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March 30, 2010

Transaction Action

We Three Giants

by Christina Kahrl

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned C-R Dusty Brown and INF-R Kevin Frandsen to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [3/29]

So, for all that as far as Frandsen, what really matters here is that Tug Hulett's bid for a big-league job is still a going concern. You gotta believe, right?


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Chad Gaudin. [3/28]
Placed RHP Jon Meloan on the 60-day DL (elbow). [3/29]

The history of the A's is so overstuffed with prodigal son stories—whether players ranging from Al Simmons to Rickey Henderson, or player-then-managers like Jimmy Dykes to Tony La Russa, or player-then-general managers like Billy Beane—that seeing Gaudin back is one of those karmic things most green-and-gold groupies should have anticipated. He's had success in a rotation and experience in the pen, and between the injuries to Michael Wuertz and Joey Devine already affecting the A's relief corps, and the perhaps understandable expectation that there's no guarantee that Justin Duchscherer or Ben Sheets remain in full working order as A's all season, bringing back le grand Gaudin makes perfectly good sense. As utility pitchers go, he's handy, and on a staff with as many question marks as the A's unfortunately suffer from or will, he's a fine as well as a familiar late-spring addition.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Released OF-L Joey Gathright. [3/28]

The Blue Jays need outfielders even more than Mars needs women, so it's relatively damning of Gathright's remaining value that he couldn't even crack this roster. Add into it the indignity that Jose Bautista might not just be the starting right fielder, but also the club's leadoff man, and you might wonder if Gathright, the former speedster and leadoff prospect (in some quarters, at least) isn't having an understandable existential crisis: A non-contender that needs a leadoff hitter and a starting outfielder can't even find room for me on the bench? And they're going to keep Jeremy Reed? It's the sort of circumstance that must have Jason Tyner paging his agent.


ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-L Gregor Blanco to Gwinnett (Triple-A). [3/28]

The Braves' position-player picks are somewhat straightforward: with Jason Heyward making the club, the bench should have David Ross as the backup catcher, Omar Infante as the six-position supersub, Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske as the righty/lefty bench boppers when they aren't being spot-started for platoon advantages in the outfield corners (or at first, in Hinske's case), and then the last guy. The last guy will be either Brooks Conrad or Sloppy Joe Thurston. Thurston might be faster, while Conrad has a bit more sock, but either way, it's a guy who will see a lot of mid-game pinch-hitting duties alternating with pine time aplenty.

Which leaves Gregor Blanco among the damned, perhaps too poetically, since he's stranded out in the suburbs with the club's Triple-A affiliate. I don't know if there's a universe in which a special lab develops speedy outfielders with no power and generally poor contact skills with an eye towards a dismal future where such players have outsized value; as the pre-apocalyptic fantasy The Damned argued, once you're exposed to them, the damned tend to be lethal to everything around them, and it's not hard to see how Blanco would likewise poison a lineup by the simple virtue of being himself. Perhaps the suburbs are the best place for such things after all.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Reassigned RHP Scott Strickland and 1B-L Logan Morrison to their minor-league camp; noted the loss of RHP Hayden Penn to the Pirates via a waiver claim. [3/29]

Thus endeth the camp battle for who starts at first base, as Morrison gets a somewhat predictable assignment to the minors to spiffen up his eventual claim to the job, while the ready-now Gaby Sanchez gets to be the placeholder of the present. Similarly, most of the last few left to have made it this far in the running have a similarly tough road climbing up to the top of the fish ladder in their fight to stick in the pen or on the bench. In the now Penn-less pen, with Strickland sent down and in the expectation that Rick VandenHurk's going to be a flying Dutchman headed back down to New Orleans, the last bullpen slot's probably down to a choice between non-roster invite Seth McClung and farm-grown flamethrower Tim Wood. For the bench, whether two non-roster players stick or one depends a lot on how serious Brett Carroll's strained oblique turns out to be; minor-league journeymen Brian Barden, Hector Luna, and Donnie Murphy are all interested parties, with organizational player Bryan Peterson in the running because he's the guy who's actually an outfielder.

