them.

It’s been a great year in baseball, with the Mariners once again looking like a contender, and an offseason full of action and intrigue. With Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley aboard anything is possible for the M’s in 2010. Enjoy the holiday season with your families and enjoy what Jack Zduriencik has done for Seattle—that’s the best present of all. I can’t wait for Opening Day!

The Sun Never Sets on the Yankee Empire: New York Trades for SP Javier Vazquez.

Will Vazquez's second go-round in pinstripes end better?

After the Cliff Lee-Roy Halladay megadeal and Boston’s signings of Jon Lackey and Mike Cameron, the New York Yankees were relegated to the back-page of baseball’s offseason news. Well, that was short-lived. In a move made to bolster a rotation that dropped off significantly after C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettite last year, the Yankees sent outfielder Melky Cabrera and two pitching prospects to the Atlanta Braves for Javier Vazquez and lefty reliever Boone Logan.  

Vazquez, who pitched for New York in 2004, is coming off the best season of his career after finishing 4th in the National League Cy Young Award voting. Vazquez is eligible for free agency after the season, and the Braves had a surplus of starting pitching that made him expendable, especially considering the $11.5 million he was due to make in 2010. Arguably the most underrated pitched in the N.L. last year, Vazquez compiled a 15-10 record to go along with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts. While it’s unrealistic to expect him to pitch that well next season, Vazquez is still going to be the best fourth starter in any rotation in baseball, and will allow the Yankees to shift either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen. New York proved last season that it’s possible to win a World Series with a three-man rotation, but the addition of Vazquez is worth at least a few wins in the regular season and that’s something that can’t be overlooked with the Red Sox continuing to wheel and deal in free agency.  

The Yankees are hoping that Javier Vasquez enjoys more success than in his first tour of duty with the team in 2004, a season in which he struggled with injuries (14-10, 4.91 ERA) and ultimately ended with him allowing two home runs to Johnny Damon in the 7th game of the ALCS, giving Boston all the momentum they would need to complete their epic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit. Vazquez has been less than stellar in his limited postseason appearances (1-1, 10.34 ERA in four games) and his manager with the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen, famously stated that Vazquez wasn’t a big game pitcher. Obviously the Yankees are familiar with Vazquez’s track record but this move was made for the 162-game regular season, not the playoffs, as the team will likely lean heavily on their big three (Sabathia, Burnett, Pettite) in October once again. 

The Braves hope that "The Milkman" will help them challenge the Phils in the NL East.

The Braves acquired a talented switch-hitting outfielder in Melky Cabrera with this deal, and also shed nearly $9 million from their payroll, money which can be used to go after a corner infielder (hello Troy Glaus). The 25-year-old Cabrera performed well last season for the Yankees (.274-13 HR’s-68 RBI’s-10 SB’s) but never quite lived up to his potential and didn’t seem to be a part of the team’s long-term plans. Still, he’s a cheap and solid option for Atlanta’s outfield, and there is some optimism that he can continue to improve. The Braves also received two young pitchers from New York, lefty Mike Dunn and hard throwing right-hander Arodys Vizcaino. Dunn is a solid reliever who could fill the role of the departed Boone Logan, and Vizcaino showed promise as a 19-year-old last season, registering a 2.13 ERA and striking out 52 in 42 1/3 innings. With a rotation that includes Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami, Atlanta could afford to part with Vazquez and the team got a good haul in return. 

Another day and another domino falls in what has become one of the most exciting offseasons in recent memory. If the Red Sox felt content after signing Lackey and Cameron last week, they don’t anymore, as New York filled out their rotation with a quality arm and continue to look like the team to beat in 2010. Atlanta adds a solid bat to their outfield and free up cash to pursue another player as they try to build a team capable of challenging the Phillies for NL East supremacy. With plenty of quality free agents still available (Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, Johnny Damon) the hot stove will continue to sizzle and make these cold winter months a little more bearable. 

Baseball: the gift that keeps on giving.

Changing of the Guard: Do the Red Sox Recent Acquisitions Make Them the Team to Beat in the AL East for 2010?

John Lackey has the heart of a warrior. Will it be enough to propel Boston past New York?

The Boston Red Sox came into this offseason in a foul mood. Not only were they swept from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Angels, but their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees, returned to baseball’s limelight by capturing the World Series on the strength of stars Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia—players that Boston had at one time targeted through free agency or trades. To make matters worse, the Yankees had already pulled off one of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring talented center fielder Curtis Granderson in a trade with the Tigers. Clearly Boston was feeling the heat in a never-ending arms race with New York, and it didn’t take long for the Red Sox to respond in turn. In the span of two days they acquired John Lackey, the best free-agent pitcher on the market, and Mike Cameron, a defensive virtuoso, to fill the void in left field. Both players will play important roles for Boston in 2009, but will they make the Red Sox the best team in the AL East?   

