Still not much baseball news going on (outside of the 24/7 Roger Clemens drama on ESPN which is fastly turning into a he-said she-said deal) but a few nuggets of information were posted this morning by Henry Schulman of the San Fransico Chronicle on free-swinging-should-be-gold-gloving 3B Pedro Feliz.
Blurb #1 from Schulman:
Contract talks between the Giants and incumbent third baseman Pedro Feliz appear to be stalling. Sources said the team offered Feliz a contract of less than the three years he is believed to be seeking, and no deal was struck despite a deadline imposed by the team.
As much as it pains me to see Feliz in a Giants uniform for another year, it’s not really a surprise to hear that Sabean has at least offered Feliz something. From the early stages of arbitration after Feliz turned down the Giants arb offer, Sabean has been on record as saying that he’s still interested in Feliz but not at the 3-year price that he’s reportedly looking for. 3B is still one of the larger holes on the Giants and outside of Rich Aurilia and Kevin Frandsen, there isn’t really anyone on the current roster or close enough in the minors — Justin Leone aside, who I don’t think the Giants value too much — to play third. I expect Aurilia to further decline because of age and injuries and Frandsen fits better at 2B than he does at third.
Like I said, another year of Feliz isn’t something I’d look forward too, but if the Giants offer him anything, I hope it’s a 1-year deal which seems unlikely to me since he turned down the arbitration offer. 2-years is just too long for Feliz, even with his awesome defense.
A passing deadline does not necessarily mean Feliz is gone, but does mean that with five weeks before spring training, the Giants might have to intensify trade talks for Scott Rolen, Joe Crede or any other third baseman who might be available.
Schulman is speculating here but it might be a pretty good guess at what the Giants might try to do if they can’t find a 3B that they like. First let me say that Joe Crede is an awfully overrated 3B who is still living off his breakout 2006 campaign in which he finally put it all together to hit (.283/.323/.506) which is an OPS+ of 107. He’s tended to hit 20 or so homers per year in his career while hitting around .260 and barely scrapping past a .300 OBP. He also plays above-average defense. Sound like anyone you know? In fact, his career line of (.259/.305/.446) is amazingly similar to what our boy Pedro has done (.252/.288/.433). Just say no to Joe Crede.
At least Feliz has been durable, he’s appeared in 144, 156, 160, 150 games over the last 4 seasons. Crede by comparison has appeared in 144, 132, 150, and 47 games over the last 4 years. In 2007 he missed most of the year because of lower back surgery. Crede has been dinged up over the last 3-4 years and it really didn’t catch up to him until ’07 but he definitely still has durability issues heading into 2008 with his back problems. I’d much rather hang onto prospects and resign Feliz to a 1-year deal (maybe wishful thinking, I’d would only go as far as 1-year with Petey) than send prospects to Chicago for Crede, who isn’t much better than Feliz and has injury concerns.
Schulman also mentions Scott Rolen who’s been one of the most consistent hitters from the mid-90′s to the mid-00′s but who has had some up-and-down seasons over the last few years because of injuries. From 1997-2004 Rolen’s OPS+ never dipped below 119 and peaked at 157 in ’04. He then battled injuries in 2005 which resulted in him posting a OPS+ of 84 in just 56 games. In 2006 Rolen got healthy again, appearing in 142 games and was hitting like his old self, good for a OPS+ of 126. He battled injuries again in 2007, his age 32 season, and had season ending surgery in September to remove scar tissue from his shoulder. He posted an OPS+ of 89 in ’07.
The concerns about Rolen are with his age and injuries. 2006 showed that if he’s healthy, he can still hit but the question remains that after 2007 when’s the next time Scott Rolen is going to be healthy? The shoulder problems have negatively affected his power, his ISO fell to .148 and .133 in his injury years of ’05 and ’07. For his career, Rolen has posted an ISO of .223. Player projection system, ZiPS, is doubtful about Rolen rebounding much in ’08. The system has him down for a projected line of (.255/.331/.397) which isn’t totally uncalled for, Rolen’s age combined with his injuries (he’s always played dinged up but had serious problems in ’05 and ’07) cast a good bit of doubt on whether he can still be a productive hitter. For comparison the Bill James projections have Rolen at (.282/.367/.475) which I think could be a tad optimistic. I’m not a big fan of the James projections, many of them seem really optimistic to me.
Rolen is still under contract for three more years, earning $12M in each year. It’s possible that St. Louis could chip in a few million in the deal but I don’t think they’ll want to chip in a whole lot to move Rolen. The Cardinals need rotation help — with Carpenter coming off injury and Braden Looper in the rotation, you know they need help — and MI help, so the Giants would probably send something like Lowry + Frandsen to St. Louis in a Rolen deal, which might be too steep of a price for a maybe-injured former All-Star third baseman. Though, if Rolen is somehow magically healthy over the final three years of the contract, the Giants could vastly upgrade at third base. Essentially, they’d be trading Lowry (a guy with injury concerns) for Rolen (another guy with injury concerns) and hope that Rolen holds up. I’ll leave that to the Giants medical staff to evaluate, but I can’t see Rolen being healthy over the next three years. His power drop is concerning.
In all the talk of potential trades, I think the Giants could find their best third base option with a player they wouldn’t even have to trade for.
Enter, Morgan Ensberg.
Signing Ensberg is attractive for a couple of reasons. 1) You don’t have to lose prospects in an already weak-ish farm system. The Giants should look to hang onto most of their prospects if they can and definitely not trade them for injury cases like Crede and Rolen. 2) The financial risk is very small. Ensberg could probably sign for a 1-year deal — maybe even include an option if he wants security — in an effort to rebuild his value. He was great in 2005 and if he could even come close to approaching that production again for the Giants he could find some lucrative offers next offseason from other teams.
Ensberg is from California, so playing in his home state might be appealing to him. Also, with a team like the Giants he knows that he’s going to get playing time which is good for his chances of rebuilding his value. He’ll be 32 next year so chances are that he’s not going to vastly improve but he’s a solid buy-low high-reward choice. Ensberg has always gotten onbase, even when he wasn’t hitting for average. He was traded to San Diego last year and managed to post a 109 OPS+, albeit in a very small sample size of 58 AB’s. His combined OPS+ of 2007 was 88, 4 points higher than Feliz’s career OPS+. He’s also a solid defender. ZiPS posted an optimistic projection for him as well, with a line of (.243/.370/.446). That projection might improve a little with a move to Mays Field, as it assumes that Ensberg will play half his games in San Diego. That’s surely worth a 1-2 year deal to find out what he has left.