Taking a step back, the Fish might be the team that lands the most non-roster players come Opening Day. Since the Marlins only have 12 active position players from the 40-man left on the active roster, that means at least one spot for a NRI guy who made it among the hitters. On the pitching staff, Clay Hensley's going to be NRI who, for now, is in the rotation. Fellow non-roster dude Jose Veras look like he'll be in the pen, and if McClung beats out Wood, that would make it four NRIs. Since Peterson's the only one of the lot who might even remotely be considered a prospect, it's another interesting little indicator of how one team has chosen to adapt when it comes to the task of rounding out the roster.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Noted the loss of C/1B Chris Coste on a waiver claim by the Nationals. [3/29]
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned OF-R John Mayberry to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [3/28]
Released RHP Joe Bisenius and OF-L Brad Wilkerson. [3/29]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed RHP Hayden Penn off waivers from the Marlins; designated OF-L Brandon Moss for assignment. [3/29]

Someone might want to let the good people in neighboring Ohio know that there's already a voracious bottom feeder in their vicinity, and it isn't the Asian carp—it's Neil Huntington. To the credit of the Bucs' GM, he doesn't settle for investing too much faith in any of the stuff he's accumulated in his multitude of dump-off deals—Moss had his chance to show that he was more than just an organizational soldier, and flopped spectacularly, so why deed the spot on the 40-man to him when the wire yielded up something notionally more valuable. Penn's past prospect status may now be several years out of date, and going from the Orioles to the Pirates (by way of Florida) seems appropriate for a career already characterized by misfortune, but on a roster already littered with other people's castoffs, he may well finally stick.

As for a further retrospective on the Bay deal of 2008, as badly as it has turned out in terms of what the Pirates got for a year and two months of Bay's time, that has very little to do with Moss' failure or Craig Hansen's—the players I referred to at the time as ballast. Bryan Morris remains a promising arm, so there's hope that the Pirates get something to show for themselves out of the exchange beyond mere payroll savings. No, the full extent of the deal's disaster really rests with Andy LaRoche's failure to live up to his top prospect status. To the extent that was something the Pirates couldn't really anticipate, it's not something to lambaste Huntington about—LaRoche looked like the real deal then, rating as a top 20 prospect on Kevin Goldstein's and Baseball America's lists alike. Even second-guessing the move on the basis of their having selected Pedro Alvarez in the amateur draft a few weeks beforehand strikes me as a bit unfair; then as now there was considerable speculation that Alvarez may grow up to be a first baseman.

In retrospect, it's important to remember that Huntington's acquisitions have generally had to be the sorts of swaps that didn't rebuild his organization as much as re-stock it. He was, after all, just tearing down what was an already lousy team, so of course he didn't get the sort of goodies that Mark Teixeira yielded to the Rangers—he wasn't trading Mark Teixeira. In Bay, he was trading the balance of a top slugger's season as well as the next one, and for that he received a player who was, by general consent, a top 20 prospect, or exactly what anybody from any background would have wanted him to deliver as a club's general manager. The misery of the Pirates' predicament is that, in the lesser LaRoche, Huntington may have received a player no more valuable than any of the back-end rotation aspirants or Jose Tabata acquired in the Nady/Marte trade with the Yankees.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHPs Cesar Carrillo and Ernesto Frieri, C-R Dusty Ryan, 2B-R Matt Antonelli, OF-R Aaron Cunningham, and OF-S Luis Durango to Portland (Triple-A). [3/28]

If there's a sad note to strike here, it's on Cunningham's behalf, but the Padres' bench is shaping up as an interesting unit. With Tony Gwynn Jr. and Scott Hairston splitting time in center, whichever one isn't starting will be a handy contributor to a group that will include multi-positional veteran Jerry Hairston Jr., and Yorvit Torrealba for back-up backstopping. It'll also feature Oscar Salazar and perhaps Matt Stairs as a righty/lefty tandem of professional hitters of very different sorts, but each valuable in his way: Salazar for contact with some smoke on the ball, Stairs for his Three True Outcomes orientation. Not to drink too deeply of any Pad-ade, it's an interesting collection, although as a non-roster invite, Stairs still has to cement his spot.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RHP Matt Cain on a new three-year, $27.25-million contract (through 2012); agreed to terms with RHP Brian Wilson on a two-year, $15-million contract extension (through 2012); signed LHP Jeremy Affeldt to a $4.5-million contract extension for 2011 with a $5-million club option for 2012 ($500,000 buyout). [3/28]

It's splashy to have made all three moves at once, of course, but not all deals are inspired by the same factors, let alone represent the same things beyond mere expense. For example, Wilson's deal might seem expensive, but he was a super-two player already more than $4.4 million this year after avoiding arbitration, so he stood a good chance of making that sort of money in consecutive cases in front of the panel. Chalk that up to achieving cost certainty, and it makes a certain measure of sense.

