December, just a couple of weeks or so to Christmas, and the General Managers of major league baseball are doing some window-shopping. John Lackey to the Mets? Roy Halladay to the Rays? Who’ll land Edwin Jackson?
And what will happen with Matt Holliday and Roy Halladay?
Don’t look now but Nick Johnson and Josh Willingham are on the market as well (break up those Nationals!)
Which G.M.’s will buy nice Christmas presents to bring home to the fans?
Well, you know the Mets don’t intend to come home empty-handed, not after such an embarrassingly bad season in their new ballpark, and especially after their cross-town rivals just won another World Series.
Which means they will make some mistakes, and be no closer to winning a pennant next year than they were going into last season.
Now don’t get me wrong, if the Mets could land Willingham or Johnson from the Nats, or John Lackey, or even second baseman Adam Kennedy, most recently toiling away in Oakland, it would represent some improvement of their roster.
But not nearly enough to move within shouting distance of a championship, not without several other moves, and a great deal of luck regarding the health of their players.
The problem with signing any of those players is that they have all been as productive as they are ever going to be, and might never be again. None of them represent a vital infusion of young blood into a rapidly graying franchise.
Yes, I know, David Wright and Jose Reyes are not old. But one might not be completely healthy, and the other suffered a mysterious power outage not seen since the great New York City blackout of ’77.
Lackey has started two consecutive seasons on the D.L. with forearm tightness. Santana was injured last year. There is no one behind them to pick up the slack, unless you think John Maine is due for a comeback.
Nick Johnson has a nice career OBP, but can’t stay healthy. Sound familiar? Willingham is a decent player with little downside and some pop in his bat, but his presence in the lineup is not going to mean more than one or two more wins per season. Adam Kennedy is already 34 years old.
Generally, the smart move in a free agent market is to either sign a truly great talent who has several productive years remaining in his career, or go out and get some bargain basement guys that could produce unexpectedly big payoffs (think Bobby Abreu in Anaheim.)
The middle market guys are often a bust because they are all to frequently coming off of, and hoping to cash-in on, a career year that far exceeded their normal productivity.
Thus, Joel Pineiro will probably be a bust for whomever signs him. Ground ball pitchers with virtually no strikeout ability at all seldom have several consecutive highly productive years ahead of them.
Another danger sign to stay away from is pitchers who had extremely high pitch counts over the course of the season, and then saw their effectiveness decline in the second half.
Edwin Jackson comes to mind. Manager Jim Leyland allowed this young hurler to run up huge pitch counts in the first half of the season, and Jackson’s ERA steadily climbed upward in the second half.
Can you say future arm injury? Not that going after Jackson is a completely bad idea, but it is certainly a buyer-beware situation.
O.K., so how about Jason Bay and Matt Holliday? Well, I know that Bay has been consistently good (but not great) throughout his career, and that the BoSox would like to re-sign him.
But his body type suggests a slugger who will not age well (he has already had knee problems) and, at age 31, his decline could be just a couple of years away. That’s not someone I would spend huge money on. Allowing Bay to walk would also free up some money to work out a deal for Adrian Gonzalez, or to sign Victor Martinez to a long-term deal.
Matt Holliday is a slightly different story. I think he can be a highly effective hitter for another four to six seasons, for the right club in the right league. If I am an A.L. general manager, I have to look at his first few months in an Oakland uniform last season as a cautionary tale of how certain skills don’t always travel well from one place to another.
Still, I think he could hit in Boston, or in Chicago (A.L.) because those ballparks magnify the power potential of good, line-drive hitters. But given the incredible mediocrity of the N.L., any team in that league that could afford to land him should try to do so, post haste.
Finally, how about Roy Halladay? I actually don’t think most fans realize just how underrated this guy is. He is incredibly durable, a true ace, and knows exactly how to pitch in any given situation. He effortlessly gets strikeouts when he needs them, but also frustrates opposing hitters into beating grounders into the dirt (or turf.)
I believe Roy Halladay is a future Hall-of-Famer.
This is the player smart teams will try to land. Although he is not very young (32 years old), I believe he is capable of pitching very effectively for many years to come, and will not appear to have been a bust at the end of his contract.
Over the next few days, we will find out which teams bring home presents that will become heirlooms, and which ones will bring home more junk for future yard sales.
Happy Hollidays, or Halladays, G.M.’s!