Saturday, January 3, 2009

Catching up; AL Central moves

Nick Punto signs a 2 year, $8.5 million deal with the Minnesota Twins
Punto offers a glove and can play all of the infield. That's about it. If the Twins are signing him expecting him to repeat 2008, they're going to be very surprised.

2008 Nick Punto offered a .726 OPS, not good, but respectable enough for a good-fielding middle infielder -- though, of course, if that's all the Twins wanted, they could have just kept Jason Bartlett (who received MVP votes for a .690 OPS in 2008, proof that at least one Tampa area sportswriter should face charges before a UN tribunal). So the Twins made a solid $4 million investment in a reasonably productive hitter and a versatile slick glove, right?

Wrong. They invested $4 million a year for an excellent Punto year, and one that wasn't particularly impressive at that. He's only twice cracked the .700 OPS threshold, mustering a .725 in 2006 and a .726 in 2008. In between, when entrusted with the starting job at third base in 2007, Punto mashed a whopping .562 OPS, .210/.291/.271. You read that right, a .271 slugging percentage. Punto can be expected to strike out about once every five at bats, a pretty high rate for such a punchless hitter (compare to players I regard as comparable -- this is probably a completely specious selection, since it proved my point so readily -- John McDonald (25 K in 186 at bats); Mark Grudzialanek (41 K in 331 at bats), David Eckstein (32 K in 334 at bats), he grounded into 10 double plays in 2008, and he has absolutely no power -- his career high for home runs in a season is 2. Lest you be enamored with his theoretical ability to move guys over -- nope, 7 sacrifices of any variety in 2008. So while I urged him as a more sensible alternative than paying Edgar Renteria real money -- let's not get carried away, the real issue was that Renteria is not worth money and Punto can at least field.

Punto at least bought the Twins an insurance policy so that they didn't HAVE to invest in multiple infielders, but they didn't really need one, because they already had Brendan Harris, who's certainly no equal with the glove, but has already shown considerably more offensive potential in his brief run in the majors and the ability to hit for power on a team that's got a dearth of it.

If they keep Punto as the starter, then the Twins should give serious consideration to moving Michael Cuddyer back to third to ensure Denard Span is in the everyday lineup. His production in 2008 was the key to turning the season into a near-playoff run, and although it's unlikely the Twins will put Carlos Gomez on the bench, he shouldn't be displacing Span. Slotting Cuddyer into third with Brian Buscher as an alternative means the Twins have some more offensive potential, though the real solution is putting Carlos Gomez on the bench until his bat can catch up with his glove.

Projected Twins lineup:
RF Span
2B Casilla
C Mauer
1B Morneau
DH Kubel
LF Young
3B Buscher
SS Punto
CF Gomez

Cleveland Indians sign Kerry Wood to a 2-year, $20.5 million contract

Although the Indians probably jumped the gun in signing Wood so early in the free agent period, by doing so, they helped move Mark Shapiro on to other projects that have ultimately been successful.

There’s really only one conclusion to the deal; if Wood stays healthy, it’s a win for the Indians. When Wood has been on the mound, success has always been the result. He’s had one below average season ever, and it was 8 years ago.

The move to the bullpen rejuvenated Wood’s career, he was solid in 2007, though he struggled to spot his pitches. In 2008, he showed pinpoint control, without losing his ability to strike out hitters.

Wood fared better at home than on the road, despite the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, but still posted solid numbers on the road. Wood blew 5 saves in 39 opportunities, certainly not a great proportion, but one that will prove to be a substantial improvement over Joe Borowski and while giving Indians fans far fewer heart attacks.

Wood proved durable, working on back-to-back days with some regularity (even pitching in four straight days in August).

I’m in the minority, but I think Wood was the premier closer on the free agent market. He has the strikeout flair and velocity that Francisco Rodriguez has lost, he has electric stuff even after years of arm problems, and he’s been consistently successful in a way that Brian Fuentes has not. And he’s still only 31. Most of all, he brings some actual force to the closer role. It’s been more than a decade since the Indians had a closer who could strike out hitters at a rate near one an inning. (Trivia buffs – the answer would be 1997’s part time closer Mike Jackson). If you exclude him…the Indians may never have had one. Not Ernie Camacho, Doug Jones, Jose Mesa, Bob Wickman, or the late Steve Olin. They’ve got one now.

Cleveland Indians trade Franklin Gutierrez to the Seattle Mariners for Luis Valbuena and acquire RHP Joe Smith from the New York Mets.

The Indians added a middling middle infield prospect and a relatively local right-handed reliever to fill out the bullpen in front of Kerry Wood for the price of Franklin Gutierrez. Although the return is relatively modest, it appears to be a solid move for the Indians, who are thin up the middle and appear to have completely given up on Josh Barfield.

The submarining Smith has been relatively ineffective in his two years in the Mets' organization. His ERA won't show it, though, having gotten by on sheer fortune. In 2007, despite a WHIP of 1.56, Smith rode a strikeout rate exceeding one per inning to a 3.45 ERA. In 2008, he cut down on baserunners and put sported a 3.45 ERA, but showed a vastly reduced ability to punch out hitters, and a skepticism-inducing 3 unearned runs out of 28 total runs. In 2007, his WHIP was driven largely by an astronomical BABIP (.360), but the reduction had just as much to do with it (a similarly unsustainable .271).

Smith's problem is his control. Although the numbers are skewed by the inclusion of 8 intentional walks in two major league seasons, Smith has a walk rate of just about 4.5 walks per 9 innings, which means a lot of dangerous innings. Smith is also extremely ineffective against left-handed hitters, which could create a tough situation for the Indians, whose left-handed complement to the bullpen currently consists of Rafael Perez and only Rafael Perez. His home run rate should also rise now that Smith is no longer pitching his home games in the vast expanse of Shea Stadium, but Smith has lived as an extreme groundball pitcher, so the difference will likely be one or two home runs at most.

Gutierrez was an enigma. He was a top prospect when the Indians acquired him from the Dodgers for Milton Bradley and had shown flashes of living up to the reputation, putting together a strong season in 2007, but regressed badly in 2008, looking incompetent against breaking balls and showing little ability to hit for power, steal bases, and a continued inability to work counts and draw walks. He was unlikely to warrant playing time over Ben Francisco, Shin-Soo Choo and David Dellucci, so trading him doesn't create much of a problem for the Indians, who would likely play Trevor Crowe in center field if Sizemore went down for an extended period of time.

Kyle Farnsworth signs a 2-year, $9.25 million contract with the Kansas City Royals (with a $8 million club option for 2010 with a $500,000 buyout)

Dayton Moore is making his case for joining the worst GMs in the World list – should it be extended to a Top 5, his 2008 is making him an obvious selection. Here, he’s buying a pitcher with electric stuff and absolutely no track record for success. Farnsworth has put up a career ERA of 4.47 and a WHIP of 1.40, surrendered a lot of home runs (particularly in recent years) and issued far too many walks. He put up respectable numbers in 2008 with the Yankees, who still fell all over themselves trying to trade him to the Tigers, with whom he put an astonishingly bad run (ERA of 6.75, WHIP of 2.00 in 16 innings pitched)

Aside from half a season in Detroit in 2005, Farnsworth’s only successful seasons have been in the National League.

The good news for the Royals is that after a brief plunge in his strikeout rate in 2007, Farnsworth was back to his usual strikeout an inning in 2008. The bad news is that he allowed 15 home runs in 60 innings in 2008. His fly-ball tendencies won’t be nearly as cataclysmic in Kauffman Stadium, which was the second worst park for hitting home runs in 2008, but home runs have never been Farnsworth’s primary problem, so the number was likely to plunge in 2009 anyway.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Catching up; NL East Transactions: Ibanez, Putz, Cabrera, Moyer

Philadelphia Phillies sign Raul Ibanez to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract.

