Hot Stove Roundup: Uribe, Pelfrey, Floyd ink new contracts
The free agent dominoes continued to fall over the weekend as Friday night's Omar Infante and James Loney contracts were followed by six smaller deals for players of similar profile. Here's a quick take on each in order of the total value of their contracts.
Juan Uribe, 3B, Dodgers: 2 years, $15 million
A rumor surfaced on Saturday that the Dodgers were "considering signing Michael Young as their everyday third baseman," which guaranteed that this signing, the news of which broke later that same day, would be greeted with enthusiasm by the team's fans. Uribe was clearly better than Young in 2013 hitting .278/.331/.438 (117 OPS+) in 426 plate appearances for Los Angeles, compared to Young's .279/.336/.395 (102 OPS+) in 565 PA split between the Phillies and Dodgers. Uribe also played an excellent third base, in stark contrast to Young, who is arguably the worst defensive third baseman in the majors among men still attempting to play that position (which Young shouldn't be).
However, Uribe is still the same player who hit .199/.262/.289 in 474 PA in the first two years of his now-expired three-year, $21 million contract with Los Angeles and who entered 2013 with a .296 career on-base percentage despite spending the first eight years of that career in hitters paradises Coors Field and U.S. Cellular Field. His skill defensively is consistent and unquestioned, but what the Dodgers will get out of him at the plate is a big question mark.
One could blame Uribe's poor 2011 and '12 seasons on hand injuries (he was hit in the left hand with a pitch on May 4, 2011 and his left wrist bothered him for much of the first half of 2012), but 2013 still stands as something of a career year. This past season Uribe posted career highs in on-base percentage, OPS+ and Baseball-Reference.com's Wins Above Replacement. Heading into his age-34 season in 2014, Uribe is likely to experience some regression at the plate. This isn't a terrible gamble on the Dodgers' part, but despite having Uribe in place, L.A. should still be looking to add depth at third base, as long as it doesn't come in the form of Michael Young.
In his last two healthy seasons, Pelfrey has gone 12-26 with a 4.94 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In both of those seasons, his park-adjusted ERA+ was 78 compared to a league average of 100, which ranked in the bottom 10 of all pitchers with 150 or more innings pitched in both seasons. In 2013, his first season in Minnesota, Pelfrey also posted the weakest groundball rate of his career despite being a sinkerball pitcher. The only reason to think that he might be something other than one of the worst pitchers in baseball is that in between those two seasons, he had Tommy John surgery. The Twins clearly view Pelfrey, who will be 30 in January, through the thickest rose-colored lenses imaginable.
Ellis is a nice safety net for 23-year-old rookie Kolen Wong, who is expected to take over at second base. (Matt Carpenter is moving to third in the wake of David Freese's trade to San Diego). Still an outstanding fielder at the age of 36, Ellis has no power, but simply by getting on base and playing above-average defense, he can keep St. Louis at or even above average at the position if Wong falters.
In his two years with the Dodgers, Ellis hit .264/.328/.357 which doesn't look like much until you compare it to the 232/.297/.343 Daniel Descalso gave the Redbirds over the same two seasons. Factor in his defense, and Ellis was worth 2.75 wins above replacement per season in L.A. That's a solid everyday player, which makes him an overqualified backup. The Cardinals didn't need to make many moves this offseason, but the few they have made have been exactly the right ones.
Axford is expected to return to closing in Cleveland. He saved 105 games for the Brewers from 2010 to 2012, but after blowing nine saves in that latter season, he was on a short leash coming into 2013 and lost his closing job with a blown save on Opening Day and three subsequent bad outings in non-save situations. After those first four appearances, he posted a 2.92 ERA and struck out a man per inning over the remainder of the season, but he also had a 1.43 WHIP and allowed nearly half of his inherited runners to score. The pitching-rich Cardinals had Axford sixth on their bullpen depth-chart in the postseason and non-tendered him thereafter. The Indians, meanwhile, already had a strong closer candidate in hard-throwing sophomore Cody Allen. Score another one for Proven Closers.
Floyd had Tommy John surgery on May 8, so the Braves are looking at him as a potential second-half reinforcement for their rotation and insurance against further elbow problems for Brandon Beachy. Beachy made just five starts this past season after his return from June 2012 Tommy John surgery before experiencing further elbow discomfort. He is expected to be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report in February, but Atlanta is right to be cautious.
Floyd, meanwhile, could return as soon as May and has another $4.5 million of incentives in his contract that he could earn after he comes back. If he does return promptly and everyone else (Beachy, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood) is healthy and effective, Floyd could be flipped at the trading deadline. Before his elbow gave out, Floyd was a league-average innings eater for the White Sox, which is about all the Braves can expect from him coming off surgery.
Once one of the top pitching prospects in the game, Chamberlain has been diminished by injury and years of being jerked around by the Yankees. He returned from 2011 Tommy John surgery in August 2012, but in his first full season back he was a disaster, posting career-high walk and home run rates, the former contributing to a 1.74 WHIP, while his rate of strikeouts per plate appearance was his lowest outside of his one full-season as a starter. As 2013 progressed, he became more and more dependent on his once-devastating slider, which had never missed fewer bats than it did this year. Now 28, Chamberlain seems like a lost cause, but he still throws in the mid-90s, so the Tigers, desperate for relief help, took a flier, adding $500,000 of incentives to Chamberlain's base salary.
Incidentally, remember when the Yankees thought Chamberlain would be more valuable as a reliever? Well, he and Phil Hughes, whose career has followed a similar path of injury and disappointment, both hit free agency for the first time this winter coming off lousy 2013 campaigns. Chamberlain signed for $2.5 million. Hughes, who remained a starter, signed with the Twins for $24 million.