The addition of Lackey gives Boston one of the deepest pitching rotations in all of baseball, with a talented trio at the top and a number of serviceable arms at the back of the rotation. Lackey received staff ace money from the Red Sox (5 years/$82.5 million) but will probably be the third starting pitcher in the rotation behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester (Killer J’s? J-Cubed?). Though hampered by injuries in 2009, Lackey still went 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA and 139 strikeouts against only 47 walks. He is mainly a groundball pitcher but can be susceptible to the longball (he allowed 26 home runs in 2008), which may prove to be an issue with the Green Monster out in left field. Despite the fact that Lackey might not be in the same class as pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, he has a strong postseason track record (3.12 career playoff ERA) and past success against AL East foes (25-15, 3.62 ERA vs. New York, Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay). After getting burned last year by the John Smoltz experiment the Red Sox were eager to acquire a dependable arm (Lackey has a .590 career winning percentage) and now have one of the most formidable starting fives with Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Clay Bucholz (though be may be traded for an additional bat) and either Dice-K or Tim Wakefield. In terms of pitching, Boston certainly has the talent to compete with the Yankees; do they on offense?  

Mike Cameron has some big shoes to fill in left field.

While Mike Cameron will be an upgrade defensively over Jason Bay in left field (or centerfield, depending on where Terry Francona decides to play Jacoby Ellsbury), he will be hard pressed to match Bay’s 36 home runs and 119 RBI’s. The 36-year-old Cameron hit .250 with 24 HR’s and 70 RBI’s last season, but also chipped in 32 doubles and 75 walks which led to a .342 OBP (vs. Bay’s .384 OBP). With the perpetually disappointing J.D. Drew in right, Boston won’t exactly have a murderer’s row in the outfield, and may lose even more ground to the Yankees’ big bats (New York outscored Boston by 43 runs in 2009). As questions continue to swirl around the health of Mike Lowell, and David Ortiz continues to age at the speed of light, the Red Sox are still at least another bat away from usurping the Bronx Bombers, and that’s assuming that New York doesn’t make any more moves (they did).

So, while the signings of Lackey and Cameron have improved the Red Sox’s pitching and defense, New York is still clearly the team to beat in the AL East. The Yankees have done nothing but improve this offseason after winning 102 games in 2009, and with a healthy A-Rod and the newly acquired Granderson the team could be a juggernaut in 2010. Boston is moving in the right direction, but unless they want to spend another postseason watching the Yankees raise a World Series trophy, general manager Theo Epstein had better continue to work the phones…New York isn’t going anywhere soon.

Seattle Continues Busy Offseason: Carlos Silva Traded to Cubs for Milton Bradley.

How will Milton Bradley's temperament fit in with the Mariners' good mojo?

In what is becoming almost a daily occurence in the Emerald City, the Seattle Mariners have acquired yet another player in hopes of capturing the AL West in 2010, though this deal is anything but a sure thing. According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the Mariners have finalized a trade that will send pitcher Carlos Silva to the Chicago Cubs in return for outfielder Milton Bradley. Both players had long since worn out their welcomes in Seattle and Chicago respectively, and with each being slated to make around $25 million dollars over the next two years, this trade was the only real option for two teams looking to get rid of their constant source of headaches.

The Carlos Silva experiment was an absolute disaster for the Mariners. After signing a four-year/$48 million dollar contract in 2007 (a move which was widely mocked throughout the league) Silva went 5-18 over the past two seasons, including a 1-3 mark with an ungodly 8.60 ERA in 2009. In fact, about the only positive thing Silva accomplished during his time in Seattle was getting hurt last season, allowing the Mariners to develop young arms in their rotation. One of the last painful reminders of the Bill Bavasi era in Seattle, the fact that the Mariners were able to get anything for Silva is a miracle, and while Bradley does come with his baggage, he also offers tremendous upside at the plate.

It didn’t take long for the Cubs to figure out that Bradley wasn’t a good fit for them. In fact, it didn’t even take a full season (he was suspended on September 20th). Plagued by injuries throughout the year and serving as a constant distraction to the team with his outbursts and tirades, Chicago was dead-set on moving Bradley this offseason but couldn’t find any suitors other than the Mariners. Signed to play in the outfield last year, Bradley struggled defensively and only hit .257 with 12 HR’s and 40 RBI’s. Still, his keen batting eye allowed him to post a .378 OBP (which would have been second on the M’s last season), and Bradley has constantly shown himself to be an adept hitter—when he’s healthy and happy. Long regarded as a clubhouse cancer, Bradley seems to create controversey wherever he plays, and may prove to be more trouble than he is worth for Seattle if they can’t find a way to keep him under control.