Pat Burrell was exactly what the Phillies needed in their lineup, a batter who can work counts, hit for power, and swings well against left-handed pitchers. He wasn’t a great defender, but he had a phenomenal arm once he got to balls, catching more than a number of baserunners dead to rights when they simply assumed he could never hobble to the ball in time.

Raul Ibanez is a left-handed batter who hits for less power, draws fewer walks, but makes more contact. He is a similarly dreadful defender in left field, is even older than Pat Burrell and runs only marginally better than Burrell, whose parting moment as a Phillie was an inside-the-park home run in Game 5 of the World Series that Burrell barely turned into a double.

Ibanez, like Chan Ho Park and Jamie Moyer below, are players that Ruben Amaro is in love with based on their 2008 performances. Although Ibanez has been a perpetually solid hitter since he actually cracked an everyday lineup in Kansas City, he doesn’t fit the Phillies’ needs, because aside from the 2008 season (where Ruben Amaro witnessed a .305 against lefties /.288 against right-handers split, he’s never hit left-handed pitching all that well (.268/.293 career numbers)). Ibanez is still likely going to lead to Charlie Manuel using Eric Bruntlett in left field (to the extent he’s not filling in at second base for Chase Utley), so he didn’t resolve the biggest gripe that the Phillies could have with Pat Burrell. Though I’d never have thought it possible, it looks like Ibanez has been just as streaky as Burrell the last two years (for instance, Ibanez put up the following lines:.396/.452/.703 in August 2008; .233/.292/.301 for a woeful OPS of .593 in September 2008; .184/.241/.262 in July 2007; .374/.447/.682 in August 2007). Before that, his numbers fell far more in the .750-.890 range on a monthly basis.

Ibanez is a fine player and although he’s 36, he probably feels younger than Pat Burrell on a daily basis considering Ibanez’s slow rise to the majors and just as slow rise to everyday status in the major leagues. But it’s hard to envision him putting up numbers that match Burrell’s. He’s not going to draw as many walks (admittedly, he’ll strike out considerably less, but with Howard in front of him once Utley returns, this just increases the double play possibilities since Ibanez is much more of a ground ball hitter than Burrell). He’s not a fly ball hitter like Burrell, which means he’s not ideally suited to play in Philadelphia anyway, and he’s ultimately going to prove to be equally expensive. While Amaro could have come up with a way to respectably pass Burrell’s torch, signing an equally costly player with the same deficiencies but less upside was not it.

Philadelphia Phillies sign Jamie Moyer to a 2-year, $18 million contract; Philadelphia Phillies sign Chan Ho Park to a 1 year, $2.5 million contract potentially worth $5 million

If there is a single transaction representing just how out of touch Ruben Amaro is with the 2009 free agent market, well, there’s actually two, and for convenience, I’ve lumped them together.

The Moyer deal represents a matter of loyalty. I’d said all offseason that the Phillies had to re-sign Moyer, he represented so much of their success in 2008 and the market was unlikely to be competitive.

And, indeed, there were no signs that the market was competitive, but Amaro still coughed up an astounding $18 million for a pitcher who will be a month shy of 48 when the contract lapses.

Moyer was bafflingly successful in 2008, putting up a 3.71 ERA, 16-7 record, and a WHIP of 1.33. That said, most of that success was on the road, where Moyer’s ERA was more than a run and a half below his ERA at Citizens Bank Park. It wasn’t merely home runs either (11 allowed at home, 9 on the road), Moyer just allowed more hits (109 in 91 2/3 innings at home; 90 in 104 2/3 innings on the road).

The Phillies can expect a regression to the mean, an ERA somewhere at least half a run higher than 2008 (and even a run and a half wouldn’t be shocking), but they can expect Moyer to last into 5-6 innings in every start that’s not in the playoffs. He won’t walk a ton of batters, he probably won’t give up a ton of home runs (Moyer’s 2004 season stands as one of the great aberrations in history), and he is likely to make 32 starts, even at the age of 47 (he hasn’t missed a start in…at least 7 years). But he’s not going to pitch deep into games and he’s not the kind of guy who can stop a losing streak. And in this market, he was not a guy who is going to get a $9 million contract anywhere else.

Chan Ho Park is 7 years removed from being a competent pitcher. Although moving him to the bullpen has let him scatter his ineffectiveness and pin inherited runs allowed on the pitcher preceding him, Park has shown no real signs of success since he signed his preposterous contract with the rangers.

Like Joe Smith (now of the Indians), Park represents a player whose ERA is truly deceiving. In 2008, he had a 3.40 ERA, but had a WHIP of 1.40, allowed 12 home runs and 7 of the 43 runs he allowed were unearned. Anytime you see a number that high in the unearned runs column, you have to wonder just how unearned they really were, particularly when that’d push his ERA up more than half a run. Park is historically a pitcher who allows a fair number of fly balls, which would not play well in Philadelphia (especially compared to Los Angeles). While 2007 is likely an aberration, 2008 appears just as anomalous, so unless Park took 35 years to learn to keep the ball down, the name on Chan Ho’s jersey will tell you where his pitches will be leaving.

The Phillies have said Park will have a chance to compete for the fifth starter job, but I have to write this off as the same story we heard about Chad Durbin in 2007. If the Phillies want a lousy fifth starter who’s made a name for himself with an unwarranted contract, they already have Adam Eaton. In Park, they have another pitcher to keep Clay Condrey from pitching in meaningful games and insurance against Durbin being overworked again in 2009. But at the price they paid, with incentives that could double the value of the contract, and Park’s age, the Phillies would have been better suited to sit this one out. The Phillies are already among the oldest teams in baseball with Matt Stairs, Jamie Moyer, Raul Ibanez, Methuselah, and Grandma Moses among the players certain to crack the 25-man roster, adding a marginally effective for one year reliever who doesn’t even have the hope of angling for another big contract was not the move to make.

Phillies projected Opening Day lineup, pitching rotation and bullpen:
SS Rollins
CF Victorino
LF Ibanez
1B Howard
RF Werth
3B Feliz/Dobbs
C Ruiz
2B Bruntlett/Donald

With Utley, Ibanez should drop to 5th in the Pat Burrell slot, Werth/Dobbs, Feliz, and Ruiz would drop down.

LHP Hamels
RHP Myers
LHP Moyer
RHP Blanton
LHP Happ/RHP Carrasco/RHP Eaton/RHP Kendrick

RHP Lidge
RHP Madson
LHP Romero
RHP Durbin
LHP Eyre
RHP Park
RHP Condrey

NY Mets Acquire RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Sean Green and OF Jeremy Reed from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for RHP Aaron Heilman, OF Endy Chavez, LHP Jason Vargas, INF Mike Carp, OF Ezequiel Carrera and RHP Maikel Cleto. The Mets also sent RHP Joe Smith to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.

The Mets swung a big deal the day they acquired K-Rod that gave them one of the best closers in baseball, and it certainly wasn’t the Rodriguez signing. In exchange for players that the Mets considered expendable (only Heilman being an impressive major league player at any point in his Mets career; Chavez is a decent defender, Smith was overrated), they landed an expensive setup man in J.J. Putz and a once-promising center fielder in Jeremy Reed.

The prospects they lost have some promise but are far from sure things – Carp is still only 22, but hit well in his second run through AA Binghamton, neither Carrera nor Cleto cracked Baseball America’s top 30 list for the Mets last year.

With apologies to C.C. Sabathia, Putz was baseball’s best pitcher in 2007 (or at least the most successful), even if he didn’t warrant the Cy Young, and he was nearly as good in 2006. 2008 was less successful, since Putz missed a chunk of the season with arm injuries and the Mariners floundered to become one of the worst teams in baseball. Still, Putz was respectable, bouncing back from a horrible start to post a 3.88 ERA. What’s more, his 2008 numbers resulted in part from a ludicrously high BABIP of .360 (that said, 2007’s numbers resulted from a .205 BABIP, so the real Putz is somewhere in between there two). In any event, even 2008 J.J. Putz should be closing, not Francisco Rodriguez.

