Some snippets from around Cardinal nation and the rest of the league:
-Rich Hill was signed as a non-roster invitee-It’s hard not to like moves like this, as there cost is basically free in terms of baseball dollars and players in this position traditionally have something to prove. Hill was once a young, talented, left-handed starter who struck out around 8.5 batters per nine while walking under 3, but has fallen off of a cliff the past couple of seasons. While suffering through physical and mechanical issues in 2008 and 2009 Hill never regained his 2007 form, but Hill and the Cardinals swear he is healthy and ready to go at the start of spring. For what it’s worth (probably little), the Chone projection system has Hill pegged at a 4.78 ERA, a 4.82 FIP, 96 innings pitched, and to be worth 0.9 Wins Above Replacement in 2010. Hill will have to earn a spot on the big league club this spring, but if Hill can resemble anything close to his 3.1 WAR form of a couple years ago John Mozeliak will have a real bargain on his hands.
-The signing of Rich Hill looks to end the pursuit of John Smoltz, despite his reported preference to return-I have to admit I was hoping for a Cardinals-Smoltz reunion in 2010, but with Tony LaRussa wanting the remaining “bullet” to be used on a position player that can play third, Smoltz was priced out of the Cardinal budget. Smoltz would have been a nice fit, as he would give the club some flexibility in the late innings or in the back end of the rotation. The extra depth that Smoltz provides would have been nice, but typically there is pitching, F.A.T., or free available talent, that is out there during the season. Two examples of this in 2009 would be Smoltz, who the Cardinals signed after he was released by the Red Sox and our very own Brad Penny, who was also released by Boston and picked up by the Giants.
-Joe Strauss suggested today that Felipe Lopez might be out of the price range as well, with Joe Crede being a potential player of interest. Crede likely wouldn’t command much guaranteed money, as back problems have plagued him the past several seasons. Still, Crede has a tremendous glove at third base and has a little pop in his bat. Crede was worth 1.9 WAR in just 90 games with the Twins in 2009, and would represent some competition/insurance for David Freese. This is a signing that would make sense for the Cardinals, as the Cardinals wouldn’t likely be on the hook for a lot of guaranteed cash, would have some insurance for Freese, and could still give Freese ample playing time when giving Crede a rest when his back inevitably flares up. Overall Chone expects Freese to have a higher OPS -.777 to .733, but Crede to have the superior glove-5 runs above average to 0.
-The Cubs signed Xavier Nady, who I liked as a potential Matt Holliday replacement back in November. Nady looks to fill the hole created when Reed Johnson became a free agent, and figures to be a nice pickup for Chicago. Look for Nady to platoon with Kosuke Fukudome most of the time, but he also represents insurance in case Alfonso Soriano’s injuries continue to hamper his effectiveness.
-Ben Sheets signed with the A’s-Cardinal fans know Sheets well from his tenure in Milwaukee, and that when he is healthy is a very good pitcher. Sheets was worth 4.4 WAR in his last healthy season of 2008, and cashed in on that potential by inking a one year deal that will pay him 10 million plus in 2010. That may seem like a lot of money from a team like the A’s, but Billy Beane had the cash to spend after missing out on Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre, and Aroldis Chapman this winter. Even if Sheets completely fails, it’s only a one year deal, so it’s not as if this is a potentially crippling contract for the A’s to take on. If Sheets is healthy however, Oakland made a very nice signing. If they are in contention, Beane can hold on to Sheets for a playoff run, but if the A’s fall out of contention, Beane can trade Sheets for prospects. This is what Beane did with Matt Holliday last year, and while Sheets likely won’t command the return that Holliday did, Beane still has a nice potential asset on his hands. Personally I think Beane will trade Sheets if he is having a good year and Oakland isn‘t on the cusp of winning the division. Assuming the economic climate in free agency is similar next year, and Sheets is a type A free agent, the likelihood of Sheets getting a multi-year deal with his medical history is slim. If Sheets is unlikely to get a multi-year deal somewhere, he would be more likely to accept arbitration, where he would receive an increase from his 2010 salary, a risk that the A’s would likely be better off not taking. This provides more incentive for General Manager Billy Beane to move Sheets at the first sign of the A’s falling out of the race.