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February 2, 2010

Transaction Action

Pleading the Fourth

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-R Xavier Nady to a one-year, $3.3-million base contract. [1/29]
Signed 1B-R Kevin Millar to a minor-league contract. [2/1]

As has already been divulged, Nady isn't entirely recuperated from his elbow surgery last spring, so he'll be hampered in camp, and may not even be fully ready by opening day. If this sounds like a wishcast kind of signing, that's because it is; the Cubs are talking openly about how they see Nady as a prospective drop-in for the lineup, while he's commenting about how he expects to contend for an everyday job. On the basis of a smoothly improving three-year trend, that wouldn't seem unreasonable: Nady's EqA went from .268 in his time split between the Mets and Pirates in '06, to .279 in '07, to .300 in an age-29 '08 season split between the Bucs and the Bombers. His unintentional walk rate was relatively steady, bobbing around 4.5 to 6.0 percent, or ungood; while his rate of homers per fly ball dropped slightly, his ISO marks improved. How's he getting better?


                  vs. RHPs                          vs. LHPs
Year    AVG/ OBP/ SLG  ISO BABIP UBBr    AVG/ OBP/ SLG  ISO BABIP UBBr
2006   .263/.312/.424 .161 .298  3.4%   .336/.418/.551 .215 .353  8.4%
2007   .274/.322/.479 .205 .309  4.6%   .295/.336/.463 .168 .352  3.9%
2008   .317/.357/.529 .212 .349  4.8%   .262/.361/.444 .182 .281 10.3%
Career .270/.316/.453 .183 .302  4.5%   .308/.373/.471 .163 .351  7.8%

In short, I'd suggest that Nady's beaten his platoon rap, and before last season's early injury, he'd begun to establish himself as a decent starter in an outfield corner.* Since leaving Petco in 2005, his seasonal BABIP marks have been consistently above league norms; it's safe to say that's something he does, just as he delivers slightly more balls in play than your "normal" player, while striking out at a relatively normal rate, and walking a lot less than most. He gets walked a bit more by lefties, but he's just not a walker. His marks against right-handers are really what fueled his improvement, and it was relatively broadly based: walks, power, balls in play, everything's just a wee bit better to a lot better, which makes all the difference between whether he's just a nice little platoon masher or a reasonable proposition as a starter in a corner. He'll contribute to the Cubs' OBP problem, of course.

For the money, he's not a bad risk; indeed, unlike guys like Micah Hoffpauir or Reed Johnson, he's an actual everyday-quality player if healthy, not a bad thing to have around when you don't know when or how long Alfonso Soriano might need to head to the DL. The problem is whether or not he'll be healthy, to which I'll defer to Will Carroll and the Cubs' training staff. The intent, however, seems sensible, so that if the Cubs do lose a starting outfielder for any length of time, they're not short on offense. In the abstract, a quartet that has Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome alternating in center, Fukudome and Nady in right, and Soriano and Nady in left could add up to enough playing time to keep everyone fresh, but with enough rest that nobody wears down. If it lets Lou Piniella keep Soriano's wheels from blowing a few spokes with regular rest, and keeps the other three away from pitchers they have problems with, this could add up to a very nice mix-and-match solution.

The problem remains more big picture-oriented. Getting more at-bats from Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto will help the team's OBP issue some (less Koyie Hill and no Aaron Miles goes a long way towards a healthier offense), and you can always hope that Ryan Theriot will get back to trying to reach base instead of getting as homer-happy as he was for stretches of last season. Byrd and Nady will help very little, however, while a healthier Soriano won't help a lot, save by boosting his OBP with base hits. Whether Jeff Baker or Mike Fontenot gets most of the playing time at second, it's unlikely that's going to add up to an unintentional walk rate over 10 percent, and Baker appears to be the favorite; maybe Fontenot improves with a return to his part-time role, and maybe not. Between Fukudome, Derrek Lee, and Soto, they have three regulars who seem likely to better that 10 percent clip. Beyond them, Ramirez, Fontenot, and Theriot all did it in 2008, then failed to last year.

From where I sit, the real problem is that even if Ramirez and Theriot get their free-pass clips back up, nobody from among this group is really exceptional at getting walks. The best you can hope for is a sort of unit-wide improvement. If good hitting's infectious, you can hope it catches once everyone's back and playing in a season that matters, but we'll see what Rudy Jaramillo gets from his charges.

*: Mea culpa, and shame on me for contributing to that evaluation of Nady, but pile up enough evidence, and minds should be changed.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Tim Redding to a minor-league contract. [1/27]
Signed RHP Justin Speier and LHP Jimmy Gobble to minor-league contracts; signed 1B-L Jason Giambi to a one-year, $1.75-million contract. [1/28]
Signed UT-R Melvin Mora to a one-year, $1.275-million contract. [1/31]

A lot of this is just a matter of depth shopping, which is never very exciting, but face it, you want a full sock drawer rather than the alternative. It pays to have spares, especially at positions where you have reasonable concern.

Mora's signed on the thought that he can resume his former career as a bench asset, perhaps filling in for Clint Barmes at second or winding up in the outfield now and again via late-game machinations, but it doesn't hurt that, primarily, he's right-handed and could spot for Ian Stewart at third base a goodly portion of the time. Since Barmes is also their primary reserve at shortstop, the doubt over whether or not Mora could play there isn't really a big deal. There's the question of whether or not he's completely used up, of course, but he was being projected for a .248 EqA in the AL East before the year; put him on Planet Coors in the weaker league, and he might make a very nice bench player. I don't want to overstate the new home park's potential impact on him: he's never been one to strike out a ton, so he won't be buying back a bunch of at-bats the way more extreme free swingers have on coming to play in Denver. He isn't especially patient any more, and he's never shown any consistent platoon split; these aren't bad or good things for a guy who's going to have to re-adapt to life as a part-time player. Kicking out a year like 2008 would be too much to expect, but he's already milked more out of his career than many expected from him when he was signed up as a 19-year-old from Venezuela by the Astros almost 19 years ago.