Sean Green has not proven much as a right-handed reliever in the majors the last two years. He doesn’t strike batters out, he walks a fair number, and he couldn’t get lefties out at all in 2008. But, like Putz, his year-by-year numbers are less glaring, so it’s possible he could become a one-inning guy who pitches the 6th or 7th for the Mets.

Jeremy Reed was once projected to win multiple batting titles (thank you, Baseball Weekly), but has now been reveled as a Brian Anderson clone who can’t hit for any power, doesn’t hit for much of an average and isn’t even adept at stealing bases (19 steals in 37 career attempts). He doesn’t hit left-handers at all, and he doesn’t generate much against right-handed pitchers (.275/.330/.392 career against right-handed pitchers). He’ll likely fill the Endy Chavez role.

The deal should be a good one for the Mets, at least until it becomes clear whether Mike Carp can be an everyday first baseman in the Majors (particularly since the Mets will need a first baseman after Delgado’s contract runs out in 2009). Putz is locked down for 2009 with a team option for 2010, Green and Reed are league minimum players for now.

New York Mets acquire Connor Robertson from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Scott Schoeneweis

Schoeneweis became yet another scapegoat for problems that really reflected the incompetence of an entire bullpen. He’s hardly a dynamite reliever, he lacks strikeout punch and walks more than you’d like, but he’s also the kind of pitcher who has the potential to be effective for a long time, because his success isn’t premised on great stuff.

In exchange for Schoeneweis, the Mets landed Connor Robertson, who has a whopping 9 innings of major league experience and is now in his third organization in a span of 363 days. While the organization hopping is a bad sign, Robertson has shown tremendous strikeout potential in the minors, averaging over a strikeout an inning without showing any signs of control problems for much of his career. 2007, however, he walked a batter every two innings, which portends ill for the not-so-young right-hander (he’s 27 and will be 28 by the end of the 2009 season). After moving in leaps and bounds in his first few minor league seasons, Robertson has plateaued as a middling reliever in AAA, putting up ERAs of 4.35 and 5.02 respectively. He’s not likely to give up a lot of home runs and does a good job keeping his fastball down, but has enough trouble with singles and doubles that he’s not likely to be much more than a 12th man in the Mets bullpen in the foreseeable future.

Daniel Cabrera signs a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals
If you were a fan of pitching living along the Beltway and you could have chosen to drive to home games at either Camden Yards or Nationals Ballpark, you likely are no longer with us to read of this signing, having elected suicide rather than either road trip. So you wouldn't be here to shrug your shoulders, knowing that Daniel Cabrera, he of the electric stuff with absolutely no command is moving about 40 miles to the southwest.

Cabrera is no longer a player who projects well, he's worked with some impressive pitching coaches during his run as one of the least competent starters in the game with strikeout stuff. And the real news that is hidden by his lousy season in 2008 was that he didn't even strike batters out. After years of 157 and 166, Cabrera notched only 95 strikeouts in 180 innings. If it was because he was emphasizing control, it didn't show, since he still walked 90 batters in that span -- giving him a pathetic 1.05 K/BB ratio and a K/9 number of 4.75, down 2 1/2 strikeouts from 2007, which was itself down 2 from 2006. Cabrera managed 10 "quality starts" in 2008, but also managed 8 starts with 6 or more earned runs.

So, plummeting K rate, no control, wildly inconsistent...any upside? Not much. He's 27, so it may be that he's just going to hit his stride in 2008, but it'd be truly astonishing, considering that he's not a raw 27 -- he's already made 146 major league starts. He's got three pitches, but he can't locate them. He's never pitched in relief, so it's not clear whether he'd be able to transition to being a setup man. He has been pretty healthy, having started 64 games in the last two seasons, but any pitcher of his size is a risk for back problems as his career drags on.

Nationals Projected rotation:
LHP Lannan
RHP Balester
LHP Olsen
RHP Cabrera
RHP Martis/RHP Hill/RHP Bergmann

Florida Marlins sign Scott Proctor to a one year deal potentially worth $1 million

Apparently finding Joe Nelson too expensive (though he ultimately signed for a whopping $1.3 million), the Marlins signed a potential replacement from the Dodgers for a $750,000 base salary. Proctor was ineffective in 2008, largely because he simply walked too many batters. After showing good control in 2006, when he was overworked to the tune of 102 innings in 83 appearances for the Yankees, Proctor walked 44 in 95 innings in 2007 and then 24 in only 38 2/3 innings last year. With the wildness has come an increase in strikeouts, so it may just be a change in approach now that he’s no longer an everyday pitcher in the bullpen, but more likely the drop in role had to do with the shoddy performance.

There’s a good chance that Proctor won’t ever bounce back, plenty of pitchers have faded after being worked too hard, and two years of 90+ innings is a lot for a reliever these days. Last year he missed extended time with elbow issues in his throwing arm, and was ultimately left off the Dodgers’ playoff roster…which wasn’t exactly dripping with veteran pitchers. Proctor also gave up loads of home runs considering the cavernous park he called home in 2008; every time he took a mound outside of Los Angeles, the ball seemed to find the seats. The good news for the Marlins is that Dolphins Stadium is just about as pitcher-friendly. The bad news is that the Marlins have a schedule involving a shocking 81 road games in 2009.

To the extent he has value left, it comes from his ability to work solid innings rather than only pitch to right-handed batters. The batting average against Proctor over the course of his career is nearly dead even, with lefties batting .248 and right-handed batters batting .247 against him. This gives the Marlins an opportunity to fill out the 7th or 8th inning and gives them an alternative to lefty Leo Nunez and right-handed Logan Kensing, but they can’t consider it a particularly certain solution.

In all, the deal makes sense, at this point, even Gary Majewski is potentially getting $750,000, Proctor certainly will be better than Majewski if he can get his arm healthy. His September was promising, Proctor posted a WHIP of 1.00 and an ERA in 2.57 in his 8 September appearances, but the sample size and the fact that Proctor has always been overvalued by his biggest fan (Joe Torre) will keep him from being a tide-turner in the Marlins’ bullpen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Momentary lapse into rage...

Reading on the Teixeira signing that I discuss below, I saw this link.

If there is any proof on this planet that democracy doesn't work, it is that any vote not rigged by Diebold resulted in Aaron Boone's home run to defeat the Red Sox in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS being voted the most memorable moment in Yankee Stadiums I & II. Were the question restricted solely to Yankee Stadium post-renovation, it's plausible, but the Boone home run was considered the greatest moment in both incarnations of Yankee Stadium.

Having not been alive for many moments of significance at Yankee Stadium, I am limited to a mere three moments that ARE UNQUESTIONABLY more impressive that I am generating from memory (I now see the others are listed, but to prove the preposterousness at hand, I decline to read them).
1. Don Larsen - October 8, 1956 - throws a PERFECT GAME (one of seventeen in the history of baseball) in the WORLD GODDAMN SERIES.
2. Babe Ruth farewell speech to baseball (come on)
3. Lou Gehrig farewell speech (this is one of the greatest moments in baseball... period)

Then there's oh...
4. The possibly apocryphal called shot home run from Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series.
5. Roger Maris swats home run number 61 off Tracy Stallard (ok, this isn't from memory, I had to look up that it took place at Yankee Stadium, but damn it, it did)
6. Most of the 2001 World Series
7. Hell, the 1977 World Series.
8. The 2000 World's a Subway series, proof that we can have a World Series that interests no one in 47 states (New Jersey and Connecticut, I'm sure, were tuning in).
9. Josh Hamilton receiving fellatio from Rick Reilly during the 2008 Home Run Derby, which he lost. This is more important because of the irony content. Baseball officially reached post-modernism here.

Teixeira, the Worst GMs in the World, Majewski

We might as well start with the most baffling signing of the day. No one saw it coming and it’s turned the tide of how we look at the 2009 season.

The Phillies sign Gary Majewski to a minor league deal.

Apparently Adam Eaton doesn’t suffice? The Philadelphia Phillies, who have a well-stocked bullpen after re-signing Scott Eyre and adding Rule 5 draftee Robert Mosebach to the mix, are apparently antsy to add another one of the worst pitchers in baseball to their already-elderly minor league system.

