Last minute shopping in the 'Out of Options' aisle

Otto Greule Jr

Are there any last minute bargains to be had when we look around the league?

With a mere handful of days left until we break the seal on the 2013 season, everyone in and around the game is getting their Opening Day ducks in a row. Players finalize any last-minute tweaks. Fans agonize over At Bat or MLBtv (both, of course). Bloggers run out whatever bottom of the barrel spring training stories they've got left in the tank.

Meanwhile general managers all around the game are watching for one of the most frenzied waiver wire churns of the calendar year, as teams duck and dodge to trim down their rosters. This doesn't just mean the 25 who get the symbolic distinction of heading north (or east, or west) with the big club for Opening Day. These decisions are far more contingent on 40-man roster space. Who made the cut, who did not. Who has options, who does not. See yesterday's trade of Elvin Ramirez trade for a good example.

It kind of resembles a league-wide game of yankee swap -- let's say white elephant to avoid the pun, fitting though it may be. Clubs attempt to, for lack of a better term, flip-flop players -- especially those that are out of options -- who are too valuable to risk losing for nothing on waivers, but do not fill any needs on their current teams. In exchange the clubs seek out other such players who better fit the needs that have not been sufficiently met throughout the offseason.

And so the dance goes, with fourth outfielders, fringe relievers, and platoon sluggers changing hands in a low-stakes game of musical chairs. Many are designated for assignment; some are even given their outright release. In any case, it's often a decent, albeit mostly fruitless, diversion to try to match up the needs of your favorite team with corresponding partners to see if there may indeed be a fit. Rarely will such a last minute move make or break a season -- but come on, people are reporting on a lot worse in these waning days of March.

So the best place to start is with this year's pool of 'Out of Options' players. However, many of those same guys may also be firmly entrenched on a 40-man roster (see, Cameron Maybin). So we also have to figure out which of these guys are either rumored or confirmed to be on the outside looking in as camp comes to a close. In order to do that I cross-referenced the Out of Options 2013 list found over at MLB Trade Rumors with the up to the minute team-by-team depth charts found over at Baseball Prospectus (a simple, yet highly useful resource, I might add). Observe the results below:

Player Position Team
Brett Hayes
C
Royals
Carlos Rivero
1B/3B
Nationals
Brandon Hicks
SS/3B
Mets
Ezequiel Carrera
OF

Indians

Julio Borbon
OF
Rangers
Casper Wells
OF
Mariners
Gorkys Hernandez
OF
Marlins
Clayton Mortenson
RHP
Red Sox
Guillermo Moscoso
RHP
Royals
Brad Mills
LHP
Rangers
Travis Blackley
LHP
Athletics
David Huff
LHP
Indians

Obviously there are more players who may be available who aren't out of options -- a la Brennan Boesch -- but it's much more difficult to realistically speculate on those guys. Otherwise it's pretty much the list of odds and ends we expected to see. Right off the bat we can eliminate many of these players based on positional needs. Any infielders (or catchers) are unnecessary. Brandon Hicks, unnecessary.

The outfield list contains some intriguing names. Gorkys Hernandez is a former Baseball America 62nd overall prospect in '09 who can play a strong center field. However, a career average below the Mendoza Line in 70 games and tools that have seriously regressed in recent seasons have sapped much of his value.

Ezequiel Carrera is a more established, lefty version of Hernandez. Actually the 27 25-year-old started life as a Mets prospect, but was dealt in the J.J. Putz deal. Since then he's posted a couple of marginally valuable seasons on the fringes of Cleveland's outfield, showcasing little power, but excellent speed and defense, as well as the ability to hit like-handed (left-handed) pitching. Basically he's a textbook fourth outfielder.

Julio Borbon is another speedy, lefty-swinging center fielder with a good pedigree. The '09 first round draft pick has always featured outstanding speed and a good bat, in that he hits for decent average and very rarely strikes out. The problem for Borbon has been his inability to stay on the field, which has dropped him behind guys like Martin and Gentry in Texas.

Finally, Casper Wells is a name we've mentioned around these parts before. Another very strong defensive outfielder, Wells fits a different profile in that he possesses much less speed -- meaning he plays more corner outfield -- but much more power than the other three. As such he strikes out a lot more too and boasts a .246 average in 224 career games.

While there's some potential in that group, there probably aren't any names that are definitively better than what the Mets are already running out there currently. For that reason any addition would mean an additional 40-man spot, which is largely out of the question at this point -- though in a vacuum I'd be very inclined to bring in Borbon.

The right-handed relievers are interesting, especially Mortenson who posted a 3.21 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings for the Sox in 2012. Hard-throwing righty Guillermo Moscoso is just a year removed from a 3.38 ERA in 23 games (21 starts) starts for the A's. Yet it seems that -- barring any injuries -- the right side of the Mets bullpen is pretty much set in stone.

Finally, that brings us to the left-handers. This is an area of further interest as it happens to be the role on the team that still has the least amount of certainty around it. In short, beyond Josh Edgin the Mets are still looking for their second lefty -- and Edgin is no sure thing himself. Robert Carson is indeed on the 40-man, yet the guy has followed up a shaky debut with a spring in which he's surrendered an alarming five homers in just 11 innings.

As for the out-of-options players, Brad Mills was recently waived by the Angels and claimed by the Rangers, but seems unlikely to make that club. Yet, the 28-year-old soft-tosser derives his value as a starting pitcher, having made just five major league relief appearances and faring worse against lefties throughout his career. Not a perfect fit.

2006 first rounder David Huff fits the same mold as a finesse lefty that hasn't had much success against lefties. Nor does he translate well to a bullpen role, having appeared in relief just three times in four years. Both of these guys basically equate to current Met Aaron Laffey.

However, that brings us to our final name, Travis Blackley. The 31-year-old Blackley -- who actually auditioned for a role with the Mets a couple springs back -- is coming off a strong season where he posted a 3.96 FIP for the A's in 2012. What's more, the Melbourne, Australia native actually posted a 2.96 ERA in 13 games as a reliever and held lefties to a .241 average with just a pair of home runs on the season.

While it would involve some roster manipulation, there's a good case to be made for Blackley on the Mets Opening Day roster as a second lefty who can retire other lefties and can make the occasional start. In fact, that last tidbit is important; while Blackley may not offer a huge upgrade over Laffey in that first week spot-start for the injured Shaun Marcum he does make the eventual shift into a LOOGY role much more comfortably than does Laffey -- who has posted a career 4.14 ERA in relief work. Therefore, any of the expected roster trimming that will be required to make room for Laffey would work for Blackley as well -- assuming Blackley could be had for a reasonable price considering that the A's will likely lose him for nothing anyway. And hey, if the A's are interested in anyone from the crop of newly available non-core prospects on the 40-man, all the better.

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