A Flurry Of Signings Heading Into The GM Meetings

In the days leading up to Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, several teams have filled holes in their roster by signing available free agents—several of whom were not offered arbitration by their old teams and, thus, will not require their new teams to pay compensation (in the form of draft picks).

The Baltimore Orioles filled a couple of needs as they continued to revamp their bullpen and retained a utility infielder… signing three players this week—all former members of the Boston Red Sox. Reliever Chad Bradford, a righty relief specialist, signed a three year, $10.5 million contract… reliever Scott Williamson signed a one-year, $900,000 contract… and 1B / OF / DH Kevin Millar signed a one year, $2.75 million agreement. Bradford was 4-2, 2.90, for the NY Mets in 2006. Williamson split last year between San Diego and the Chicago Cubs and compiled a 2-4 record, with a 5.72 ERA in yet another injury-shortened campaign. Millar hit .272, with 15 HR and 64 RBI.

The Chicago White Sox signed LF Scott Podsednik to a one-year, $2.9 million contract late in the week. The speedy left fielder hit .261, with 3 HR, 45 RBI and 40 stolen bases in 2006—but his performance last season was a big disappointment for the Pale Hose (after a 2005 season when he hit .290 and stole 59 bases) and there was widespread speculation that the White Sox would cut ties with him for 2007. But after watching the early returns from the free agent market, the White Sox decided to bring him back. GM Kenny Williams said: “It’s just a ridiculous market. It’s beyond ridiculous”.

The Cleveland Indians have signed two relief pitchers in an effort to bolster their bullpen for 2007… adding Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz to the relief corps. Hernandez was signed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract that contains a $3.7 million team option for 2008… the terms of Fultz’ deal were not released. Hernandez went 0-3 with two saves and a 3.11 ERA for Pittsburgh and the NY Mets last year—and for his career he has 326 saves (10th-most in major league history). But although Cleveland is in need of an established closer, GM Mark Shapiro says that Hernandez will go into Spring Training as a set-up man, not as the Indians closer: “It is a possibility that he’ll close some, but that is not the primary intent (of the signing)”. For his part, lefty Fultz went 3-1, 4.54, for Philadelphia in 2006… he gives the Indians the lefty specialist they lacked for most of last year.

The Colorado Rockies signed pitcher Jeff Francis to a four-year, $13.25 million contract (plus a team option at $7 million for 2011) that will carry the young hurler through his arbitration-eligible seasons. The soon-to-be-26-year-old southpaw went 13-11, 4.16 in his third full season in the major leagues in 2006… exceptional numbers for a pitcher who plays half of his games at the elevated heights of Coors Field.

Former Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Craig Counsell eschewed more money and a starting job elsewhere (San Diego) in order to sign as a backup with his hometown Milwaukee Brewers. Counsell received a two year deal for $5.6 million ($2.8 million per season)… plus the Brewers hold a club option for $3.4 for 2009 (it reverts to a player option if Counsell is traded in either of the next two seasons). Counsell explained his decision thusly: “Rickie (Weeks), J.J. (Hardy) and Corey (Koskie) are the starters, but all three have had injury issues. Doug (Melvin) didn’t promise me playing time, but I’m sure there will be opportunities. I could’ve gone to San Diego and been a starter at second base, and it was very tough to pass on that. I know it will be better for the organization if those three young guys play all the time, but I’m ready to back them up. (This is) a great situation for my family because I have three little kids. This is Milwaukee. This is where I grew up. I’ve always loved the Brewers, and getting a chance to come home again was very appealing”. Refreshing.

The NY Mets retained LHP Tom Glavine by signing the Billerica, MA, native to a one-year, $10.5 million contract. Glavine went 15-7, with a 3.82 ERA, in 2006 and is now only ten wins shy of 300 for his career… in the post-season, he went 2-1, with an outstanding 1.59 ERA, in three starts for the Metropolitans. He had considered a change of scenery for 2007—contemplating a return to Atlanta—but ultimately decided to stay in NYC in large part due to family considerations. Under the terms of the contract, Glavine will receive $7.5 million in 2007… the contract contains a $9 million option for 2008 (he gets a $3 million buyout if he doesnt exercise the option… making the overall deal worth a minimum of $10.5 million).

In the City of Brotherly Love, the Phillies signed injury-plagued starting pitcher Adam Eaton to a three-year, $24.5 million contract. Eaton, the 1996 first-round pick of the Phillies in the minor league draft (11th overall), is 54-45, 4.40, over seven major league seasons. Eaton was one of the highest-rated prospects in the minor leagues when Philly traded him to San Diego in a four player deal that netted the Phillies former all-star starting pitcher Andy Ashby back in 1999. He was a disappointing 7-4, 5.12, in 13 starts in his only year with Texas (2006)—another season cut short by injury (he has been on the DL six times in seven years).

The San Diego Padres re-signed utilityman Geoff Blum to a one-year, $900,000 contract. He hit .254 in 2006, including a major league-high of .387 as a pinch-hitter. A former member of the Montreal Expos, Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Blum has a .251 career average, with 66 homers and 311 RBI.

In San Francisco, the Giants signed three players this week: CF Dave Roberts signed a three-year, $18 million deal… 2B Ray Durham signed a two-year, $14 million contract… and 3B Rich Aurilia agreed to a two-year $8 million contract. Roberts, who will forever hold a special place in Red Sox lore for his stolen base in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, hit .293 with 2 HR, 44 RBI and 49 SB for San Diego in 2006… the 35-year-old Durham batted .293, with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs (and a .538 slugging percentage) for SF last year… and Aurilia returns to the organization with whom he first came to the major leagues (1995 – 2003) after hitting .300, with 23 HR and 70 RBI for Cincinatti last year (his best year since 2001).

Seattle signed temperamental OF Jose Guillen—coming off his worst season ever—to an incentive-laden one-year, $5 million contract (there is another $3 million in performance incentives for 2007… and a $9 million option for 2008). Guillen hit a dismal .216—with only 9 HR and 40 RBI —for the Washington Nationals in 2006. He played only 69 games last year because of an elbow injury that required reconstructive surgery at the end of the season. The deal is contingent on Guillen passing a physical exam this week… and if the contract goes through it, Seattle will be his eighth team in nine years… in large part due to his psychotic behavior and the fact that he is considered to be a selfish ballplayer and a bad teammate.

North of the border, the Blue Jays signed shortstop Royce Clayton to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The Blue Jays, thought to be a player in the Julio Lugo sweepstakes as recently as a week ago, has apparently decided to spend the money it would have had to pay Lugo (thought to be $8 – $10 million annually) on pitching instead… thus, Ricciardi turned to Clayton as a bargain basement alternative. Toronto GM J. P. Ricciardi indicated that Clayton would be in the mix to serve as the team’s starting shortstop, but did not preclude bringing in someone else as the starter—potentially relegating Clayton to utilityman status (as a 2B / SS).

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