Majewski hasn’t been anything but the worst pitcher in baseball for the last two and a half seasons, so what the Phillies are hoping shows up in Clearwater next year is a complete mystery. Excluding errors, 79 of 192 batters who faced Majewski in 2008 reached base for an OBP against of .412. Similarly, in 2007, 49 of 113 batters faced Majewski reached base (.434). In 2006, it was a mere .364 for the combined season, but after he was acquired by the Reds, he became the proverbial gasoline on the fire and the fire itself, sporting a modest WHIP of 2.27.

Taking a look at sabermetric numbers makes it seem like Majewski might be salvageable, since his BABIP in the last three years has been .323, .422, and .391. That said, there are essentially three reasons BABIP can be high – random chance (e.g., bad luck), poor fielders who just don’t get to balls, and a pitcher being hit really hard. I’m laying heavy odds that it’s the third category at issue for Majewski, partly because the BABIP against him should be low since he allowed 6 home runs (which, of course, are not “in play” as far as BABIP is concerned).

Majewski was part of the inaugural USA team for the World Baseball Classic. Let me be the first to suggest he’s not getting invited this year.

The second signing – nearly as baffling.

The Nationals sign Corey Patterson and Jorge Sosa to minor league deals.

It’s official. The two worst GMs in baseball are Ruben Amaro Jr. and Jim Bowden. It’s taken Amaro mere weeks to crack this list, it’ll take a Raul Ibanez MVP year to get him off it (unfortunately, if you should only get your news from this blog, you don’t know the Phillies signed Raul Ibanez – well, they did. It was bad. We’ll get to that in a few days.) It should only take Stan Kasten coming to his senses to remove Bowden from the list and the employment rolls.

Corey Patterson is the ultimate Dusty Baker player – he doesn’t clog the bases, because he never gets on the bases, and he steals bases with reckless abandon (in 2008, the emphasis was on reckless, he got caught stealing 9 times in 23 attempts). The fact that he didn’t even last under Dusty Baker should really tell you plenty. He doesn’t work counts, he doesn’t draw walks, he’s a terrible leadoff hitter, but he hits for some power, flashes tremendous tools, and is good defensively. Since the Nationals already have Ryan Langerhans, in other words, he is completely and utterly useless. But he’s got a contract for $800K waiting for him if he should somehow make the Nationals’ major league club. The good news for the Nationals is that he shouldn’t have much of a shot to do that with big contracts (Wily Mo Pena for $4 million, Austin Kearns for $8 million), acceptable talent (Lastings Milledge, Josh Willingham, and Elijah Dukes), and utility players (Willie Harris) blocking the path. The bad news is that if those things were enough to ward him off, they should have already done so.

Patterson was tremendously terrible last year, posting a .238 ON BASE PERCENTAGE. This number would rank below such luminaries of batting as Bronson Arroyo (.246 OBP), Seth McClung (.263), Aaron Cook (.258), Manny Parra (.255), Tim Redding (.250), and Jason Marquis (.242). In case you were unaware, Mr. Bowden, Jason Marquis is available and you just non-tendered Tim Redding, who offered superior offensive output to Corey Patterson.

The other minor league deal went to living proof of a Leo Mazzone effect – Jorge Sosa – who has had one good major league season. That season was 2005, the only year he was in the Braves organization simultaneously with Leo Mazzone. The next year, Mazzone left for the Orioles, and with him went Sosa’s ability to pitch. Sosa doesn’t have strikeout stuff, doesn’t have great control, but is really just erratic. In 2007, he walked 41 batters in 112 innings; in 2008, he walked 11 in 21. His strikeouts have been in steady decline since 2004, so he’s not likely to be a back-end contributor to the bullpen, but he may figure in the 5th starter competition or in the “who is this year’s Jesus Colome” reality show that will be spring training in Brevard County.

One other minor deal was transacted today, with Mark Teixeira signing with the New York Yankees for a mere 8 years and $180 million.

This one’s not hard to explain. The Yankees have money, they have no real first baseman, and they had an opportunity to take something away from the Red Sox.

Teixeira, I think, is a pretty overrated signing for the amount of money that we’re talking in this deal. He’s still young, but he sacrificed much of his value by moving to first to vacate third base for Hank Blalock a few years ago. He’s an excellent fielder at first base and he’s an excellent hitter, so I’m not criticizing Teixeira, just noting that he’s not really a savior to a franchise (which is why this deal is a huge benefit to the Orioles and Nationals).

Aside from the obvious stats that jump out at you, Tex offers two big upsides – patience and durability. He draws a lot of walks and is becoming more patient at the plate as he’s developed and he has never missed much time with injuries (and had played in 507 straight games until straining a hamstring in 2007). He’s primarily a fly ball hitter, but it’s hard to tell how that will fly in New Yankee Stadium Redux. I’m sure it will not be a major difficulty.

Dave Cameron projects that Teixeira will likely mean an extra 4 wins for the Yankees every season. I think the vital factor isn’t that he means extra wins for the Yankees as much as he means fewer wins for the Red Sox, who will have to hope that David Ortiz can once again become a 1.000+ OPS hitter. Maybe Eric Gagne left some vials behind, because lord knows there’s nothing the least bit suspicious about David Ortiz’s emergence.

I’m not among those who thinks the Teixeira signing makes the Yankees the favorites in the AL East. They still have a profoundly pedestrian outfield and DH – I’d rank Damon/Matsui/Cabrera/Nady among the middle of the pack in outfields – closer to Sizemore/Choo/Francisco/Dellucci than Mantle & Maris, a gaping hole at catcher on days that Posada is out (which may be every day, for all we know), a bullpen with only two components (Marte and Rivera), no minor league talent on the verge of contributing in the event of an injury, aging players like Posada and Rivera who are on their last legs, a woefully deficient defense up the middle in the infield (Jeter can’t make plays to his right, Cano can’t make plays on the baseball diamond), and they’re relying on A.J. Burnett to make all of his starts. They’ll be good. But they’re not exactly shoo-ins.

Nothing has changed in the 8 years of not winning the World Series. Rooting for the Yankees is still like rooting for a terminal illness – it’s never in doubt that they’re going to win, it’s just a matter of how long the baseball collective can stave it off.

Projected Yankees’ lineup:
LF Damon
SS Jeter
1B Texeira
3B Rodriguez
DH Matsui
C Posada
RF Nady
2B Cano
CF Cabrera

Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting Caught Up: AL East Moves

AL East moves:
C.C. Sabathia signs a 7 year, $161 million contract with the dreaded New York Yankees
Well, all Sabathia's talk of wanting to play on the West Coast and wanting to play in the National League led to him signing with the Yankees, who don't even want their pitchers batting in Interleague games.

There's not much to say, if there's a pitcher worthy of a 7-year contract, it's Sabathia, who has proven himself to be the best pitcher in all of baseball over the last two seasons. Sabathia would have been a shoo-in for the National League Cy Young Award if he'd managed to get the season to be a month longer, dominating the league even when pitching on three days rest. He has weight issues, but has managed to pitch well even at 300 pounds.

Sabathia has never had a major injury -- the longest he's been sidelined was a few weeks with a strained oblique. Sabathia's biggest deficiency is that he's not a strikeout an inning pitcher (at least he wasn't until 2008). He also has some concerns arising from the pitcher abuse points he's piled up in the last two years.

The problem for the Yankees is that they didn't really secure a 7-year contract, they have a contract where Sabathia can opt out after three years, holding the Yankees hostage for more money. So although Sabathia is the kind of pitcher who seems likely to be worth the 7-year deal, the way the deal is structured means there's no real way the Yankees can win on this deal, short of winning the next three World Serii.

