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February 15, 2010

Transaction Action

Feeling Clingy

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Armando Gabino to Norfolk (Triple-A). [2/11]
Agreed to terms with RHP Jeremy Guthrie on a one-year, $3 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/12]


BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Robert Manuel to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [2/12]

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted INF-R Gregorio Petit to Sacramento (Triple-A). [2/11]

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed INF-Rs J.J. Furmaniak and Angel Chavez to minor-league contracts. [2/12]

CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Kip Wells to a minor-league contract. [2/11]

After being good enough to get the requisite number of starts to suffer both a 17- and an 18-loss season, Wells is now several years into the mere survival portion of his career, but to his credit, he's managed to perpetuate his existence, drifting from one tapped-out or injury-plagued team to another. It's not hard to see why: he's managed to keep his low-90s velocity all the way along, and with strikeout rates that have bounced around in the sixes and sevens, he resembles a pitcher you might want. However, the raw rate per nine sounds more impressive than his actual strikeout rates of all batters relative to major-league norms; he hasn't been above average since 2004, and his walk rates have remained poor all the way along.

As we gear up for camps to open, it looks as if the rotation should have one spot open: the one that normally belongs to Edinson Volquez, who will be recovering from TJS in the season's early months. As far as the usual suspects you can expect to battle for the job, Wells and fellow NRI Justin Lehr will be in the mix, as well as Matt Maloney. However, the interesting question will be how much consideration prospects Aroldis Chapman, Travis Wood, and Mike Leake earn, not necessarily for an outright claim on the job in time for opening day, but with an eye towards later in the season. It's expected that all three can encourage faster timetables for themselves with their performance in camp or the early action in the minors, so to some extent, whether or not Lehr or Wells "wins" the fifth starter's job initially might be a matter of having a half-dozen starts to hold onto it.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Juan Rincon to a minor-league contract. [2/12]

MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B/3B-L Mike Lamb to a minor-league contract. [2/11]

The Fish might have an open competition as far as who might wind up as their starting first baseman, as they'll sifting between Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison, with the possibility that Jorge Cantu could move back from third base to take over if neither prospect shines in camp. Lamb's also not a great bet to push his way into that competition, especially after hitting a tepid .261/.299/.370 in Triple-A for Buffalo last season, but he's a thirtysomething veteran, the Fish seem to make room for the type in support roles.

As for the prospect-y contenders for the first-base job, we can start with their baseline PECOTAs:


Dude       AVG/ OBP/ SLG  EqA
Morrison  .268/.345/.432 .266
Sanchez   .264/.346/.416 .265

In the broadest strokes, that looks like an uninspiring tomato, tom-ah-to distinction, but of course there's the additional factor that Morrison bats lefty and is headed into his age-22 campaign, while Sanchez is right-handed and already 26, so this isn't quite like, say, the Blue Jays' having both a young Fred McGriff and Cecil Fielder in 1987, both just 23, and both with a world of promise.

Nevertheless, a Moorichez platoon almost automatically suggests itself. Sanchez's tendency in nearly two seasons in the upper minors has been to crush left-handed pitching, as he's produced an ISO of just .155 against right-handers versus .282 against southpaws between Double- and Triple-A, but he's kept his unintentional walk rate above 10 percent against both. Morrison's status as a top prospect and his eventual upside are nice enough, but beyond that, his ISO against right-handers during last year's injury-shortened Double-A debut was similarly platoon-worthy, .189 against righties versus .109 facing lefties, while also drawing walks in almost 19 percent of his PAs against RHPs. Morrison's the one with the better future, and in this sort of arrangement, he'd get the majority of the playing time, while Sanchez could perhaps fill in at third base as needed, while also providing value as a late-game pinch-hitter with good plate coverage and strike-zone command.

While I like Morrison's long-term picture quite a bit, I can't help but indulge something that hasn't gotten mooted much: moving Dan Uggla off of second and pushing him over to third, leaving Cantu at first, and returning Chris Coghlan to his natural position at the keystone. However, that really only works as a modest win-now proposition if you've got a ready-now heavy-hitting outfielder worth plugging in; on the 40-man, the Fish have Jai Miller (projected .242 EqA), Brett Carroll (.235), and Scott Cousins (.234), none of whom exactly hit well enough to keep Emilio Bonifacio out of the conversation for who should play. Non-roster invite Bryan Petersen takes things up a notch (.248 projected EqA), but not so much as to make himself obvious.

