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December 8, 2010

Transaction Analysis

Recent Deliveries

by Christina Kahrl

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American League
National League

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Signed 1B-L Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56 million contract; re-signed C-L A.J. Pierzynski to a two-year, $8 million contract; traded RHP Scott Linebrink and $3.5 million to the Braves for Kyle Cofield. [12/3]

If the old saying about generals is that they make the mistake of trying to win the last war, what's there to say about this course of events? Start off with having Jim Thome, and then you let him leave. You replace him with Mark Kotsay and a hug. Five months later, you think you want the hug back, and go Manny-crazy, only to find out that, like he's a lot more fascinating when he's in somebody else's headlines. And a year later you spend a lot more money to get a guy who's going to give you good stuff... a lot like Jim Thome? And re-signing AJP, because Tyler Flowers' readiness is one of those increasingly dubious propositions? And trying—and perhaps failing—to get Paul Konerko to stick around?

In some ways, it's about bringing the band back together. The propositions that were generally true for making a run in 2009—with a team equipped with Rios and Peavy and Thome/Dunn and Konerko and AJP, with Danks and Floyd presumably coming around—will hold true in 2011 as well. It's not a bad gamble, but it's the same gamble, and it runs up against a series of increasingly difficult propositions. They're never going to get another Konerko '10—that vintage had one pour, it was wonderful, and now it's over. Carlos Quentin has stalled out in adequacy, with two years of production that you could leave as easily as take.

And Dunn, moving to the AL? It's a nice move, and the money isn't insane or, if it is, that doesn't matter, because it's another case of Jerry Reinsdorf expanding the budget to keep the ambition engine fueled. Pay to play's the Chicago way, right? The Cell's a fine place to hit, he'll be the lefty thumper to presumably balance out the issues of the lineup's right-ward lean, and you can hope that he'll be so good that he makes up all of the ground Konerko's going to lose in terms of runs produced, that Quentin has already lost, and that Pierzynski and Juan Pierre cost you. In that first honeymoon season, at any rate, if everything goes well.

OK, neat, the band's back together. In the grand scheme of things, what if that band is Journey, with Steve Perry back?

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Re-signed SS-R Derek Jeter to a three-year, $48 million contract, with a 2014 player option of variable value. ($3 million buyout). [12/7]

I already got into this yesterday, and so far I have nothing new to add, beyond the Captain-obvious observation that next comes settlin' up with Mo before getting into the genuinely curious propositions for what the Bombers will do. Such as, will they really stick with the big-picture, world-domination issues: Whether they can sign Cliff Lee, whether they can also get Carl Crawford, and whether they can avoid some of the classic blunders, like a land war in Asia, or giving Francisco Cervelli far too many at-bats.

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Signed RHP J.J. Putz to a two-year, $10 million contract, with a $6.5 million club option for 2013. [12/3]

So, Putz gets purchased with the money saved by dealing away Mark Reynolds, predictably enough. Does this "fix" the team's pen? I'm a bit dubious. It's certainly a fact that Kevin Towers has addressed last year's bullpen issue by acquiring David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio from the Orioles, and then spending a bunch of money on a fragile veteran right-hander.

Keep in mind, Putz broke down again, once he was employed with greater frequency by August. Putz's rate stats with the White Sox were good and/or consistent with his past performance record if you go back toward his 2006-07 run as the Mariners' closer. If he's going to go to pieces after getting used heavily, I'm sort of suspicious about how much his 60 innings changes things around. Hernandez might give them another good 70-80 innings, and Mickolio might be both healthy and effective. But I wouldn't go running to the headline-o-meter and state Towers has turned the pen around already. He's committed a ton of attention to this one unit, and for his effort he's acquired a fragile ex-closer and a good pair of maybes.

That's nice. It's sort of like Towers' trying to resurrect Zach Duke, on the theory that a change of scenery couldn't hurt a guy who was good in his rookie intro five years ago and has been fairly reliably sub-mediocre since. As propositions go, these things aren't really that expensive, and just need to deliver results that don't involve humiliation and pain to resemble relative improvement. It's activity, so it's doing something, and if things go wrong, well, pitching always breaks your heart, the home field's a blame-worthy bandbox, and there was nowhere to go but up, right? I'm not sure I care for the standard, but action had to be the order of the day, and Towers acted.

That's not the same as saying he accomplished better pitching, just that he found new pitchers, and his club is still stuck with an offense with weak hitting at the thumper slots. It's hard to suggest anyone else would have done otherwise.

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Signed 1B/OF-L Eric Hinske to a one-year, $1.35 million contract, with a $1.5 million 2012 club option ($100,000 buyout). [12/1]
Acquired RHP Scott Linebrink and Stacks O'Cash from the White Sox for RHP Kyle Cofield. [12/3]

Having already landed Dan Uggla as their biggest acquisition of the winter, you can understand how the Braves have had a relatively quiet patch of late, between the run-up to the Winter Meetings, and even less busy once they got to Atlanta as well. Re-upping Hinske and acquiring Linebrink suggests a willingness to forgive veterans their recent warts—Hinske for his struggles in the second half, when he was mostly being restricted to pinch-hitting (he got only 24 starts after the All-Star break, or once every three games), and Linebrink for his almost complete uselessness the last two seasons, at the cost of just $2 million to employ him instead of running down some other reliever on the market. They're pretty much both in the “established veteran pay scale," so I wouldn't get worked up too much about either move. You can kibitz nevertheless, naturally; Linebrink might be rejuvenated by a move to the NL, but $2 million for a guy who might only be the third righty in the club's pen seems like a lot to spend for a guy who has sledded pretty far on the downslope of his career.

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Signed 1B/OF-S Lance Berkman to a one-year, $8 million contract. [12/6]

On some levels this was cool conceptually. Start off with the team-y proposition that, to get a better bat into the lineup, Matt Holliday was willing to move across the outfield to right. It wasn't the Congress of Berlin as momentous agreements of go, but it'll do.

But doing that to sign... a 35-year-old Berkman, giving the outfield a regular shot for the first time since 2004? Even if you give the man a mulligan for the worst year of his career, I'd liken this to their getting Ryan Theriot to man short, in that it's another investment in the hope that a veteran will get his groove back playing for Tony La Russa, and playing at a more difficult position than some people think either man can handle. For as many great examples of rejuvenated veterans as there have been—say, Will Clark or Fernando Vina—there have been plenty of examples that don't work so well, like Tino Martinez or Reggie Jackson to pick a couple of ex-Yankees' names out of one skipper's long career.

As much as it's a risk, though, I like the move for the Cards for a few reasons. Like trading for Theriot, it's a case of getting a guy not that far removed from hitting better than he did last year. Berkman is quite familiar with the division, the parks, and the opponents; if his HR/FB ratio only comes back to where it was with the Astros before his move to the DH league, that's still valuable, and if he keeps walking about 13-15 percent of the time, that's more big-inning potential from a lineup that wasn't to get that playing both Jon Jay and Brendan Ryan as regulars.

Finally, the length is sensible—it's a one-year deal because of the lack of certainty Berkman provides, but that's because he's fallen into that same well that sucked in Bobby Abreu (initially) or Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui, the gaping maw of "we're totally in like with you, until you give us cause to care a lot more." That's where he's at, but that doesn't mean you have to love the move or hate it, just accept it for what's known—he's in decline—and what isn't, like whether he'll have to be traded back to the DH league as ignominiously as Mike Easler was by the Phillies in 1987, because his new team came to the abrupt realization that, however much hope they invested in a particular veteran, playing the outfield just isn't something that he could do any more.

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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