A.J. Burnett signs a 5 year, $82.5 million deal with the New York Yankees
For all the buzz the Sabathia deal got, the Burnett deal is way underhyped as being one of the dumbest investments ever made by anyone ever. For whatever deficiencies and Enron had, at least there was an opportunity to believe those items could someday be worth the money they're

Burnett, on the other hand, should be facing grand larceny charges in the New York Supreme Court shortly.

It's not that he's not a good pitcher. By all accounts, A.J. Burnett is a good pitcher. But "good" isn't worth $17 million a year on this market, particularly when "good" is followed the by the asterisk that Burnett has, which is that he's had three seasons over 200 innings in 7 full years in the majors. Every time he's done it, he then follows with two injury-plagued years, and then woo! -- contract year -- stays healthy, throws 200 innings, and signs a new deal. The real bad news for the Yankees is that he's coming off his 220+ inning season.

For a team like the Yankees, Burnett doesn't make sense. The reason they needed pitching is because their young pitchers haven't shown the ability to pitch well in the majors on a regular basis and the other pitchers suffered a spate of injuries. So they add an aging (32 as of opening day) starter who has never managed to stay healthy for long. Sure, he makes the rotation look good on paper, but that's where most of his accomplishments will be.

If you want to see what the Yankees have acquired, I think the baseball-reference comparables are spot on here, though they really should mention Carl Pavano just as a reminder to Yankees fans. Juan Guzman -- lasted 9 years in the majors, missed large chunks of several seasons with injuries and was finished at 34. (Sounds like Burnett to me). Ben Sheets -- good pitcher, strikes out batters, gets himself out of games with injuries -- will be signed for way less than 5 years and $82.5 million, probably around an $11-12 million per year pitcher this offseason -- on a one or two year deal. (Sounds like Burnett to me.) Ben McDonald -- pitcher with
tremendous stuff that never really achieved up to his stuff. Lasted 8 seasons in the majors, then retired after an injury. (Sounds like Burnett to me.) #4 is intriguing -- Randy Wolf. He doesn't have the strikeout potency of A.J. Burnett, and you have to be concerned about anyone who put up a 4.74 ERA pitching for the Padres, but he seems like another candidate for "much safer risk" for the Yankees and at a considerably smaller contract. Plus, he knows the subway system and has lost loves to rediscover. Most similar by age for A.J. Burnett right now is Pete Harnisch, who went on to have two more good seasons and then have his career basically finished.

I suppose it's possible that Burnett stays healthy for the duration of his five year deal. But coming off Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, and all the rest that forced the Yankees to trot a rotation of Darrell Rasners and Ian Kennedys to the mound in recent years, I'd have thought the Yankees would have focused their dollars on someone who might actually produce for most of their contract. Instead, they're out a first round pick (which is where their willingness to spend limitless amounts of money SHOULD be helping them build a non-terrible farm system, but has not) and have landed a player who might win 60 games for the Yankees during the span of his contract.

Yankees projected rotation after these moves:
LHP Sabathia
RHP Wang
RHP Burnett
RHP Chamberlain
RHP Hughes

Matt Clement signs a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays

This deal makes sense if Matt Clement isn't really interested in having much competition for the rotation, because injuries to Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum that have depleted what could have been an excellent rotation. But at the same time, it's not a major league contract and it's for a team that's very unlikely to contend because of the aforementioned pitching injuries. So my best guess is that Clement wants to get traded in July to a contender.

Clement was ineffective in 2006 before he went down for 1 1/2 seasons, but has the potential to be a strikeout an inning pitcher if he's right. There's no evidence he can put up those kind of numbers in the American League, though, so I wouldn't hold my breath. The Blue Jays should be happy if he can put up about 170 innings and win a dozen games.

Projected Blue Jays' Rotation:
RHP Halladay
RHP McGowan?
LHP Purcey
RHP Litsch
RHP Clement

The Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers for Matt Joyce
Well, this may put an end to rumors of the Rays pursuing major free agents like Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, or even Jason Giambi. The Rays have acquired their outfielder, and his name is Matt Joyce. While it's not impossible that the Rays could still pony up the money to add a name, the Jackson move seems more like a move made out of necessity than one they simply couldn't pass up because of the value added in return.

The move seems questionable, unless the Rays are really confident Joyce will turn into more than a AAAA platoon piece. That said, they're giving up a player who had absolutely no value before last season and they turned him into a 15-20 home run platoon outfielder who is two years from arbitration. From a financial standpoint, it's an exemplary trade. At the same time, it seems to point out how improbable a return Series run would be for the Rays. They can't afford to take chances on marginally expensive players like Edwin Jackson and are forced to effectively slot more maybe guys into their right field revolving door.

Right now, the roster doesn't have a hitter who's logical to pair with Joyce in a platoon in right field, so perhaps the Rays will give him an opportunity to hit against lefties, but the Tigers were deathly afraid of it apparently (25 AB against left-handers in 242 AB). The best guess to platoon would be Ben Zobrist (.269/.356/.449 against lefties in 78 AB) or maybe Fernando Perez, but neither of those players offers any real power potential, so there'd still be a significant hole in the lineup.

Joyce is a solid enough defensive outfielder that he'd be likely to displace Gabe Gross (who's the presumptive DH if the season began tomorrow -- again, this Rays team will not be returning to the World Series in 2009), but is not going to have the range of a Fernando Perez.

Projected Rays Lineup:
2B Iwamura
LF Crawford
CF Upton
3B Longoria
1B Pena
RF Joyce/Zobrist
C Navarro
DH Gross
SS Bartlett

The Baltimore Orioles sign SS Cesar Izturis
The Orioles cycled through a number of ineffective defense-first shortstops last year but apparently want to stop the cycle by paying one defense-first no-hit shortstop enough to pre-empt other players.

Izturis had a bad offensive season in 2008, but it was one that showed tremendous consistency with his prior ineffectiveness as an offensive player (.628 OPS in 2008, .629 career OPS). Apparently the Orioles see him as a safer bet than the lousy offensive shortstops they trotted out in 2008 -- Alex Cintron (.682 OPS), Brandon Fahey (.601 OPS), and Freddie Bynum (.444 OPS). Personally, I'd have had higher hopes for Cintron than Izturis, but Izturis is a defensive upgrade and Cintron is now 5 seasons removed from the .848 OPS season he mustered for the DBacks in 2003.

Izturis is a weak hitter, which explains his consistently below-par BABIP -- in his 8 major league seasons, only once has he had a BABIP above league average. There's an easy answer why -- he doesn't hit the ball hard. The isolated power number shows it, the high percentage of ground balls doesn't help, and his lack of plate patience seals the deal, because he won't wait out for a pitch he can drive.

I'm sure it appears like an upgrade to the average Orioles fan, who has at least heard of Izturis from stints with more successful teams. But even on paper, it's a pretty lateral move unless the Orioles have a platoon in mind that would free Izturis to only play against left-handed pitchers (against whom he hit well in 2008 (.308/.356/.366) -- though that's an aberration)

The Baltimore Orioles trade C Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for OF Ryan Freel, IF Justin Waring and IF Brandon Turner

The Orioles acquired a versatile player that doesn't seem to fill any of their needs in Ryan Freel and acquired two middling minor league infield prospects who could someday develop into something. In exchange, they got rid of a player they had no interest in keeping and a couple million dollars.

Freel is a relatively useful player. He can hit for a decent average at times and he runs well, but he's always going to be more valuable as a fill-in player than as an everyday player. He also has a great motor and goes all-out, but this leads to him spending more time on the disabled list than on the field, and he hasn't shown good judgment in stealing bases in the last few years. He had shown a good eye at the plate in the past, but that fell apart in 2007 and was underwhelming for the small part of 2008 for which Freel was healthy.

Freel's limitation for the Orioles is that he doesn't fill a need at all. They're supplied at second base and third base. They have Adam Jones in center field. What the team needs more than anything is a first baseman or DH to add some potency to their lineup. Freel isn't worth being in the lineup as a DH, is weaker than Adam Jones in center field, and isn't probably an everyday leadoff guy that would move Roberts down in the order to be more of a run producer. That likely means Freel will spend the majority of his time either as a utility player or else play in left field in lieu of Luke Scott, who would then be the DH.

