By November 30th of this year, teams will have to determine whether or not to tender a contract offer to their arbitration-eligible players. If they do not offer a contract, the players become free agents.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com has compiled an excellent list of possible non-tender candidates. Of course, these are just his guesses, so there’s nothing official about this list, but it’s an interesting place to look for possible Astros pickups.
I’ve identified six guys from this list who might be reasonable targets for the Astros to fill immediate needs, should they be non-tendered, plus three others who address less-significant needs.
1. Daric Barton – In parts of six seasons, Barton has put together a slash line of 240/364/370. He’s not a prototypical slugging first baseman – he’s hit just 27 home runs in 1,901 plate appearances – but he doesn’t strike out a lot (16.6% career, though he spiked at 23.5% in 2012), and he makes contact. Barton looked great in 2010 – he had 10 home runs, had a walk rate of 16.0%, a .131 ISO, .360 wOBA, 126 wRC+, and 5.0 fWAR – all career highs. Since then, his power numbers have plummeted as his strikeout rate has spiked (from 1.08 BB/K in 2010 to 0.69 in 2012. ) His slash line in 2010: 273/393/405. In 2012: 204/338/292. If he can regain any of his pre-2011 form at the plate, he’d make a nice addition to the lineup.
2. George Kottaras – Kottaras is sort of a mystery to me. This is a guy who’s never really been able to receive a lot of playing time – edged out by Derek Norris in Oakland during their march to the postseason in 2012, for example. But he’s also a guy with a .205 ISO last year, .207 in 2011. He also topped .330 wOBA in each of those years. The Astros, in their search for a backup to Jason Castro, might be well-served to kick the tires on Kottaras. He’s never had negative fWAR, despite not exactly being a defensive stalwart. He’s got a career slugging percentage of .412, and he gets on base at a .320 clip. Bill James’ projections for 2013 – optimistic even by BIS standards – are 240/345/435 with 357 plate appearances (considering he’s never topped 250 in a season, that’s a bit puzzling, obviously.) But Kottaras is certainly a guy who could back up Castro, maybe even play some DH, and provide a left-handed bat with some pop off the bench. Well worth a look.
3. Casey McGehee – McGehee has worked his way through half of the NL Central – since 2008, he’s played for the Cubs, Brewers, and Pirates, as well as 59 plate appearances for the Yankees in 2012. In his first full season in Milwaukee (2010), he had 23 home runs and 104 RBI in 670 plate appearances. He’s a guy who’s never walked much (7.7% over his career), but has a reasonable strikeout rate of 17.2% in that time. He plays both corner infield positions, and even has 180.2 innings at 2B in his major league career, though his defense isn’t exactly his strength. He puts up good power numbers (career .414 SLG), and could be a candidate for a DH who can spell the starters at first or third.
4. Mark Reynolds – Everyone knows the score with Reynolds. He’s a guy who puts up prodigious power numbers (.240 career ISO), and prodigious strikeout numbers – only 5 times in Major League history has a player struck out 200 or more times in a season. Reynolds has done it three of those 5 times (2008-10). Still, even in a year where he’s considered a non-tender candidate, Reynolds put up an a decent .335 wOBA. In fact, he cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 29.6%. And though he clubbed “just” 23 home runs, do bear in mind that that’s still more than any Astro was able to hit. You have to expect Reynolds to hit in the 230 range next year, with 30+ home runs. Certainly a solid choice for DH.
5. Gaby Sanchez – Sanchez had 19 home runs in both 2010 and 2011, with a career slash line of 269/346/440, but struggled to a 202/250/306 line in 196 plate appearances with Miami in 2012. The Marlins optioned him to the minors in early July and traded him to the Pirates on July 31. He fared much better in Pittsburgh, going 241/323/397 in 130 plate appearances. If Dierkes is correct and Sanchez is in fact non-tendered, I’d be both surprised and delighted, as I happen to think he’s a no-brainer for the Astros. Prior to 2012, Sanchez hadn’t posted a wOBA lower than .342 (though it’s interesting to note that it has become progressively lower in every single season of his career). He plays a decent first base, but could just as easily slot in as a DH.
6. Andres Torres – Torres is a guy who’s seen great heights and great depths. He bounced back and forth between the majors and minors in the Detroit and Texas systems before landing in San Francisco in 2009. In that season, he put together a .374 wOBA season, going 270/343/533 in 170 plate appearances. The following season, he flashed a great glove and swung an equally-great bat, compiling 6.9 fWAR. From there, it’s been largely downhill. 2011 and 2012 were struggles for Torres, even as his strikeout rate has fallen and his walk rate has increased. His ISO fell to .107, his wOBA to .297. He still managed to put up 1.7 fWAR for the Mets in 2012, partially due to his plus defense and baserunning (13 SB), but he still failed to light the world on fire. If the Mets do end up non-tendering him (which I’m not so sure they will,) he’d be an interesting guy to take a look at – he plays all three outfield positions, shows power, steals bases, and hits from both sides of the plate.