The Mariners needed to find a designated hitter after the news that one of their primary targets, Nick Johnson, planned to sign with the New York Yankees. Keeping Bradley off the field will help neutralize the risk for an injury, but will his disruptive presence ruin a clubhouse that was one of the best in all of baseball last season? Seattle is gambling that veterans like Ken Griffey Jr. and manager Don Wakamatsu’s zen-like personality will be able to keep Bradley in line, and if that works, they’ve acquired a top-flight hitter who will be a welcome addition to their lineup. There’s no debating Bradley’s talent (career .371 OBP) but his off the field problems are a very real issue. Jack Zduriencik has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt thus far, and Mariners’ fans hope that Bradley will be a key factor in the team returning to the playoffs…and not just Carl Everett part two.

The Day After: A Closer Look At What the Cliff Lee Deal Means to the Mariners.

The acquisition of Lee gives Mariners' fans plenty of reasons for optimism in 2010.

While the dust has yet to settle on the biggest deal of the offseason, it’s evident that Seattle’s acquisition of Cliff Lee will have some dramatic effects on the Mariner’s franchise for next year and beyond. Long an afterthought in the baseball landscape due to an incompetent front office’s baffling signings and trades, Seattle has put themselves back on the map by becoming a major player in the free-agent market for the first time since getting burned on the acquisitions of Richie Sexson and Carlos Silva (the team overpaid for Adrian Beltre too, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as Sexson and Silva). Under the guidance of new general manager Jack Zduriencik the Mariners are suddenly a chic pick to win the AL West in 2010 and possibly to make some noise in the playoffs if the team can acquire a few more bats for their lineup. Though there is much work left to be done, Seattle is certainly making their presence felt this offseason, and the Lee deal is a major step towards redemption for the Mariners’ franchise. 

By trading for Cliff Lee the Mariners create the most dynamic starting duo in all of baseball, pairing the left-hander with righty Felix Hernandez (fresh off a second place finish in the 2009 Cy Young balloting). Lee, a pitch-to-contact type hurler, should thrive in the spacious confines of Safeco Field and will also benefit from having one of the best outfield defenses in the league (depending on who fills out leftfield). The left-hander has primarily been a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career, but in recent seasons has induced more groundballs and will rely heavily on a strong left-side of the Mariners infield anchored by Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins. Though not overpowering, Lee has a solid fastball and an above-average curveball, which should allow him to average six to seven strikeouts per start. The fact that Lee is lefthanded will also pay dividends for the Mariners if they reach the playoffs, allowing them to neutralize some of baseball’s best hitters, many of whom struggle against southpaws (Ryan Howard, Curtis Granderson, Chase Utley, Andre Ethier, Raul Ibanez, etc). Additionally, Lee does a stellar job of neutralizing opposing team’s running games, having never allowed more than nine stolen bases in any one season, which will take pressure off Seattle’s young catchers. Cliff Lee is a certified staff ace in every since of the word, and his addition alone significantly closes the gap between the Angels and the Mariners in the AL West. 

Cliff Lee and King Felix give the Mariners the best 1-2 combo in baseball.

The one caveat to this trade is the fact that Cliff Lee is only signed through 2010 and there are rumors that he is looking for C.C. Sabathia type money (7 years/$161 million). While it’s clear that the Mariners won’t have the necessary funds to sign both Lee and Hernandez to long-term deals, Seattle’s commitment to winning will give the franchise leverage when (if) they decide to resign one of these two pitchers. If somehow the Mariners find themselves out of contention at the trade deadline Lee will be the best pitcher available once again, and would allow Seattle to recoup prospects for their farm system. The other scenario, Lee leaving at the end of the season and testing the market, would also net the Mariners two draft picks (a first round pick from the team that signed him plus a sandwich pick) because Lee would be a Type-A free-agent. Zduriencik really covered all the bases with this trade; however you slice it, the Mariners are going to come out winners. 

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Seattle Mariners traded away a package of prospects for another left-handed pitcher, and it’s painfully obvious now that the Erik Bedard deal was doomed from the start (except for the Baltimore Orioles). This time around though, the Mariners are acquiring a pitcher with a much stronger track record for success and durability, and they aren’t selling the farm in order to bring him aboard. It appears that Seattle will be sending three prospects to Philadelphia; pitchers Phillipe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, as well as outfielder Tyson Gillies. While all three players have some upside none of them are labeled as “can’t-miss” prospects, and they presumably won’t haunt the Mariners like Adam Jones and Chris Tillman. 

Can Griffey and the Mariners get to their first ever World Series in 2010?

