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September 3, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

Waiving Good-Bye?

by Christina Kahrl

First off, let me offer an apology. I've been away a lot for the last two weeks, as a family emergency has me in Peekskill, New York, helping my Mom and uncle sort out my grandmother's affairs. Back in April, this is the same reason why I wound up back in the adopted land of my 17th century Dutch forbears, servants of the old patroon, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, only this time it is without the possibility of a happy ending, and that has pulled me away from the game, the season, and my duties here at BP.

Naturally, there's a lot to catch up on, but sticking with what I know, let's quickly review what has changed as far as the major moves of August now that we're down to the season's last lap. Nags get to indulge themselves by noting that a term like 'Deadline Day' for July's final sunrise has little meaning because deals are, after all, still possible. Thanks to an interminable, feudalistic waivers process that virtually demands the creation of protocol droids, August can be an elaborate game of chicken, where any team's individual Venn diagram over who to grab and why involves an overlay of individual ambition, payroll, and roster design.

Unfortunately, there's also a lot of time spent and an awful lot of pointless commentary on non-moves and non-events that bring baseball down around People-level infotainment: “Johnny Damon to the Tigers: 'I just can't quit you—and thanks to my contractual rights, I don't have to.'”

Now that the waiver-trade period is over and done with, who really came out ahead as far as their August pickups, waiver-dependent trade or otherwise?

Fortune Favors the Bold?

However many moves were mooted, only one GM gets pride of place here, as Kenny Williams made the one move that qualifies as significant in an otherwise listless bunch of moves by grabbing Manny Ramirez from the Dodgers. Not unlike last year's bold snag of Alex Rios, all it took was money, and when the division's at stake, Ramirez might represent one of the best stretch pickups ever for his 2008 spin as a newly minted Dodger.

How good was Manny then, after he came over from the Dodgers? Using his 229 PAs as a cutoff, you get the fourth-best season of all time from the Retrosheet Era per MLVr, behind a trio of Barry Bonds seasons, and one rung ahead of Ted Williams' 1957 campaign. So, ridiculously good. Is that a realistic basis for wishcasts, let alone expectations? Of course not, but using his brief work with this year's Dodgers, it was still good for a team-leading .32 MLVr. Contrast that to the White Sox' DH options of 2010—Mark Kotsay (-0.09), Mark Teahen (0.02), and Andruw Jones (0.04)—and you've got an existing proposition that if he remains around where's at, he's worth an additional run every three or four games with 31 left to play by the time he was became a Sock. Keeping this on cocktail napkin-level math, that's perhaps as much as a win with a month to go. A win, in the division that has had to go to 163 games in each of the last seasons. Our Playoff Odds Report may have the Twins as preponderant favorites, but simple mathematics would have also presented us with a division-winning Tigers team at a much later stage of the season. To make up the distance, the Sox couldn't let it ride, and true to Williams' willingness to protect his initial bets, they did not.

Indeed, it might also accrue additional offensive benefits by crowding Teahen back toward third base, sparing the Sox a few too many at-bats for Omar Vizquel. Not a ton, of course, but maybe that helps push the tally toward making up the difference between the Sox and Twins by another half-game. However, it does not spare them all the Juan Pierre they signed up for, because with the punchless leadoff man batting right around his projected .258 TAv by clocking in at .262, but between his value as a defender in left field and his getting his OBP over .350 via a league-leading 18 HBPs, he's fulfilled whatever expectations the Sox might have reasonably had for him.

Is that worth the $3.8 million or so that this will cost Jerry Reinsdorf? Of course it is, because of the money that a successful return to the playoffs might bring into the till, and also because it represents an ongoing financial commitment to the White Sox brand—which their fans might reasonably associate with a capacity for taking risks, going for it, and not moping about expense. The didn't surrender anything else of value, which is just as well—get beyond the first half-dozen prospects in the organization, and the term loses a lot of its meaning.

Finally, there's the really entertaining, permanently speculative thing about Manny, which is that you just never know. He might have something like '08 in the tank, there for the tapping. The temptation of believing that it's still there, just waiting to be summoned, puts Ozzie Guillen in the unenviable position of being the latest skipper who needs to sort out how Manny being Manny adds up to mayhem on the diamond and not distraction away from it. Add in the possibility that Manny goes nuts in October, and maybe this helps the Sox get to the LCS.

The Practical (and Practically Necessary)

Not every move is glorious, but there are those that are sensible bits of shoring up, especially after injuries struck. I'd put the Twins' moves to patch up their pen and the Braves' acquisition of Derrek Lee in this category. Lee may not have shined since the swap—indeed, he may lose time to Freddie Freeman the way things are going—but it was worth trying out.