And now, for something completely different…
7. Jesus Flores – Somewhere near the bottom of Jeff Luhnow’s offseason shopping list is finding a backup for Jason Castro. There are a few ideas on how this could be done – signing a top-line free agent like Mike Napoli is one way in which it could be done. Signing someone like George Kotteras (above) is another. A third would be to take a look at a guy like Jesus Flores. Flores presents an interesting case because there’s nothing spectacular about him. His career 241/289/375 line describes him pretty well – a guy who’s competent at baseball, but who doesn’t do anything beyond the ordinary. His fielding is reasonable, but not stellar. He’s just 28 years old and he’s served as more-or-less a backup in Washington for the last 6 seasons. In short, he won’t put any pressure on Castro, but would serve as a competent backup. He might not aid much in the growing-up process, like a Rod Barajas type might, but he’s also not completely lost at the plate, on the chance that Castro ends up missing part of the season due to injury.
8. Ben Francisco – If it doesn’t seem that long ago since Ben Francisco was a Houston Astro, that’s because it’s not. After receiving Francisco as part of the ten-player A.J. Happ trade with the Blue Jays, he played just 31 games with Houston before they flipped him to the Tampa Bay Rays for a player to be named later (any minute now). Well, what if Francisco ended up back at Houston at the same time as the PTBNL in his own trade? How incredible and amazing and awful and insane would that be!? The answer, of course, is “very.” Still, I like Francisco’s profile. He plays both corner outfield spots, and every year until 2011, he posted a wOBA over .330. It’s been falling ever since, but I still can’t help wondering if he might make a valuable bench piece.
9. Brendan Ryan – I can hear you all right now. “But… Brendan Ryan is a shortstop! If the Astros don’t need anything, it’s a shortstop!” Hear me out on this. Jed Lowrie, easily the centerpiece of the Houston Astros offense, plays shortstop. He’s actually better at third base, but for now he plays shortstop. With me so far? Okay, good. Now. Jed Lowrie has never put together more than 387 plate appearances in a single season. Why not, you ask? Well, because Jed Lowrie has a tendency to get injured, often in freakish and unfortunate ways. Now imagine, if you will, a scenario in which the very best offensive player on the team (Lowrie) was put in a position (designated hitter) where he would be less-susceptible to freakish and unfortunate injuries. The truth is, Lowrie is not a particularly good defender. He’s got a 1.7 UZR/150 at shortstop; 6.4 at second base; 5.5 at third base. Brendan Ryan, on the other hand, has a 12.2 UZR/150 as a shortstop. He’s not going to blow anyone away offensively. He has a career 244/306/327 line, and went just 194/277/278 in Seattle in 2012. In addition to that, he just had surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, which is particularly unfortunate because that is the elbow with which he happens to throw a baseball. But seeing his name on the non-tender list got my head a-spinning… imagine putting our best offensive player at DH, eliminating his propensity toward freakish injuries, and taking his defensive liabilities off the field at the same time? You have to admit, it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had.
Bill Bergen, a catcher with the Cincinnati Reds (1901-03) and the Brooklyn Superbas (1904-11), is quite possibly the worst position player in the history of baseball.
Now, that’s not to say that Bergen wasn’t without merit. He was considered a superior defensive catcher, and holds the record (6) for most base stealers thrown out in a single game. Of course, he also finished in the top 5 in Passed Balls three times in his career.
But never mind that.
Bill Bergen amassed an 11-year career – 3,228 plate appearances – despite never posting a WAR above -0.6. His career -15.0 WAR places him well at the bottom of position players all-time.
So it seems fitting that the “anti-All-Star” team should be named after him.
I’ve put together a list of the Major League players with the lowest WAR totals so far this season in my all-new “All-Bergen Team.”
It would be a misnomer to call these the worst players in baseball. After all, to really accumulate negative WAR, you have to have some sort of staying power. To even be considered, players had to have a minimum of 100 PA or 20.0 IP at the Major League level.
So these are, instead, the consistently-worst players in MLB this year.
There were a few no-brainers. The two teams (our beloved Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins) with the most players represented (five each) have also been the two teams to have spent the most time in the bottom of the standings. The best team in the AL (the New York Yankees) did not have any representatives at all.
Of course, there were a few surprises, as well. The best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies, had two players on the list. Only three teams did not have any players on the list – as mentioned, the Yankees. But also the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves.