Turner and Waring are borderline major leaguers at best. I went into more depth in my last post.

Projected Orioles Lineup (Yes, I've rethought this):
2B Roberts
3B Mora
RF Markakis
1B Huff
DH Scott
CF Jones
C Wieters
LF Freel
SS Izturis

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Trades and free agents; K-Rod; Vazquez; Blake; Hernandez; Freel

NY Mets sign Francisco Rodriguez
The Mets signed "K-Rod" to a 3 year, $37 million deal that will, in my estimation, cause them serious regrets by no later than September 2009. This is a very bad contract to hand to a player whose velocity was dropping in 2008, even if he did save 62 games. Keep in mind also that Rodriguez had very few tough saves and didn't fare all that well in converting saves (he blew 7 save opportunities in '08), and that although he's never made a trip to the disabled list before...that and his drop in velocity could just mean he's due for a visit to the elbow surgeon. He costs the Mets loads of money and a first-round pick, though Fuentes would have cost them the first rounder as well.

Most concerning is Rodriguez's decline in strikeout rate. In 2008, his strikeout rate has decreased from 1.34 K/IP in 2006 and 2007 to 1.13 K/IP in 2008. That's a huge dropoff to have in one season, and it's a rate that can be matched by more garden variety closers (last year's free agent suspension of disbelief Francisco Cordero, for instance, mustered 1.11 K/IP in 2008), not just the Brad Lidges of the world. Moreover, he is wild, walking 1/2 a batter per inning pitched (which does put him in Brad Lidge territory -- which in this case, is a bad thing).

The Mets didn't have any heirs apparent to fill the role, but there are a lot of red flags to indicate that Rodriguez is not worth such a substantial investment.

Cincinnati Reds trade Ryan Freel, Justin Turner, and Brandon Waring to the Baltimore Orioles for Ramon Hernandez and more than $1 million.

Dusty Baker has long had the reputation for loving old players. He's got one more now. Ramon Hernandez's contract was a disaster for the Orioles and the Orioles' most promising player is a catcher. So they shipped him off to a team that has a promising young catcher of their own in Ryan Hanigan (though not on par with Wieters, by any means). Hernandez has some power and at least among the Reds is mistaken for being a handler of pitchers (because of his time with Zito, Mulder, and Hudson -- apparently not for the 5.13 ERA the Orioles pitchers mustered in 2008). Unfortunately, he didn't offer much at all since signing with the Orioles and is two seasons removed from warranting any meaningful playing time because of his offense. He will make Dusty Baker happy because he won't clog the bases by drawing pesky walks, but it's a sad day in Cincinnati that he has almost certainly become the default starting option for the Reds over Hanigan, who looked phenomenal during a September cameo in 2008.

Ryan Freel is a player whose play is often called gritty, high-character and clutch solely because he's a white guy -- oh, and he steals bases. He is a relatively useful player at a number of positions, unfortunately for the Orioles, all of those are positions they've essentially filled. He's played extensively in right field, center field (not a good fit for him), second base, and third base (not ideal, though I think he's underrated as a defensive third baseman). He makes a lot of plays that others wouldn't, but it comes at the expense of missing some plays the average player would make. He is a player who literally runs into walls, but he gets injured a lot. The last couple of years, he's shown very poor baserunning instincts, being caught 12 times in 33 steal attempts, and couldn't put anything together at the plate in 2007. 2008 led to him being cast as a center fielder, he didn't stay healthy long, playing in only 48 games. My guess is that Freel will get to spend some time in center field, which could give the Orioles an opportunity to have a speedy leadoff batter but move Roberts into a better run producing spot. If Aubrey Huff will play first, it gives them a lot more potent lineup as well, fitting an extra major league hitter into the fold.

Brandon Waring is a third base prospect with monumental power -- 20 home runs in 68 games in rookie ball in 2007, 20 home runs in a full season at low-A Dayton this year and is likely to have to move from third base because of marginal athleticism. But he strikes out. A lot. 156 strikeouts in 441 at bats marked his run in low A ball, and he offered only 43 walks in comparison, so it wasn't necessarily because he's a patient hitter. He seems to have a similar skill set to the third base prospect the Orioles acquired this time last year -- Mike Costanzo, who offered a profoundly underwhelming season at AAA Norfolk, so perhaps the Orioles are moving on.

Justin Turner is a middle infielder whose high-end projection puts him as a borderline everyday second baseman. He produced a solid season for the Reds' minor league system, slugging 8 home runs in his stint in AA Charleston and putting together a .792 OPS, even though he's regarded as a prospect with no real slugging potential. He makes pretty good contact (.316 average at A, .279 at AA), but doesn't make enough of it (73 strikeouts in 416 at bats).

Orioles projected lineup as of this move:
CF Freel
2B Roberts
RF Markakis
1B Huff*
3B Mora
DH Scott/Montanez
LF Jones
C Wieters*
SS Salazar*

Reds projected lineup as of this move:
LF Dickerson
CF Hopper*
2B Phillips
RF Bruce
1B Votto
3B Encarnacion
C Hernandez/Hanigan
SS Gonzalez/Keppinger
P Harang/Volquez/Arroyo/Cueto/Owings/Maloney/Thompson/Bailey

Chicago White Sox trade Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan to the Atlanta Braves for Brent Lillibridge, Tyler Flowers, Jon Gilmore, and Santos Rodriguez

The White Sox traded a moderately effective starter and a reliever with an odd arm slot for four minor leaguers, one of whom has already underwhelmed at the major league level, one of whom projects to have to move to a new position (DH), and two who are virtually impossible to project because of inexperience.

Javier Vazquez has been only a marginally effective starting pitcher since leaving the Montreal Expos after the 2003 season. He's compiled only one season in that span with an ERA under 4.00, which was also his only season with an ERA+ of better than 100. He is what has now become known as an innings-eater, someone who, despite not being particularly effective, gets to pitch 200 innings and finish with numbers that show a lengthy run of mediocrity ahead. Even the unreliable won-loss record speaks volumes for Vazquez, who has compiled a 63-61 record since 2003 despite pitching on the 2004 Yankees (who won 101 games). Vazquez hasn't experienced a dropoff in strikeouts (where he's still among the league's best starting pitchers), which is a good sign, but in 2008, hits, walks, and, of course, WHIP spiked and home runs allowed stayed at a predictable career median of 25. In a more pitcher-friendly park and the National League, it's quite possible that Vazquez could have a good year, but he's not going to prove to be an ace for the Braves.

Boone Logan is a left-handed pitcher who relies upon deception to get batters out, because of his three-quarters arm slot. Bad news, Boone. It's not working. Against left-handers, he allowed 30 hits and 5 walks in 25 2/3 innings pitched. Not good numbers, leading to a .291 BAA. Against right-handers, they might has well have intentionally walked them -- BAA of .351, 27 hits and 9 walks in 16 2/3 innings, which gives him a WHIP of 2.16 against right-handers. Oh, and he gives up home runs 7 in 42 1/3 innings pitched. That said, he throws left-handed, which on the Braves should guarantee him a spot in the bullpen -- as is, at most he'll have to compete with Eric O'Flaherty, who was so bad the Mariners let him go after 2008.

In exchange, the Braves offered once-promising Brent Lillibridge, the prospect at the core of the Adam LaRoche trade that seems to have hurt both the Braves and the Pirates (though the Braves at least got Mike Gonzalez, they had to suffer through the Scott Thorman half-year before trading their future for Mark Teixeira). Lillibridge did nothing to earn the confidence of the Braves' brass in 2008, sputtering horribly at the major league level and playing even worse at AAA (.220/.294/.344). He's a solid defensive shortstop and may be able to steal a few bases (23 in AAA in 30 attempts), but is probably never going to be projected as a starter after the relapse in 2008. He's now plugged behind Alexei Ramirez in the White Sox's plans.