In contrast with Kenny Williams' latest big-ticket tack-on, the Twins settled for shoring up their bullpen by adding a pair of southpaws: fallen Angel Brian Fuentes, and the eminently dispensable Randy Flores of the Rockies. Since closer Matt Capps isn't known for his durability, adding Fuentes to Ron Gardenhire's list of fall-back options beyond Jon Rauch was sensible enough, but losing first Jose Mijares for a month and then Ron Mahay for the balance of the season created an obvious need for lefty relief help, one which GM Bill Smith addressed as adroitly this season as he did last when he snagged Mahay in the first place.

Everybody Likes Depth, Don't They?

There were a bunch of these moves, mostly insurance-minded additions to shore up either a going concern in the playoff hunt or to just have somebody you think you can fix who has enough service time in which to fix him. I'd put the Rangers' additions of Jeff Francoeur and Alex Cora, the Reds' addition of Jim Edmonds, and the Rockies' nabbing of Manny Delcarmen in this category, but none of these moves seem likely to make a really major difference in themselves.

Take the Rangers. Maybe they see something in Frenchy they can fix, in which case they wouldn't be the first sucker on that score. But it really seems as if their expectations are appropriately modest, and that they see him as a bench bat, nothing more. If they non-tender him after the season, and in the meantime employ him only as a spot reserve in the outfield corners, and resembling a platoon-worthy reserve (if just barely), that's not so terrible. If, on the other hand, he becomes the latest right-handed batter to delight in hitting in Texas, so much the better... although they'll still probably non-tender him if he won't accept a low-ball offer.

Delcarmen is arb-eligible for both 2011 and 2012 and his live arm has always commanded some interest; he's a worthwhile snag on the off chance he adapts effectively to Denver, but he'll need to get his strikeout rate back up over 20 percent to garner any job security.

Being Defined by Your Sense of Taste... of the Lack of It

The Giants' increasing desperation would be funny if it weren't simply pitiable. Cody Ross, Jose Guillen, and Mike Fontenot? That's the cavalry? Ross and Fontenot are both riding pine, so they do at least provide the virtue of depth. Guillen has been plugged into the lineup as the most-regular right fielder, replacing the temporary, odd, multi-positional platoon of Travis Ishikawa and Aaron Rowand once and for all, leaving Andres Torres in center field. Guillen's combined True Average is at .271, still a lousy rate of production for the position, and he might be politely described as without value on defense. He's not that much better than Ross (.259).

The fact that these are the people the Giants are collecting suggests that the problem is less one of recognition than an inability to identify solutions. Signing Freddy Sanchez and Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe, signing Mark DeRosa as a left fielder... is there a plan here? If not for Aubrey Huff's breakout and Pat Burrell's landing in their collective lap, this would have been a fairly grim offense, but adding Ross and Guillen and Fontenot are of a piece with an acquisition “strategy” that seems defined by grabbing formerly famous people and hoping that they have spectacular comebacks. It can work here and there, but asking for it from five different lineup slots at once—not so much

Les Liaisons Inutiles

And naturally, there were a few dramatically pointless maneuvers. I'd nominate two in particular as noteworthy.

First, there's the Cardinals' snagging of Pedro Feliz, cause for celebration in Cincinnati, and a potentially suicidal misstep that adds nothing in the way of value at the plate. Apparently, Aurelio Rodriguez wasn't available—he's dead, after all, surprisingly enough. With Feliz, the bat's no more lively, but you might be able to defend or justify this if it was seen as a matter of helping their defense, giving Skip Schumaker a platoon partner in the lineup while allowing Tony La Russa to move Felipe Lopez around between second and third.

Sadly, that isn't the deal—it's Lopez now and Lopez tomorrow, and Lopez until they notice what a bad idea this was. Theirs not to reason why, and yes, someone has blundered, but it's just surprising that it wasn't an Ed Wade clone making this move, since the original already seems to have sorted out his mistake. The relationship between this bad idea and giving up Ryan Ludwick seems pretty straightforward—the Cardinals cut into one of their few strengths to add an adequate starter, and now they're so short on offensive help they stooped to this.

Lastly, there's the Dodgers' addition of Rod Barajas. Maybe it was a matter of timing, but they would have been better off just sticking with A.J. Ellis, considering their infinitesimal shot at the playoffs. Not that Ellis is a top prospect, but why not play him in Russell Martin's absence, to see if he's next year's first choice for the club's caddy?

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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