And then there's the other outfield non-roster invite: Mike Stanton, the system's top prospect, and just 20 years old, even younger than Morrison, and with little more than three months' experience above A-ball. Despite that lack of advanced experience, he's already projected for 34 homers, a slugging percentage north of .500, and a .279 EqA. While it would be a shocking development to see him crack the opening-day lineup, the reason I bring him up is because at some point this year, he could earn a promotion, at which point you're looking at benching someone. Coghlan, Cameron Maybin, and Cody Ross aren't the weak links in this year's lineup, but a first-base situation where Morrison isn't ready yet would be, which sets up the question of whether or not Coghlan could move back into the infield and put Uggla in motion.

It's all very speculative, of course, and an eventual Marlins lineup with Morrison at first base and Stanton in an outfield corner is something we probably all expect. But in between now and then there could be some interesting questions about some player's long-term roles with the club. Uggla's moving to third base would certainly put Cantu on notice, but that doesn't seem like an especially outlandish choice. Coghlan at second base would give the Fish another bit of above-position-average production up the middle, and Cantu's eligible for free agency at season's end.

That seems to me the more likely scenario, but they could also just leave Coghlan alone in left and Uggla alone at second, because Stanton could just as easily end up pushing Ross onto the auction block. With just one more arbitration-influenced year of team control to go in 2011 before he reaches free agency, Ross might be the moving part who moves elsewhere because his ability to play all three outfield positions and contribute offensively could make him highly desirable at the end of July. Heading into his age-29 season now, he's nine months younger than Uggla but a little more than a year older than Cantu. I still think it's more likely Cantu walks after 2010, and they hold onto Ross through 2011.

While Morrison and Stanton may not show up this year until later on, as Maybin's delayed opportunity demonstrates, the Fish don't generally catch and release their best options. How well the prospects develop this season can change any or all of this, and nobody might move anywhere. But with the positional flexibility in play between Coghlan, Cantu, and Uggla's bad rep, the Marlins can effectively let performance help dictate any adaptations, and with Cantu's free agency being the ticking service-time clock set to ring first, third base is the position that'll need another answer, whatever they decide to do at first base in the meantime.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B-L Mike Jacobs, C-R Shawn Riggans, and LHP Hisanori Takahashi to minor-league contracts; outrighted RHP Jack Egbert to Buffalo (Triple-A). [2/11]

As may be obvious from my past comments, I'm not a big believer in Jacobs' uses as a first baseman. He can't hit lefties, and he's a brutal fielder, and as he enters his age-29 season, there's not a lot of reason to expect either of those things to change. However, a lot of my complaints about Jacobs are market- and team-dependent; get him at this sort of non-guaranteed price when your only real alternative is some combination of Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis, and Jacobs isn't the worst body to bring in out of what is obviously a matter of desperation. His career rate of .263/.325/.505 against right-handed pitching might be about the best you can hope for now that he's back in the weaker league and if he's hidden away from the circuit's southpaws, but even that would be a bit much to expect since he's coming into Citi Field. It's worth wondering if Jerry Manuel would like to play mix and match at first base, but in his rookie season skippering the White Sox in 1998, he balanced Greg Norton and Wil Cordero to patch at the position after depositing Frank Thomas at DH; on the other hand, Manuel's off-voiced disdain for Thomas' glove work suggests he may not end up liking what he sees from Jacobs.