Outside of the Yankees, no team in the American League had fewer than two. Several teams in the NL (the Nationals, Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants) had fewer than two.
Most surprising, perhaps, is that only two of these players – Bill Hall and Jose Lopez – have been released from their teams outright.
Rules for selection were similar to the All-Star game. 34 players, including 13 pitchers, and at least two players from each position. Obviously, there was no rule that each team had to have a representative. I simply laid it all out there.
And now, presenting to you the 2011 Mid-Season(ish) All-Bergen Team, starting today with the American League position players:
Jeff Mathis (LAA). Mike Napoli, The oft-injured Angels’ all-time leader in home runs by a catcher, had a bit of a tumultuous offseason – traded by the Angels to the Blue Jays as part of the Vernon Wells deal (more on Wells later), and then again by the Blue Jays to the Rangers for pitcher Frank Francisco. Part of the reason was to end a long-standing position battle with Mathis, as well as to make room for rookie catcher Hank Conger. The decision hasn’t exactly worked out well for the Angels, as Mathis has lost 2.0 wins this season, more than Napoli (1.3) has won.
Drew Butera (MIN). In Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” hero Dante Hicks is famous for his decree, “I’m not even supposed to be here today.” No doubt Butera feels the exact same way. When perennial MVP candidate, three-time batting champion, and three-time Gold Glove winning catcher Joe Mauer went down with bilateral leg weakness after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, Butera – who never hit above .235 in the minor leagues – was pressed into service. He’s struggled mightily at the plate – so much so that, like Bill Bergen himself, his strong arm never really compensated for it. Bergen ranks 5th in the AL with 37.9% of baserunners caught.
Justin Morneau (MIN). In 2010, a strong season by Justin Morneau was cut short when he suffered a concussion, and it seems as if he’s been battling injuries ever since. There’s no doubt that Morneau – a former MVP – is a very good player when healthy, but the key word is healthy. In his 231 plate appearances this season, he’s managed to go just .225/.281/.338.
Daric Barton (OAK). In three of his four previous Major League seasons, Barton has posted an OPS+ over 100. In the fourth, he managed a respectable 85. The former Cardinals first rounder and Baseball America Top 100 prospect has struggled out of the gate so far this season, however, and was sent down to Triple-A in June, but not before losing .4 wins.
Luke Hughes (MIN). This one is a bit misleading, as the Australian Hughes has actually played more at first base than second for the Twins, but he has played over 147 innings at 2B this season, and has given up .1 runs, which actually isn’t terrible, but the overall AL class is pretty good here.
Jack Wilson (SEA). Wilson is a former All-Star with the Pirates and won a share of the triples crown (tying Juan Pierre and Jimmy Rollins) in 2004. But since moving to Seattle, he simply hasn’t been very good. This season, he’s actually responsible for .1 win above replacement, but again, stiff competition in the AL landed him on the All-Bergen squad. Generally known as a shortstop, he’s played enough innings to qualify, though two of his teammates – Adam Kennedy and Dustin Ackley – have him beaten in WAR at the position.
Chone Figgins (SEA). After the 2009 season, ESPN’s Gordon Edes called Figgins “probably… the third baseman most likely to be in demand, especially given his versatility.” The Mariners snapped him up to replace Adrian Beltre, who had failed to live up to the hype surrounding his 2004 season, when he finished second in the MVP voting to Barry Bonds. Figgins has followed in Beltre’s footsteps, however, and was recently voted by Seattle Magazine as the third-worst player in the history of the franchise.
Brandon Inge (DET). In 2009, Inge was an improbable All-Star, selected in the Final Vote. Two years later, he’s on the DL with mononucleosis and has a batting average below the Mendoza line. His career has been full of these sorts of moments – brilliance followed by impotence. In that same 2009 season, for instance, he entered the Home Run Derby and hit not a single home run.
Felipe Lopez (TBR). Since his 2005 All-Star appearance as a Cincinnati Red, Lopez has been an interesting case study. Now on his seventh team in six seasons (eighth if you count his two Cardinals stints – 2008 and 2010), he entered the season as a fringe player who was expected to serve as a bench player to showcase himself in anticipation of earning a starting nod somewhere in Major League Baseball. He hasn’t done himself many favors, going .216/.248/.320 in his limited playing time.
Reid Brignac (TBR). Just imagine. Had the Astros never traded Ben Zobrist to the Rays for Aubrey Huff, Brignac might well be their starting second baseman today. As it stands, he’s become pretty much the opposite of a super-utility man. Despite the ability to play all over the field, he’s only seen time at shortstop this year for Joe Maddon, and has responded with a 31 OPS+ and a batting average well below the Mendoza line.