Affeldt's a bit more of a wacky investment, engendered by his incredible performance with runners on base last year. As remarkable as his season was last year, the man's either going to become a hallowed hero as one of the most clutch pitchers of all time, with what would border on psionic abilities to erase baserunners on double-play grounders, or he might become a great example of why it makes sense to not mound up even more cash to reward someone you already pay quite well for what was, after all, an extraordinary season. That's not to say that Affeldt's performance last year wasn't clutch—of course it was. But that's using clutch as an adjective, and the extent to which clutch pitching is a repeatable skill seems more than a wee bit dubious, given everything we know about the generally uninformative nature of reliever ERAs, hence Affeldt's much higher SIERA than ERA, and what that portends about the future. Admittedly, Affeldt's deal is just a matter of giving him a $500,000 raise for 2010, locking him in at the same rate for 2011, and getting a club option for 2012. Whichever way he does it, he should still be a useful reliever in the next two years, and if he can repeat his new ability to induce tailor-made double-play grounders, he'll have substantial tactical value. That doesn't seem that likely to add up to what they're paying, especially not in a market that is paying Rafael Betancourt about 20 percent less, but obviously, they really like Affeldt, and just as obviously, he amply fulfilled their expectations. Bully for him, I say.

Which leaves the case of Cain, which is interesting, if nothing else. Old deal or new, at its base they're paying him the same in 2010 as they were already committed to: $4.25 million. However, the old deal also came with a few bells and whistles: another $400,000 for 32 starts or more, or for 210 innings or more. Between a signing bonus and a raise, they're paying him an additional $1.75 million above the $6.25-million base they were committed to already with the 2011 club option from the old deal, but here again, it wasn't a clean club option, since it could vest with certain playing time targets. Plus that base could move up by $1.9 million if he reached certain landmarks as far as innings or starts. So to some extent, it looks like they're getting an element of cost certainty—Cain might have made more than $8 million in 2011 under the terms of the old deal, so the Giants may not really be out anything extra here.

And for achieving that cost certainty, what's the pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow? They buy one more year of Cain, at $15 million for 2012. It may not be standard practice to sing Brian Sabean's praises on my beat, but I love this deal for the club. I'm already among the ranks of Cain apologists—however many of my colleagues keep want to talk about how "lucky" he is, I keep thinking predictions of his impending failure are dramatically overstated. Sure, he's outpitched his peripherals, and BABIP nellies are sure to keep quailing over what's to come, but even if his ERA bounces back up into the 3.60-3.70 range, he's not baseball answer to a Hilton or a Kardashian to be named later. He would simply be what he already is, a quality starting pitcher with a solid strikeout rate, but also one with an improving walk rate. Getting shrieky over how overrated he must be somewhere because of last year's 2.89 ERA risks losing sight of the value he's consistently delivered, ranking among the top 10 in SNLVAR in 2009, "just" 31st in 2008, and 11th in 2007. His last three seasons in the rotation rank among the 50 best in San Francisco Giants history. To get an additional year of anything approximating that kind of performance for $15 million after paying him below-market wages for the first six years of his career isn't merely payback, it's simply an extremely worthwhile investment.

I'm less certain as far as why Cain would agree to this, except that he was able to. It pushes off the anticipated even bigger payday that free agency is supposed to be for him by another year. Certainly, if John Lackey's contract is any sort of guide for what the market will bear, Cain's set to be making No. 1 or No. 1A wages in 2012, but he's taking on an additional year of risk of any potential injury occurring. If pitching is almost automatically an exercise in risk, both for the GM spending on it and the man on the mound doing it, that sort of personal calamity would send a subsequent deal for tens of millions of dollars, per year or perhaps ever, up in smoke. That's the bean counter's worldview, of course, but it's not your opportunity to sign an $80-million deal or mine at stake, but his. Banking on his ability to command that kind of salary as a free agent after 2012 and his age-27 season isn't a ridiculous gamble for Cain to take with himself, but he could after all just as easily suffer a career-altering injury in 2010 or 2011, and he'd have been out eight figures in that case. It's a conservative play, but a defensible one. If management and the player both win, how can that be a bad thing?


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed C/1B-R Chris Coste off waivers from the Mets. [3/29]

While this might represent an upgrade as far as backup catchers go, Wil Nieves is already a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Backup Backstops, and he's got dibs on the job. The strange thing is why the Nationals bothered to grab Coste—they'll also have to risk him on waivers if he's really just intended to replace Jamie Burke at Triple-A, and Coste may not even really have all that much left to offer as a 37-year-old. If it's simply a matter of messing with the Mets, that's all well and good, but barring a frank acknowledgment that Nieves shouldn't enjoy any job security, this seems like a snaggy wishcast made on the hope that nobody else will grab him when it comes the Nats' turn to put Coste in the International League.


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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An Agent's Take: Flexi... (03/30)
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