Takahashi's interesting because he's an import, but that's not a guarantee that he's going to earn out the $1.5 million he stands to make if he makes the team and delivers value. He's coming off of a 2.94 ERA season for Yomiuri, and won an ERA title in 2007, with 126 strikeouts and 35 unintentional walks in 144 innings. Sounds good, right? Well, sort of, but he wasn't really outstanding for a Giants' rotation that relied more on Seth Greisinger, Dicky Gonzalez, Tetsuya Utsumi, and Shun Tono. Takahashi's a somewhat typical Japanese hurler, throwing several flavors of junk, and his translated strikeout rates have been consistently below five K/9, and his 2008 season was much like his work before 2007. He might earn the fifth slot in camp to celebrate his 35th birthday, but he also may not keep it all that long. However, because he's Japanese and that's still seen as somewhat exotic, and the Mets are teetering in what seems like their usual state of Big Apple-driven hysteria, this got played up as a big deal. Takahashi might have the usual introductory advantage, but from what we've got on him so far, it seems reasonable to set your expectations low and leave them there.

Adding Riggans might seem like a decent little move to address the lineup's other obviously desperate position-playing need, behind the plate. That said, his track record for staying healthy is nothing short of craptastic, as he's broken down with various nagging hurts in each of the last three seasons. He has some pop for the position and he has hit for average when healthy, and if you beer-goggle his upside, maybe you see a poor man's Brian Harper in there; Harper didn't establish himself until he was 29, after all. Harper wasn't much against the running game, but neither is Riggans; his ticket will have to be punched by his bat, just as Harper's was. That said, health is a skill Riggans lacks until he proves otherwise. He is at least interesting, which the Mets need given a catching situation otherwise staffed with Omir Santos, Henry Blanco, and Chris Coste, pending the arrival of Josh Thole to stay.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RHP Tim Lincecum on a two-year, $23 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/12]

Here again, I guess my lack of fascination with this sort of exercise is my failing. Lincecum was certain to make big money as a product of the process; he was also certain to make less than a market rate, conforming to the yardstick Tommy Bennett suggested this morning*. If the scoreboard's measured only in terms of dollars, the question isn't whether or not Lincecum got a good deal or a deal he deserved; of course he did. To build on Tommy's rule of thumb, let's say that Lincecum's compensation in 2010 and 2011 is predictive of his market value: that produces compensation figures in the $22.5-23.3 million range. In an industry where CC Sabathia's getting $23 million per year from now through 2015, that doesn't seem all that extraordinary, given how effective Lincecum has been.

Instead, the question is whether or not anticipating that they'd have to pay out this kind of cash for Lincecum for 2010 (and potentially beyond) had an impact on the team's expenditures this winter. The answer to that seems to be a decisive 'no,' since they spent almost $35 million to electively sign or re-sign five free agents for a total of seven player-seasons: Freddy Sanchez and Mark DeRosa for two-year, $12 million packagages, plus one year apiece for Bengie Molina ($4.5 million), Juan Uribe ($3.25 million), and Aubrey Huff ($3 million). Add in their arbitritation-avoiding deals with Brian Wilson, Jonathan Sanchez, and Brandon Medders, and you've got a payroll that looks like it'll nevertheless come in under $100 million for 2010, an expansion from 2009, but not one that has initially led to better expectations in the season to come. So obviously it wasn't an antidote to Brian Sabean's appetite for veteran mediocrities like Sanchez or Huff or Aaron Rowand when he's playing the market.

So, they already controlled Lincecum through 2013, and what this achieves is that they've set the rate of his compensation for half of the intervening time. That is interesting, because after 2011, not only will they be back to haggling with Lincecum again, they'll also be mulling over what to do about Matt Cain's free agency. Even the commitments to Sanchez and DeRosa will be over, leaving just a year to run on Rowand's boondoggle and Bary Zito's money pit. Will they be able to afford both Lincecum and Cain if both are going strong two seasons from now? Cain will be a free agent headed into his age-27 season, and while this morning's formula and anticipating Cain's maximizing his earnings for his 2011 option barely gets him into the eight-figure range on the open market, if an older, less durable John Lackey can get $82.5 million for five years on a "depressed" open market, you'd think Cain can reasonably entertain expectations in that range, even if the current economic environment lasts. Can the Giants, with Zito, afford a trio of starting pitcher contracts that put them up there with the Yankees and Red Sox? We'll have to see.

*: As I've pointed out a few times this winter, it's also something that only really applies to the talents you want to go to arbitration with; not everyone who's arbitration-eligible is worth X amount of cash more as a free agent, as several free agents have found this winter, perhaps to their chagrin.


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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