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February 21, 2010

Transaction Action

Capital Offenses?

by Christina Kahrl

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed INF-R Ed Rogers to a minor-league contract. [2/20]

ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Chris Resop to a minor-league contract. [2/17]

MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Mike MacDougal to a minor-league contract. [2/18]

As ever, credit the Marlins for a decent bit of bargain-bin fishing, and making an interesting add-on for their late-game needs. MacDougal's the very definition of inconsistency in relief, having flitted from closer to waiver bait and back again, but between the majors and minors, he's managed at least 60 appearances in each of the last three seasons, and last year's spin with the Nationals as their second-half closer got him up to 1.367 WXRL. That said, just because he gets to wear the cape as closer doesn't necessarily make him an asset, and it's telling that MacDougal's successes have come in second-division settings.

It's possible that the Fish may decide to control next winter's potential arbitration-related costs some by letting MacDougal get a few early save opportunities while providing Leo Nunez with an achievable in-season goal of re-winning the closer's job, but between Nunez's work last season and the expectation that he'll keep his claim on the role with a solid camp, MacDougal's more of an aging cat's paw than a quality contender. If Nunez can simply show some slight improvement with his rate of cookie distribution, cutting it down to, say, somewhere conveniently between last year's ugly 12.6 percent HR/FB rate and 2008's 2.9 percent, the Marlins should be happy.

Meanwhile, MacDougal's wildness is such that you can't even bet on his being able to step into Kiko Calero's ROOGY role setting up Nunez. He hasn't gotten his strikeout rate back up to the 20 percent clip he had in his Royals heyday, and no matter how positive his proclivity for inducing grounders, when you're walking close to 15 percent of all batters, you're a manager's ulcer in cleated form. Last season, MacDougal walked 15.8 percent of all right-handed batters faced (not counting intentional passes), while striking out the same number. His 17.7 DP percentage last sason was sub-Affeldtian, but still in the top 20 among all pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched, so clearly he needs a little help from his friends, and whether or not he'll get that from an infield that could have Jorge Cantu at third, Hanley Ramirez at short, and Dan Uggla at second remains to be seen.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Eric Gagne to a minor-league contract. [2/19]

Gagne was last spotted in the the independent Can-Am circuit, pitching poorly while trying to recover from a rotator cuff tear; striking out less than six batters per nine in a circuit that ranks towards the low end of the A-ball spectrum isn't good news on the performance front. Consider his place in history: co-holder for the National League single-season record for saves, because his 2003 tally of 55 leaves him knotted with John Smoltz's 2002 campaign in a third-best finish behind Francisco Rodriguez's 2008 spin with the Angels and Bobby Thigpen's 57-save season from 1990. Per WXRL, Gagne's 2003 ranks as the second-best relief season ever, and best in NL history. Change to ARP, and it ranks "just" 30th all-time, but if you rank him by FRA to go with a rate metric, he's back in the top 20, one of just three from the game's Juiced Era (the others being Mike Jackson in 1998 and Rafael Soriano in 2003).

Now, Gagne's obviously a bit of an outlier, since we didn't have a ton of pumped-up relievers setting records during the performance-aided era, at least not as far as we know. And just as obviously, Gagne wasn't able to keep up his level of performance, as he began to break down after just one more good season in 2004. Nevertheless, why is it that the arguments over PED-related performance spikes so rarely involve the pitchers? I know why and you know why-chicks dig the long ball, right?-so this is about as artlessly rhetorical as questions get on the subject of the arguably enhanced performance. But at the same time that people complain about doing something to the historical record to punish the men who hit lots of homers and who may or may not have used stuff, and may or may not have benefited from it in terms of their performances, I wonder, does a homer hit with the suggested benefit of HGH or steroids-or amphetamines-count more, less, or the same if it's hit off of a fellow accused user of any or all of those things?

It's the sort of thing that tells me it's best to just accept that the historical record is just that, the historical record. Apply whatever value judgments as you see fit, but these things happened. I'm comfortable with the suggestion that, rather than try and re-sanctify any record book, it is important instead to take a step back and accept that there are no sacred numbers. Nor should there be, especially when you've had things like Hack Wilson's RBI record in play, in what was a publicly recognized accounting error. Some record-keeping organizations went to the mat to protect something that wasn't true, preferring the fiction of his driving in 190 men to the fact of his plating 191. Similarly, I don't treat the single-season home-run record that Ned Williamson set in 1884, and that stood until Babe Ruth beat it in 1919, with any particular reverence; it was a silly record created by a ballpark whose left-field fence was 180 feet from home plate. That said, it's also an incontrovertible historical fact: Williamson hit those home runs. In the same way that I would never claim that Bobby Thigpen had the best relief season ever on the basis of his getting a whole lot of saves in one year, I'm comfortable with not taking very seriously the suggestion that Williamson was the game's greatest power hitter before Babe Ruth.

Instead of getting hung up on numerology, I'd suggest that these things that happened instead gives us the contributing evidence to discuss what really matters: the game's history. It's history that gives us the lens through which to understand what went into creating the numbers. With a sense of history, we'll always look at the statistical feats of 1989 or 1994 through to 2004 or 2005 with a jaundiced eye. But whatever way you look at them, the events on the diamond happened.

Of course, beyond unhallowing assorted "hallowed records," they play merry hell with similarity scores of any stripe, of course, but I'm not so worried about that when we're talking about amphetamine-aided records set in the '60s or '70s, or cocaine-aided outcomes from the '70s or early '80s. Speaking only for myself, I wasn't especially worried about contemporary feats that consigned to lower rungs those of former greats who set their records in eight-team leagues against unintegrated competition in a slightly longer season. Instead, I look at all of this as just another reason to educate yourself to the factors in play in any era.