As for Giambi's return spin, that might seem strange since he plays first base with all the natural dexterity of a leprous armadillo, but defenders of this renewed engagement will no doubt note that Todd Helton's 36 already and has a history of back problems. Since the Rockies take their immediate future as seriously as they should, and because they've long since opted out of organizationally developed non-answers like Joe Koshansky or Ryan Shealy, they might seem short of alternatives. It's nice to see Giambi getting a shot on some level, I suppose, but given the team's multiplicity of quality outfield options, I would have given more thought to just moving Brad Hawpe back to his original position should anything happen to Helton. That isn't off the table should Helton break down, of course; Giambi would probably melt again in a last gasp at full-time play, so this is more of a Matt Stairs-like star turn, as the former famous person tries to bop till he drops. We know how it's going to wind up for the former hero from an inflated past, of course, but you can't blame him for gutting it out to the end.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-R Reed Johnson to a one-year, $800,000 base contract; signed C-R Justin Knoedler to a minor-league contract. [2/1]

Johnson's making the right kind of money for what he's capable of contributing, and he should make a fine right-handed spare part to plant on the bench when he isn't picking up Andre Ethier as a semi-regular platoon partner, and as a pinch-hitter, he's a nice option to have, since he's good at getting the ball in play. But he's not a lefty-crushing monster as much as he's just a right-handed contact hitter; his career ISO against lefties is .150, and with a career walk rate below five percent, contact's his game. He's not really a good center fielder as much as he's a fourth outfielder who can play there when asked. He doesn't run especially well, having been bad news on the bases two of the last three years per EqBRR. When his BABIP's .360, he's a fine player, which you could say about just about everyone; he hasn't done that in two of the last three seasons, and it would be silly to expect it. Overrating him has been easy, but he's a useful spare part, and he should be that, nothing more, for the Dodgers.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed UT-L Joe Inglett from waivers from the Rangers; designated RHP Chris Smith for assignment. [1/27]
Signed OF-L Jim Edmonds to minor-league deal. [1/28]
Outrighted RHP Chris Smith to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [2/1]

Even with my expectometer set to 'moderate,' courtesy of an extended conversation with Clay Davenport for what we might expect from Edmonds after a year away, I still like the decision to bring him in. In my unreasonableness, I don't even think it's a matter of 'more than I should,' because it's a split contract, he's going to have to play his way onto the roster, and it isn't for a ton of cash. I'm not a big believer in Carlos Gomez's upside, so the nice thing about this is that Gomez should wind up with a veteran caddy capable of picking him up against the odd right-hander. And if, before he gives us a proper goodbye, we get to see Edmonds make another incredible play stretched out full length after flying to the left-center gap, well, who doesn't want to be a bit spoiled?

The interesting question is how this year's Brewers bench is shaping up. Edmonds bats lefty; so does Jody Gerut. So does Craig Counsell. So does backup backstop George Kottaras, who seems likely to wind up as Gregg Zaun's understudy until one of the kids arrives. So does just-claimed Joe Inglett, a nice little pickup for a last man on the bench. Casey McGehee doesn't, but he's the starting third baseman until Mat Gamel pries the job from him, and if that's within Gamel's power; leather is still his kryptonite. Now, all of this isn't a bad thing, and what with the Brewers' recent heavily right-leaning lineups, it seems like a reasonable enough adaptation. The question is whether or not it's an over-adaptation to a lineup with six starting right-handed hitters, because the alternatives for right-handed bench bats are somewhat ghastly: Lorenzo Cain will be in Triple-A (if that), and prospective utility infielder Luis Cruz is hopelessly hammerless.

In this light, organizational soldier Adam Heether's chances are beginning to look very good indeed; he played some second, short, and left last year in addition to his usual third base, and he managed to post career highs in OBP and SLG while hitting .296/.396/.506 between Double- and Triple-A. That was in his age-27 season, however, so PECOTA's smile for him is a bit thin-lipped (.244 EqA). Still, if he has a good camp, he could turn heads as the second coming of McGehee to step into McGehee's utility role while the latter takes over as the everyday third baseman. That would leave Gamel on the outside looking in, but if Gamel truly can't handle the hot corner, he's going to wind up challenging Corey Hart in right field or waiting for Prince Fielder to leave or for a trade to the DH league anyway.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Re-signed 4C-R Fernando Tatis to a one-year contract; signed RHP Josh Fogg and OF-L Frank Catalanotto to minor-league contracts. [1/29]

After two spins as a petty reserve on the Titanic, you can understand Tatis' willingness to sign on for a third turn. I mean, really, they can't hit the iceberg every time out, can they? Having pushed Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson out of the lifeboat in 2008, and breaking his paddle over the heads of Carlos Delgado, Jeremy Reed, and Cory Sullivan (among others) to make it through last season, he's obviously a survivor, but if I were Angel Pagan or Daniel Murphy, I'd try to make sure I wasn't lockered next to him, and keep an eye on my personal flotation device. Meanwhile Tatis will do all of the things you expect from him: play first or third, right or left, ideally avoid up-the-middle positions. He doesn't seem likely to get back to slugging above .500 against right-handers (which is what boosted his 2008 numbers), but he should provide some pop and playability and make a nice reserve. What, you wanted a starting first baseman? Still?


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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