Matt Tolbert (MIN). Matt Tolbert was a Freshman All-American at the University of Mississippi in 2002. In 2011, he’s a soft-hitting utility infielder who is hitting just .186/.239/.279 in 141 plate appearances for the Twins, who are struggling with injuries all through their lineup and could probably really use a Freshman All-American right about now.
Adam Dunn (CWS). There can be little doubt that when the Chicago White Sox signed Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56-million contract, they expected more than 7 home runs at the All-Star break, though they might not have been very surprised by the accompanying 103 strikeouts. Dunn has always been a feast-or-famine hitter, but this year is almost entirely famine, as he’s on pace for an OBP almost 50 points lower than his previous career low.
Edwin Encarnacion (TOR). It seems official: If you make a former Cincinnati Red your designated hitter, he’s going to struggle. Like Dunn, Encarnacion was a super-prospect for the Reds once upon a time. He’s struggled with injuries since coming over to Toronto as part of the Scott Rolen trade, and was signed in the offseason by the Oakland Athletics, who non-tendered him before he re-signed with the Blue Jays. No doubt they wish they hadn’t bothered, as his -0.6 WAR makes him – along with Dunn – one of only two Designated Hitters with a WAR lower than the player the Athletics ended up with at the position, Hideki Matsui.
Magglio Ordonez (DET). Ordonez is not a .211 hitter. Ordonez is a career .312 hitter – or at least he was before this season. But this season, he’s more than a hundred points off of his career average. And we won’t even discuss his .286 SLG.
Mike Cameron (BOS). I will always have great respect for Mike Cameron as a player. He’s won three Gold Gloves, with the Mariners, Mets, and Padres, and since 1997, he’s never finished a season with a WAR under 1.0. But this year, he was losing wins on both sides of the ball before Boston designated him for assignment last week.
Rajai Davis (TOR). Rajai Davis has walked just 8 times in 268 plate appearances, and he’s struck out more than six times as often – 51. So it shouldn’t be surprising that his .224/.252/.332 line merits him a starting nod on the All-Bergen team. And yet it is surprising, as he has posted back-to-back .320+ OBP seasons, and in 2009 had an OPS+ of 107. But playing on an aggressive Blue Jays team that led the majors in home runs last year seems to have affected him a great deal. Add to that the -0.8 wins he’s giving up as a defender, and you can see why he’s an All-Bergen this year.
Felix Pie (BAL). It doesn’t seem that long ago when Pie and Angel Pagan were both highly-touted Chicago Cubs prospects, but the “five-tool” Pie has struggled in the Major Leagues. Unable to win the starting center field job from Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds in Chicago, he was traded to Baltimore for Garrett Olson and Henry Williamson prior to the 2009 season. At just 26 years old, Pie still has time on his side, but his numbers have dipped drastically this year from the previous two seasons, in which he posted OPS+ of 98 and 93.
David Murphy (TEX). You still have to think the Rangers got the better end of the 2007 trade that brought Murphy to Texas in exchange for Eric Gagne, as Murphy has finished with an OPS+ over 100 in every season he’s played in Arlington. This year, however, has been one to forget thus far for the lefty, who is slugging just .316, more than a hundred points below his previous career low.
Juan Pierre (CWS). Juan Pierre has always been a frustrating player for fans. Despite a career batting average of .296, he’s never really put it all together, and only twice has he finished a season with an OPS+ over 100. Still, he’s always been able to run. Eleven times, he’s finished a season in the top five in stolen bases, and ranks 29th all-time in career stolen bases. He’s led the league three times, including last season when he had 68. This year, he already has eleven – but it’s come at a cost, as he’s been caught stealing 10 times. The 52% stolen base percentage would easily be the lowest of his career, adding to a pretty frustrating season for a man once considered by many to be the best leadoff hitter in baseball.
Michael Saunders (SEA). Michael Saunders is very young – just 24 years old. So it’s not a cause for great concern when he stumbles out of the gate hitting just .168/.223/.248, especially when it comes with 117 putouts, 1 outfield assist, and 0 errors. But he’ll need to find the stroke he had in Tacoma, where he had an OPS of .922, if he’s going to turn his career around after a rocky start.
Vernon Wells (LAA). Clearly, the Angels were the losers of the Mike Napoli-for-Vernon Wells trade. Not only is Jeff Mathis, Napoli’s successor behind the plate, an All-Bergen, so too is Wells. The three-time Gold Glover is losing 0.6 wins with his glove alone, so the 0.1 he’s gaining with his bat doesn’t carry him very far.
Coming next: N.L. position players.