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March 7, 2010

Transaction Action

NL Nibbles

by Christina Kahrl

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RF-R Justin Upton on a six-year, $51.25 million contract extension. [3/3]

It's nice to see the Snakes stick with a fundamentally sound proposition and invest in their top talents while eliminating the need to haggle via arbitration. But is it really something noteworthy as far as truly inspired, or just basic housekeeping? While I'm glad to see the D'backs make this kind of commitment, I'm inclined to see this as being more the latter case.

Keep in mind, this deal is being handed out by Josh Byrnes, the same man who saw Eric Byrnes as someone he had to hand an eight-figure-per-annum deal he predictably regretted; as I said at the time, "I have a hard time buying the suggestion that he's a difference-making power source in left field for anybody. Byrnes might age decently, considering that he's more athletic than your average 31-year-old, but you're still talking about a guy who can't slug .500 in one of the best hitting environments in baseball, and one that you're pasting into a premium offensive position." Obviously, not all multi-year deals are created equal, and shouldn't be handed to everybody because arbitration is unfun and icky, or because you like a particular player's mop-headed brio on the diamond.

It also comes two years after the franchise was potentially byrned by Byrnes' decision to hand Chris Young a five-year, $28 million extension that, sensible as that was in the abstract, is looking like committing too much too soon two years later.* The three-year, $14.25 million extension for Chris Snyder after the 2008 season isn't exactly an unqualified success, although the Snakes can duck out of that commitment after 2011 rather than pick up a $6.75 million club option if he's still only caddying for Miguel Montero.

However, frustrating experiences like that aside, it's worth remembering that 2008 was the same year that Byrnes was handing Dan Haren his extension, a sound investment. Byrnes also inked Brandon Webb to his extension just a few months into his tenure as the team's GM, so it isn't like he has just Haren and now Upton to his credit.

The details of Upton's deal are relatively straightforward: they've bought out what could have been his first two years of free agency (2014 and 2015) at what can be certainly taken as market rates ($28.75 million), while paying him $22.5 million over the next four, where they had contractual control. The cost certainty is nice, of course, but the more obvious, basic fact is that Upton's exactly the sort of player you make this investment in. More than any other player on the roster or in the organization, Upton's the talent who stands the best shot at delivering on this kind of value en route to becoming the face of the franchise.

*: Given the oddities of Young's performance, it's going to be very interesting to watch and see if he can fix his plate judgment issue. Working into deeper counts isn't the problem; doing something with them is. Between a slightly higher-than-average swinging strike rate, and a significantly above-average clip for popping up, a steep ratio of fly balls to grounders, and a lower total number of balls in play, he's probably the extreme case of the game's great "unproductive outs" guy. How much of that can be fixed by working with a specific hitting coach will be interesting to sort out; Rick Schu was removed in the same purge that was headlined by skipper Bob Melvin, so this will be Jack Howell's first camp working with Young.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 3B-R Travis Metcalf and RF-R Ryan Harvey to minor-league contracts. [3/5]
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-L Garret Anderson to a minor-league contract. [3/3]

A choice between Brian Giles and Doug Mientkiewicz for your primary left-handed pinch-hitter is one of those self-inflicted chores of odium you really wish you hadn't cornered yourself into making. Naturally, having started to witness some of the ghastly possibilities, you want to escape somehow, choosing one form of avoidance behavior or another. Maybe it's cleaning your desk, or doing laundry, or getting in on the sudoku craze a few years late. Maybe you decide, despite being a sentient adult, to invest a weekend in a Diff'rent Strokes marathon, or devote a few hundred man-hours towards setting a personal high score on Frogger.

But try as you might to avoid that awful choice, you're still left with the tedium of choosing. So why not skip ahead and select, "None of the above" because you don't want to? That's a proactive bit of decisiveness, right? You've decided not to decide, instead seeking out a third, slightly more plausible candidate: Garret Anderson. And stranger still, if someone else is responsible for picking between these three, I'm left thinking that Anderson might be the best of the bunch. That's because it's a weak field, and because Anderson's a contact hitter who might fulfill most managers' expectations for what a pinch-hitter is supposed to do: make contact on demand. Minky's even better at putting balls in play on his career, but he doesn't have the history Anderson has, nor is he a former cross-town hero. If Anderson can adapt to the challenge of being a bench player, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him riding Dodgers pine. That doesn't make him a great choice, but if he's healthy and makes the adjustments to a role defined by sporadic summonings, he might resemble the best available.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Kiko Calero to a minor-league contract. [3/4]

Finally, a chance to credit Omar Minaya's crew for doing something sensible and good, however limited it might seem in terms of its importance. Calero was one of a number of quality free agents still available, although in his case it's easy to understand why. First, he's been dealing with shoulder woes for years, so he's far from a sure thing as an active participant over a full season.

Second, he's a ROOGY, and that makes him an asset who has his uses, but who needs to be part of an effective, well-managed unit to hide him from his weaknesses. On his career, Calero's splits aren't too frightening in the abstract: a nice bit of dominance against right-handers (.202/.266/.312) and survivably wild against lefties (.244/.352/.373). He either hits his spots with his slider, or he doesn't; he doesn't throw hard enough consistently enough to get by any other way for long. He's coming off of an excellent season with the Fish, posting a FRA of 1.62 as well as a WXRL of 1.745, a mark that would have ranked second on the Mets last year.

By situational stardom standards on his career, Calero ought to be an improvement on Sean Green, the pen's resident ROOGY; Green's first year as a Met was somewhat grim (-0.256 WXRL), and his career clip of getting pasted by lefties is more extreme: .270/.400/.418, against a decidedly less dominant .266/.329/.349 performance against right-handers.

However, the Mets' bullpen situation isn't quite that clear-cut, however. Beyond Francisco Rodriguez getting saves and Pedro Feliciano being the primary lefty in the pen, things get a bit blurry as far as sorting out who does what. Kelvim Escobar is less than 100 percent and may open the year on the DL, and it'll take time to sort out what Ryota Igarashi is especially good for. Bobby Parnell might be the guy who steps into a high-leverage set-up role, between his high-velocity gifts and his seeming lack of a future as a starter, but he also may not be ready for that now. Eddie Kunz is probably going to wind up as another sin of commission on the long list of bad ideas that characterize the Minaya regime.

So Calero's shot at joining Feliciano as the situational tandem that feeds leads to K-Rod seems relatively clear. If they round that out with Parnell, Igarashi, and either side-arming southpaw Jay Marshall or Pat Misch for second lefty chores, that's an interesting pen. That said, Green, Clint Everts, Elmer Dessens, and Josh Fogg will all be in the picture for right-handed jobs, and I won't be surprised at all if Jerry Manuel breaks camp with seven men in the pen.


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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