Aumont was Seattle’s first round choice in the 2007 draft, a long, lean right-hander who was originally a starter but since has been converted to the bullpen. The 20-year-old was good but not great between Single and Double-A in 2009, struggling with control at times while walking 11 batters in only 17 innings for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. Ramirez projects as a number two starter, a right-hander with a hard fastball and developing off-speed pitches. If he is unable to handle the strain of starting, Ramirez has the stuff to be a quality arm at the end of the bullpen, possibly even as a closer. Gillies is one of the fastest players in the minor leagues (he has 96 speed on a scale of 100) who stole 44 bases for the Mariners’ High Class-A affiliate. He had an outstanding season at the plate in 2009, hitting .341 with 9 HR’s and 42 RBI’s, though it should be noted that the High Desert Mavericks play in the hitters’ friendly California League. Out of all the prospects involved in the deal, Gillies has the best chance to become an impact player at the next level, but Seattle already has a long-term answer in centerfield with Franklin Gutierrez.

Thanks to an aggressive general manager and some key offseason moves the Seattle Mariners are once again relevant to the baseball world. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago this team lost 101 games, but the franchise has clearly turned over a new page in their history, and GM Jack Zduriencik has the team poised for a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001. With King Felix and Lee anchoring the rotation, and Ichiro and Figgins setting the table, Seattle is a very dangerous team on mission to win and win now. Next stop, the 2010 World Series?

Breaking News: Blockbuster Trade Sends Roy Halladay to Philadelphia; Cliff Lee to Seattle; Prospects to Toronto.

The star of last year's postseason, Cliff Lee is heading to Seattle after today's mega deal.

In the biggest surprise of the offseason thus far the Mariners, Phillies and Blue Jays have laid the groundwork for a stunning deal that would send Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, Cliff Lee to Seattle and prospects from both teams to Toronto. The Phillies actively pursued Halladay at last season’s trade deadline, but reached an impasse with Toronto regarding which players the Blue Jays would receive in compensation, and the deal was never completed. Philadelphia eventually worked out a trade with Cleveland to acquire Lee who was instrumental in guiding the Phillies to their second straight World Series-berth. Toronto has been shopping Halladay since his agent released a statement asking for a deal before Spring Training with New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia listed as possible trade destinations. The Mariners have been an active player all offseason, with the team linked to numerous free-agents, and the signing of third baseman Chone Figgins. If this deal is finalized, it will have major ramifications for all three teams, and could dramatically alter the power structure of both the AL West and NL East.

In this trade, the Mariners gain a certified staff ace to pair with Felix Hernandez, giving Seattle one of the most potent 1-2 combinations in baseball. The move also strongly indicates that GM Jack Zdurinciek is looking to build a team capable of not only winning the division, but also a World Series title. Seattle led the AL in numerous pitching categories last year, but needed to bolster their rotation with the departures of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. Enter Cliff Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young award winner, who went a combined 14-13 with a 3.22 ERA and 181 strikeouts between Cleveland and Philadelphia. The 31-year-old lefty was even more impressive in the postseason, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, including a 2-0 mark against the Yankees in the World Series. The Mariners still have work to do offensively in order to have dreams of a pennant, but this move certainly makes them an early favorite to capture the AL West.

The Phillies hope Roy Halladay is the right player to lead them to a third straight World Series.

The Phillies finally acquired the pitcher they had long coveted in this deal and are likely to negotiate a long-term contract with Halladay in the next few days or weeks (somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 years/$100 million dollars). Halladay continued his run as one of the game’s best pitchers in 2009, posting a 17-10 record with a 2.79 ERA and 208 strikeouts. The 32-year-old right hander is baseball’s most durable and consistent starting pitcher, having topped 220 innings in each of the past four seasons. Already the favorite to capture the NL East in 2010, this move solidifies the Phillies as a perennial contender in the National League. Lee was outstanding for Philadelphia last-season but the team was having trouble working out a long-term contract with the lefty, and decided to pursue Halladay as their frontline starter moving forward. Barring any significant injuries next season, this move gives the Phillies a strong shot at another trip to the World Series in 2010.

Toronto really had no choice except to trade Roy Halladay as their star pitcher planned to leave via free agency after the season. The Blue Jays will receive a package of top prospects from both the Mariners and Phillies, but it has not yet been announced which players are involved in the deal (early reports indicate that Seattle’s Phillipe Aumont and Philadelphia’s Travis d’Arnaud are headed to the Blue Jays). Toronto has a solid young core of position players (Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Travis Snider) and starting pitchers (Ricky Romero, Dustin McGowan, Brad Mills), and this trade will allow them to stockpile talent for a run at the division in a few years. As with all trades involving prospects it won’t be clear for a couple of seasons whether Toronto received a fair haul for Halladay, but the team’s hands were tied in this particular situation, and they made the move that they believed will give the Blue Jays the best shot to win in the near future.

It’s not often that a sport’s offseason is more exciting than the actual play on the field, but that’s been the case for baseball in 2009. Another blockbuster deal has two teams eyeing a World Series trophy and the other hoping it can overcome the loss of its franchise player. The Mariners and Phillies both made major strides with today’s trade, now how will the rest of baseball respond?