The most respected player in the deal for the White Sox is catcher/first baseman Tyler Flowers, who is weak defensively behind the plate and projects elsewhere, but can crush the ball -- 17 home runs at Myrtle Beach in the homer-cursed Carolina League (in comparison, the Wilmington Blue Rocks hit 61 home runs for the SEASON). Flowers really made his name in the Arizona Fall League where he hit 12 home runs in 75 at bats and posted a modest OPS of 1.433. He tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs when he first entered professional baseball, so he'll be watched closely as he progresses through the White Sox system, but he may be the replacement for Jim Thome in 2010 (assuming the Sox don't trade Thome this season). The bad news is that upon hearing about the trade, he relished the idea of playing DH.

Santos Rodriguez has only 26 games of professional experience but has shown the ability to strike out hitters (45 Ks in 29 IP in 2008 at the Gulf Coast League). He has little control at this point (13 BB in 2008), but is also only 20 years old.

Jon Gilmore is a 20-year-old third base prospect who figured in the lower-echelons of prospects for the Braves last year because of his projected power. After two seasons, it remains projected, with Gilmore notching only 4 home runs in 360 at bats split between rookie and low A ball in 2008. He was a first round sandwich pick for the Braves in 2007 out of high school, but hasn't shown much in the way of polish in his early going (.291/.313/.379 career thus far).

St. Louis Cardinals trade relief pitcher Mark Worrell and a PTBNL to the San Diego Padres for Khalil Greene
The Padres are in full on fire sale mode here. Although they don't have a shortstop in their organization (perhaps they should have drafted one #1 overall a few years ago, as opposed to Matt Bush...who is now a pitcher), they dealt Khalil Greene, who was unjustifiably expensive after a disastrous 2008. All the Cardinals gave up was an aging relief pitching prospect who relies on a submarine motion to retire batters and fared poorly at the Major League level in extremely limited activity.

The Cardinals aren't guaranteed a win on this deal, Khalil Greene has been overrated from day one, but thus far the Cardinals dealt a player who was unhappy with their organization (Mark Worrell) and in whom they apparently didn't have much confidence, having removed him from the closer role in the minors on numerous occasions. They only gave him a brief stint in 2008 in the Majors and moved him quickly, so his griping about the organization may not be entirely baseless. Worrell had a substantial jump in his walk rate in his repeat run through AAA, though he continued to hone his ability to punch out hitters (80 K in 58 2/3 IP) and improved his ERA by nearly a run. He's 25, so he's nearing the point where he needs to stick in the majors, but he should get that opportunity in San Diego, where Heath Bell, Cla Meredith, Mike Adams, and Justin Hampson are going to have to fill the void of Trevor Hoffman.

So the upside for the Cardinals is that they have a shortstop who should hit at least 15 home runs and probably more since he's rescued from Petco Park. The downside is that the shortstop who hits those 15 home runs will be Khalil Greene, who's seen plenty of pitches he didn't like, but few at which he wouldn't swing. If you're a player who hits 27 home runs and you finish with an OPS+ of are not a good player. And that was Greene in one of his peak years (2007). Yes, his batting average should improve outside of Petco, where he was an abomination (.225/.289/.369 career), but he's still a +40 OBP kind of guy (meaning his OBP will only be about 40 points higher than his average -- only the truly impatient players (Pedro Feliz, anyone?) in the game reach this kind of infamy. And if you know you're hitting .215...why are you swinging?

Greene is an above-average defensive shortstop, he'll be a better lineup presence than Cesar Izturis was, if only because he might hit for some power, but he's a number 7/8 (and in LaRussa's sick world, 9) hitter. Expecting anything more than that is folly.

Verdict: The Cardinals could certainly do better, I have little confidence in Khalil Greene. But the jury's out until that player to be named has been identified.

Cardinals projected lineup right now:
LF Schumacker
CF Ankiel
1B Pujols
RF Ludwick
3B Glaus
C Molina
SS Greene
P Wainwright/Lohse/Wellemeyer/Pineiro/Carpenter
2B Miles/Ryan*

Detroit Tigers trade two minor leaguers to the Texas Rangers for Gerald Laird
Gerald Laird had been getting mentioned in trades for years now, it was inevitable that he would get moved at some point. The Tigers needed catching badly and were willing to overpay for a very middling catcher, clearly the least intriguing of the four the Rangers had to offer, albeit one of only two who project as good defensive catchers (the other being Taylor Teagarden). Laird had a decent enough season for a catcher offensively in 2008, but is one year removed from a sub-.290 OBP season -- one of two in his very brief major league career (in only four seasons with more than 130 AB). Those numbers also came in a park that turns hitters into juggernauts, as opposed to the park he's headed to, which will be considerably less friendly to his gap power.

In order to get Gerald Laird, the Tigers had to surrender two minor league pitching prospects. That's astonishing, considering that 1) the Rangers were in a bind as far as moving at least one catcher in a trade, 2) Gerald Laird isn't very good, and 3) the Tigers are not in any position to contend. The Tigers dealt right-handed pitcher Guillermo Moscoso and 17-year-old prospect Carlos Melo in order to land Laird. Melo apparently has electric stuff for a 17-year-old, but he is 17, so he's nearly impossible to project. Moscoso is similarly hard to get a read on, largely because he's never stayed healthy long enough to make an impact (he didn't show up in the prospect poor Tigers' top 30 prospects in 2008). He pitched only 86 2/3 innings in 2008, which was only 4 innings off his professional career high. But he has been superb when he has been on the mound, compiling a 2.80 career ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and more than a strikeout an inning in his trips through R/A/AA, while walking only about 2.25 batters per nine innings pitched.

Verdict: the Rangers win, because they had nothing to lose in dealing Laird.

Los Angeles Dodgers sign free agent third baseman Casey Blake for 3 years, $17.5 million
The Indians and Twins left this bidding pretty early, so the Dodgers were basically bidding against themselves. Blake benefited from a very weak market at third base.

He's a serviceable third baseman, he makes most of the plays he should, he won't make many beyond that. From what I've seen of him (a fair amount), he strikes me as a profoundly average defender. His range factor/9 for his career is 2.69 compared to a league average of 2.65. His zone rating of .768 isn't great, but it's not awful -- nor even the worst in the division (.751 for Mark Reynolds, .787 for Garret Atkins, .768 for Kevin Kouzmanoff).

Signing Blake makes some sense for the Dodgers, but since they had Blake DeWitt already, there may have been greater value in pursuing a second baseman instead. The real winner here is Casey Blake's agent, who deserves a lot of credit for getting a three year deal for an aging player that's basically league average.

Dodgers projected lineup right now:
LF Pierre
CF Kemp
C Martin
RF Ethier
1B Loney
3B Blake
2B DeWitt
SS Hu*
P Billingsley/Kuroda/Kershaw/McDonald/Schmidt*

*The asterisks denote places where I believe a move will yet be made -- based on the position, not the player. For instance, 1B Aubrey Huff* for the Orioles gets an asterisk not because I expect Huff will be traded, but because I think the Orioles will acquire a first baseman and Huff will play DH.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Free agent moves: Renteria, Howry, Branyan, Everett...seriously

Giants signed Edgar Renteria to a 2 year, $18.5 million deal
The Giants signed Edgar Renteria, continuing to build Brian Sabean's bridge to the past. Next week, I'm laying even odds that the Giants sign John McCain -- though in defense of that move, McCain would probably be a more adequate offensive first baseman than Travis Ishikawa and all indications are that McCain can be bought for considerably less than Edgar Renteria. Zing.

Renteria is a serviceable player who has rarely been more than that and regressed defensively to be considerably below average in 2008. Renteria's not going to add signicant home run pop to the lineup, but adds another Aaron Roward, Fred Lewis 15-20 home-run ceiling guy to the lineup. He's likely to be an offensive upgrade from Emmanuel Burriss, sure, but he's not worth the alarming price they paid for a shortstop that no one seemed too gung ho on adding. Renteria is and almost always has been a league average guy. Since he plays shortstop, league average isn't a bad thing, but he adds only marginally more than a Mark Grudzialanek (if any). Renteria has fared better in the National League, but don't get confused into thinking 2007 shows what he'll do, 2007 showed only what BABIP can do when all luck breaks in someone's favor, because Renteria's was nearly .400 in 2007. When it returned to league average in 2008, so did he.

