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Minor News and Notes

Many of the big name free agents have already found their teams this winter, but there were a number of moves made over the last week or so that deserve a little recognition.  I will also take a look at some interesting news out of Chicago regarding the White Sox.

First, the Mariners and relief pitcher Chris Reitsma agreed to a one-year contract worth around $2.05 million.  The deal is also said to include an option for the 2008 season. At $2.05 million with a similar option for the '08 season you can't go wrong with the dollar figures.  Reitsma doesn't by any stretch have a knack for missing bats (6.8, 5.2, 3.6 K/G over last 3 seasons), but he does get groundballs and at an environment like Safeco Field, he's probably worth the risk.  Who knows, if he bounces back well from elbow surgery, he could be a half-way decent set-up guy for the M's.  This still doesn't make up for the Soriano-Ramirez swap though.

On Thursday it was reported that the Red Sox and pitcher Joel Pineiro reached a one-year deal worth around $4 million with a mutual option for 2008. Like the Reitsma deal, for only $4 million this deal is at least a little appealing.  There isn't anything remotely eye-popping about Pineiro's game:  He's a home-run happy pitcher with low strikeout rates and decent control.  But he is versatile and could serve as a legit mop-up guy or even make a spot-start if worst (and I mean worst) comes to worst. The Red Sox closer position is still open, but it seems very unlikely Pineiro turns into a high leverage guy unless his peripherals suddenly turn around.  He's better off in the bullpen, and for the price, I can't help but like this deal a little.

Keith Foulke too found a new home, this time in Cleveland for a one-year deal worth around $5 million.  The Indians posted a 78-84 record last season, but also an 89-73 Pythagorean Record (870 RS, 782 RA).  One can look at the horrific 2006 Indians Bullpen (4.66 ERA, .774 OPS against, -6.7 WPA) as a major reason why the Tribe underachieved their Pythagorean Record so badly.  But the addition of Foulke, along with Joe Borowksi, Aaron Fultz, and Roberto Hernandez give the Tribe some serious help in that area.  Combine that with the fact Fernando Cabrera is a solid breakout candidate and all of sudden the Tribe bullpen looks pretty solid.  In a division where the Twins and Tigers are getting so much recognition, the Indians are a sure-fire sleeper.

Mark Loretta signed a one year deal with the Houston for around $2.5 million, taking more of a utility-role rather than a full-time job.  Ever since his breakout season in 2004, in which he finished 3rd in the NL batting title race, Loretta has seen a huge decline his game, posting OPS' just barley above .700.  Using Dave Studeman's BABIP Formula expressed in this article, there is hope that Loretta can post a solid bounce back season.  pBABIP will be the BABIP we can expect from Loretta when using his batted ball data:

As one can see Loretta still hits for robust line drive rates making him favorable for high BABIP's. Because Loretta has underachieved his pBABIP over the last couple of seasons, there is a possibility he can post a strong bounce-back season next year.  This, of course, all depends on if Loretta continues to hit the ball with similar fashion.  

The Astros might be smart in setting up a Biggio-Loretta platoon at second base.  Biggio had an abysmal season at the plate last season, but this all took place away from Minute Maid Park where Biggio hit .178/.253/.288 in 236 road AB's.  Biggio has always loved Minute Maid Park (.849 3-year home OPS) and a little blurb is mentioned of this in the 2007 THT Annual.  In my opinion, it would be a wise move for Houston to set a platoon at second base with Biggio hitting at home and Loretta hitting on the road.

The Twins signed Sidney Ponson to a minor league contract for around $1 million and invited him to spring traning.  If Ponson makes the Major League team, the deal could add up to $2 million in incentives.  Johan Santana, Boof Bonser and Carlos Silva are all virtual locks for the 2007 Twins starting rotation.  With Francisco Liriano missing just about all of 2007 due to Tommy John Surgery and Brad Radke retiring, the bottom two spots of the rotation will be competed for by Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins and now Ponson.  In my opinion you have to give a rotation spot to Garza. At four levels last season, Garza dominated the minor leagues before finally being called up:

All in all, Garza pitched 135.2 innings of lights out minor league baseball before being called up to the majors and experiencing a few growing pains.  He moved very quickly through the Twins system and showed flashes of readiness in starts against the Royals and Orioles.  Matt Garza is ready to pitch every fifth day in the major leagues and I'll be very surprised if he starts the 2007 season in AAA or in the Twins bullpen.  

The fifth spot in the rotation would then be up for grabs between the likes of Perkins, Baker and Ponson. The job would likely be won during spring training.

A couple of White Sox headlines caught my eye over the last week.  

A day after claiming he may miss the entire 2007 season due to his legal problems, White Sox shortstop Juan Uribe retracted his statement, claiming he will indeed attend spring training in February.

But what happens if Uribe doesn't carry out his statement and misses significant time during the 2007 season?  Kenny Williams already has a backup plan:

"Very simply, if it turns out he is in more trouble than we originally thought, decides not to report, or is distracted and can't play at a championship level, Alex will take his job."

That "Alex" being White Sox utility-man Alex Cintron.  Here is how ZiPS projected the two in their 2007 White Sox projections:

Regardless as to if Uribe misses significant time or not, ZiPs projects the White Sox to use a sub .750 OPS shortstop throughout the season, which isn't intriguing by any stretch.

With that said, keep an eye on the White Sox next winter.  With guys like Michael Young, Carlos Guillen, David Eckstein, Omar Viquez and Uribe himself all potentially testing the market, the White Sox could be key players in the market for a new shortstop.  The closest thing the White Sox have to a positional shortstop in the minor leagues is Pedro Lopez who projects more as a utility man, and a few other candidates who aren't ready to play at the major league level, so they don't have much of a choice as far as organizational talent is concerned.

Another nugget of White Sox news grabbed my attention of the past week as well.  In my piece regarding the McCarthy-Danks swap, I mentioned the acquisition of Nick Masset may put Andrew Sisco back into the AAA starting rotation.  Well, I was sort-of right. The White Sox Official Homepage reported that Andrew Sisco will start the '07 season in the bullpen, but will eventually be put back on track for the starting rotation once again.

My gut tells me that if Sisco is going to find long-term success in the majors it will be out of a bullpen. But you can't blame the White Sox for considering a move back to the rotation.  Sisco was originally brought up as a starting pitcher, and many have argued he was rushed up to the big leagues:  The highest level Sisco reached was 126 innings of A-ball before being called up.  At 23 years old he still has time to develop and who knows, maybe Sisco can still succeed as a starter.