In the meantime, there's Eric Gagne's bid for a last spin in Dodgers blue to consider. It's a long shot, of course, and it's generous of them to forget, if not, as Lord Balfour would have it, to forgive. Gagne was handled poorly by Ned Yost in 2008 after a multi-month run of effectiveness with the Rangers in 2007 (punctuated by his awful stretch run with the Red Sox that year), so it's possible he has something to contribute. It's also possible he's done, but that's the lovely thing about pitchers, you never really know. It's that uncertainty that perhaps contributes to the willingness to overlook some PED-using pitchers their on-field feats, but I'd rather take that uncertainty to describe the entire misfortune of the Juiced Era. We do not know the full scope of the Juiced Era, and how it played out in any and every element of in-season feats or team accomplishments; I doubt we ever will. Forgetting would be an obvious mistake, so I'll have none of Balfour's declaration, preferring to stick with a sense of history.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed C-R Rod Barajas to a one-year, $1 million base contract. [2/20]

With that, another bad choice for a starting catcher gets added to the Mets' mounting heap of maybes behind the plate. Given that Chris Coste was signed to a deal that seems tailored to keep him happy even with an eventual assignment to Buffalo, and with an eye towards his tutoring Josh Thole, it would seem that the real contenders for the dignity of the office are really just three: Barajas, Henry Blanco, and Omir Santos. Adding Barajas only really gives the Mets depth instead of diversity in their catching portfolio. None of the three men gets on base well; Blanco's got the highest single-season mark for unintentional walks drawn with 33, set in 1999. Last season, Santos managed 14 in 306 PA, while Barajas drew 18 in 460. You can hope hitting whoever wins the playing time in eighth slot helps their walk numbers a little, but Blanco's a career .220/.280/.346 hitter against right-handers, Barajas is at .240/.282/.402, and Santos is at .274/.311/.389, an age-28 rookie season that far exceeded his minor-league track record. Blanco's overstretched as anything but a part-time player. Barajas is more durable, but he's a "slugger" in that his record owes much to the benefits of hitting in Texas during his best years; the most you can say for their signing him is that it indicates that even the Mets seem to recognize Santos isn't a great bet to repeat even last season's modest production. Now, I know, beggars can't be choosers, but adding Barajas does little beyond raising the body count to the problem, while potentially just providing them a "name" player who excuses management from coming up with a more meaningful solution.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 2B/OF-R Josh Barfield to a minor-league contract. [2/19]

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated LHP Doug Slaten for assignment. [2/14]
Signed CF-R Willy Taveras to a minor-league contract. [2/15]
Signed LHP Ron Villone to a minor-league contract. [2/17]
Outrighted LHP Doug Slaten to Syracuse (Triple-A). [2/18]
Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year, $2-million base contract; placed RHP Jordan Zimmermann on the 60-day DL. [2/19]

Wang won't be able to pitch in the majors until May, but sort of like the decision to sign Jason Marquis, it's an interesting tweak to the rotation picture for a team that might, as a result, achieve at least a better brand of baseball than last season's disasterpiece. Say Wang comes back and is semi-effective; that's a rotation with Marquis, John Lannan, and Wang up front, which at least doesn't sound like a joke. We'll see what happens with Stephen Strasburg, whether he's ready around the same time as Wang, or sooner. Scott Olsen seems likely to be in another one of the slots, assuming he proves he's healthy. That's probably your eventual quintet, but in the meantime there could be cut-down to two initial rotation-bid winners to none, selected from among the field of J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen, Matt Chico, Garrett Mock, Collin Balester, and Shairon Martis.

The question is really whether or not Wang's finesse act will play if he's less than 100 percent recovered from last year's shoulder surgery. Even with a move to the easier league, he'll be joining a team with a less than scintillating defensive reputation beyond individual assets like center fielder Nyjer Morgan and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. That said, there isn't a ton of cash in play, especially relative to the potential payoffs that might come in terms of the value the Nats can recoup in two ways beyond Wang's on-field achievements. First, if he shows some measure of health and effectiveness, they should be able to convert their ability to take this risk now into somebody else's prospect later. Second, perhaps more significantly, is the potential value Wang adds to the Nats' brand-a rotation that can keep them in games might at least earn some measure of faith from an understandably skeptical fan base. If there are fewer entertainment dollars to go around in today's day and age, something that helps the Nationals present a more competitive product in-game can't hurt when folks might decide to go to the shore or the Shenandoah than watch another 5-12 loss.

As for signing Taveras, I guess I'm not too worked up one way or another. As a matter of former propinquity and lasting pity, I may care for the Nats more than any other NL ballclub (we all have to pick one, right?), I already had to live with the specter of Taveras playing for the A's. Taveras' career might seem to be well into Alex Sanchez/Miguel Dilone-level ignominy, but there are things he does reliably well (field, throw, run, bunt), and those are things that have value on a bench. As a result, Taveras might make the team without it really being all that noxious. The danger is that he might graduate to regular playing time, because this is a club depending on Nyjer Morgan's repeating last season's remarkable performance and on Elijah Dukes to graduate from his Mini-Milton Bradley career of season-abbreviating distractions and mishaps. However, they're taking similar NRI spins with Chris Duncan and Kevin Mench, neither of whom should be cause for any real enthusiasm, but who could surprise you just the same, while you can expect Willie Harris will be ahead of any of them on the depth chart. In the past, Jim Riggleman's favored an actively-used bench with good-hitting reserves; if he retains Taveras, it'll be with a few explicit uses in mind, with only the most disastrous contingencies involving a whole lot of at-bats.


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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