Renteria's speed has decayed as well, limiting him to 6 steals in 2008, and his extra base potential was negligible, mustering only 22 doubles and 2 triples in cavernous Comerica (National) Park. So despite the Giants having a dearth of power (Bengie Molina led the team with 16 home runs last year, the team mustered a whopping .382 SLG), it's not clear that Renteria is going to add much there. Certainly $9.25 million a year could have bought more on this market -- rather than a guy who slugged the same as Nick Punto, but with a considerably lower OBP and worse glove. Punto (.284/.344/.382) and Grudzialanek (.299/.345/.399) could probably have both been had for $9.25 million, and even if Renteria's 2008 was an aberration, it's unlikely it was much of one.

Giants sign Bobby Howry to a 1 year, $2.75 million contract
The Giants signed Bobby Howry, a move that helps add unnecessary age to the Giants' roster, but adds a potentially serviceable right-handed reliever. At 2.75 million, he's a reasonable gamble, but it's hard to see him being a great pitcher in 2008. Howry is 35 now, and has been worked hard over his last few seasons (73, 76 2/3, 81 1/3, 70 2/3) for a reliever. Howry hasn't seen an uptick in his walk rate that would presage decline, but his strikeouts were down in 2008 after being up in 2006 and 2007. And a 1.46 WHIP and 90 hits in 70 2/3 innings don't encourage anyone except opposing hitters.

Atlanta signs C David Ross to a two-year, $3 million contract
Huh? $3 million for a backup catcher to Brian McCann? 2 years to David Ross? Frank Wren has lost his mind. If you want to find out how John Schuerholz got so much from the Braves for so long, it was by avoiding throwing real money at the players who were there to not play. His heir apparent hasn't learned this. Instead of going with Clint Sammons, Brayan Pena, or any of the other backup catchers that have dotted a 40-man roster in recent years, the Braves sign a catcher to a $3 million deal when it's not certain he could have gotten a major league contract elsewhere. He lost his job in Cincinnati to Paul Bako and Javier Valentin in the last two years. Moreover, Ross has enough power that he might be a useful pinch hitter -- but you can't use him as a pinch hitter unless you're carrying three catchers.

I'm of the opinion that backup catcher is one of the places where a low-budget team can and should cut costs. (I originally typed that as costes...which I think is a Freudian slip, since I think another great option for the Braves is to wait until March and pick up Chris Coste after the Phillies cut him loose to make room for Lou Marson.) David Ross is a waste of money for a team that's a long way from filling all their holes. Billy Traber signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox for considerably less, and would have filled a far greater need for the Braves -- someone who might be able to pitch.

Seattle Mariners sign Russell Branyan to a one year, $1.4 million contract
The Mariners first move in the offseason was to sign Russell Branyan. No need to print those playoff tickets now, Mariners fans. Branyan is king of the small sample size -- he can make for one pretty stat sheet so long as he doesn't face right-handed pitchers, so long as you don't look at defensive statistics and so long as you don't give random chance an opportunity to start evening things out. He has prodigious power, he draws a good number of walks, and he strikes out nearly every other time he's at the plate. In 2000 career at bats, he's struck out 797 times. Branyan has had three years of below average BABIP, but he's also the kind of player you don't expect to fare well in BABIP because if he puts it in play (remember: BABIP excludes home runs), it's an out. He's a three true outcomes hitter -- home runs, walks, strikeouts.

Branyan will probably see a lot of time at 1B and DH for the Mariners, who are currently slated to fill those slots with Bryan LaHair and...oh lord. It's astonishing to think that Erik Bedard was on the Mariners' radar a year ago and they were supposed to contend for the AL West title. Look what a load of lousy free agent signings (Richie Sexson, Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva) and idiotic trades with the Cleveland Indians for platoon players (Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez; Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard) can do to an organization. Then subtract top-level prospects like Chris Tillman and Adam Jones and this team is stripped down to Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, and a middle infield that had a COMBINED +46 OBP. (Betancourt adding 21 points, Lopez a much more patient 25). To emphasize how awful that combined +46 OBP is...keep in mind, through no virtue of "patience", Chase Utley added 38 points to his OBP by being HIT WITH PITCHES. Lean in next year, Yuniesky/Jose.

Mariners projected lineup as of this move:
RF Suzuki
CF Reed
2B Lopez
3B Beltre
DH Branyan/Johjima (yeah, seriously)
LF Balantien
C Clement
1B LaHair
SS Betancourt

Detroit Tigers sign Adam Everett to a one year, $1 million deal
So much for the lineup of nine intimidating bats, the Tigers are now down to signing punchless defensive wizards to fill the holes in their lineup. Adam Everett will split time with Ramon Santiago at shortstop, neither of them will hit the ball. Everett can field (range factor about 1/2 a play per nine innings over league average for his career), but can't hit, hit for power, draw a whole lot of walks, or steal many bases. If Everett could summon his 2004 numbers (.273/.317/.385) and muster an OPS over .700, he might be worth playing even on a half-decent team. It's not likely to happen. Even on a defense-first team in Minnesota last year, they decided there was more to life than fielding grounders and he lost his job to the mighty Nick Punto/Brendan Harris combination that will some day be remembered alongside Honus Wagner as shortstops who did not appear on tobacco companies' baseball cards (Wagner because he insisted to be removed, Punto and Harris because tobacco sales are lagging enough as is).

Tigers projected lineup as of this move:
CF Granderson
2B Polanco
LF Guillen
RF Ordonez
1B Cabrera
DH Sheffield
C Laird
3B Inge
SS Everett

Boston Red Sox sign Junichi Tazawa
I don't know anything about Tazawa, I know that he's not major league ready, considering the contract he landed from the Red Sox. Japanese pitchers are spotty at best and tend to burn out quickly. Hideki Irabu, Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kasuhiro Sasaki, Tomo Ohka, Masahide Kobayashi, and Kei Igawa are all names that were supposed to be impacts, but aside from Daisuke (who is fine as a 6-inning pitcher, but hasn't done anything beyond that), the others had fleeting impacts and burned out quickly. He'll have a couple mentors in Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, but will not probably play a major role for this team this year.

Milwaukee Brewers sign Jorge Julio
Jorge Julio is a player that's never worth signing in November, but can prove useful if you're the second team in a season to end up with him. For three straight years, he's been ineffective with the team he began the year with (Mets, Marlins, Indians) and found himself released or traded to a new team (Diamondbacks, Rockies, Braves). Then he puts up better numbers with his new team and finds himself a free agent yet again. After six seasons of 60+ appearances, 2008 brought him a bad run with the Indians as a mop-up man who never found himself worthy of anything better and then sent him to the out-of-contention Braves where he dazzled with a 0.73 ERA without really earning it -- his WHIP (1.38) was nearly twice his ERA. Julio walks a ton of batters with a career rate of nearly .5 BB/IP that has increased as his career has continued. But he's only two seasons removed from a year where he struck out 88 batters in 67 IP, so it's not hard to see why teams keep considering him a minor option. For a team as bullpen-needy as the Brewers, it makes sense. He is another failed closer to dump into the closer-by-committee role that seems to be developing with Todd Coffey and David Riske as the "anchors" to the back end of the Brewers' pen.

Cleveland Indians sign Toma Ohka
If I weren't a Tribe fan, there's no way this would be worthy of mention. It still isn't. If he stays healthy, he could be a fifth starter. But that's a big if, and the Indians don't need a fifth starter, they already have a few in their rotation with Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, and Zach Jackson. I refuse to provide any additional analysis, I regard Ohka making a major league appearance as astonishingly unlikely -- Scott Elarton may yet return.

I'm way behind on trades, so I hope to get to those tomorrow.