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January 19, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Arbitration Avoidance

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with 1B-S Kendry Morales ($2.975 million), 2B-R Howie Kendrick ($3.3 million), SS-S Erick Aybar ($3 million), and OF-S Reggie Willits ($775,000), avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with CF-R Adam Jones on a one-year, $3.25 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Agreed to terms with RHP Jim Johnson ($975,000), SS-R J.J. Hardy ($5.85 million), and OF-L Felix Pie ($985,000) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with all three. [1/18]

BOSTON RED SOX
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Released RHP Matt Fox outright. [1/13]
Agreed to terms with RHP Jonathan Papelbon ($12 million) and CF-L Jacoby Ellsbury ($2.4 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with both. [1/18]

The immediate speculation was all about how this sort of price tag has to mean Papelbon is headed elsewhere, but I think that kind of suggestion has to rest on the expectation that Bobby Jenks comes back as far as you're willing to believe he might. Admittedly, I'm already on record as far as being among the believers in the Big Barrell's ability to deliver a pretty good season if you leave him alone.

But it isn't like the Sox are going to just give Papelbon away, although at this price, that may well have to be the starting point for negotiations. Dealing him at all essentially rests on two propositions, neither of which Theo Epstein has any power over: the presence of a closer-less contender at the deadline (in August, because there are clubs that will shrink from picking up the check), and/or a team willing to risk an arbitration offer to him after the 2011 season is done. The latter isn't that great as bets go, given next winter's closer market of the apocalypse, because chances are Papelbon would accept, which means he'll cost more than $12 million for one season. These days, you can probably count the teams willing to go there on a closer on one hand, so it isn't really that likely.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with LHP John Danks ($6 million), RHP Tony Pena ($1.6 million), and RF-R Carlos Quentin ($5.05 million), avoiding arbitration with the lot; claimed RHP Philip Humber from the Athletics on waivers. [1/18]

Picking up Humber Humber is no matter of unhealthy obsession, and it's far from tragicomic. The White Sox are more of a Nelson Algren outfit, a team on the make, and with the uncertainty over when Jake Peavy will be back in action--June?--and Carlos Torres already departed for Japan, the options for a fifth starter makes for a fairly short list.

First, there's the proposed move of Chris Sale back to starting work, but whether he's ready to start in the majors is a different proposition than putting his power arm in the pen. Pena's three starts against weak lineups were a mixed bag, suggesting that if he was the token fifth starter, he'd be eminently skip-worthy. Nabbing Humber is something of a confession that rostered alternatives like Lucas Harrell and Jeff Marquez are little better.

As for Humber himself, he's still the same strike-throwing finesse right-hander the Twins came to regret in the daylight after they found they'd surrendered both Johan Santana and their dignity to the Mets. You might also consider him another one of those examples that not every pitcher who has TJS comes back good to go, because his fastball's slower and his breaking stuff flatter than it was when the Mets took him with the third overall pick of the 2004 draft. However, with his Rice pedigree, you can also wonder how much of his future he left on WAC diamonds for the Owls' greater glory. Now, nearly eight years later, and having already bounced from the Twins to the Royals, I suppose he's just making his way through the AL Cenral, heading back toward open water like some latter-day French explorer, and hoping the natives don't eat him.

If this sounding worse and worse for the Sox and rounding out their rotation, take hope, Freddy Garcia is still waiting for the phone to ring, and probably could care less who's calling at this rate. There are also plenty of slots on the 40-man held by guys who might well float through waivers--Freddy Dolsi?--so it isn't like a non-roster invite for a veteran starter would present a major handicap to making the team.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Agreed to terms with SS-S Asdrubal Cabrera on a one-year, $2.025 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]
Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with RHP Chris Perez, LHP Rafael Perez ($1.33 million), and RF-L Shin-Soo Choo ($3.975 million), avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with RHP Joel Zumaya on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/14]
Agreed to terms with RHP Armando Galarraga on a one-year, $2.3 million contract; officially consummated signing RHP Brad Penny, and then designated RHP Armando Galarraga for assignment. [1/18]

Speaking of fifth starters newly available, Galarraga's invitation to 10 days of doubt has to be the strangest twist yet this offseason. Given Penny's dodgy track record, I'm skeptical about his ability to be a solid starter, but keep in mind, it isn't like Galarraga was the second coming of Dan Petry. This might seem like a casual discard, but Galarraga is a replaceable talent. The question is why that makes him worth risking waivers, and Penny, years removed from good work, $3 million plus that much again in incentives.

However, the oddity of getting Galarraga pinned down to terms in the morning, and then having that certainty to use in shopping him as a dispensable talent makes for an interesting gambit. Dombrowski is reasonably likely to be able to deposit the ill-starred right-hander on some needy roster, but Galarraga is a fairly extreme fly-ball righty, so it isn't like he'll thrive in every environment. The Snakes may have need, for example, but putting a fly-baller with a career HR/FB rate around 10 percent in Banky Bank Bandbox would just be fate's latest cruelty visited upon him. The Mariners would be a lovely fit in terms of venue and need.

The irony is that many of the best possible fits at this stage of the winter--notably the Indians, White Sox, and Royals--are all in the division. Would Dombrowski dare the Venezuelan to try and hurt the Tigers in direct competition? Wherever he heads, he's going to have to pick up something to more effectively set up his slider to be anything more than a fourth or fifth man. He can make young hitters look bad, but patient lineups can earn freebies and cookies with alarming regularity.

The question I have is the gamesmanship of it. Dombrowski is far from stupid--there's a stronger market for a player like Galarraga than there is for a well-traveled utilityman like Don Kelly or an organizational infielder like Will Rhymes. That's especially true now, when people who might still be shopping for starting pitching have to notice there isn't any out there. The question is what sort of offering a starter-hungry stalker will offer for this kind of tethered goat, and how soon, because there's always the danger that they'll just wait the Tigers out in the tall grass, and then carry him off as carrion once the waiting period runs out.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Released RHP Gil Meche as the transactional component of announcing Meche's intention to retire; agreed to terms with RHP Kyle Davies on a one-year, $3.2 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

With this, Meche left $12 million on the table to pursue other opportunities or threaten his family with copious amounts of quality time, while also giving back his slot on the 40-man. It's that last which might be cause for some convenience, because after signing both Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis, the Royals are over-topped up, with a cut yet to make to get themselves back down to 40. Meche's self-excusal spared someone else and spared the organization a tough choice now; they'll have another once they confront a decision over whether to keep Mike Moustakas to man third base, but that's a couple of months away.

All of that's nattering details in the meantime, because in terms of the franchise's fortunes, freeing up the $12 million now, when there's so little opportunity to spend it on third-rate free agents, spares the Royals from any new tempting mistakes. Prestige signings rarely turn out well, but Dayton Moore and the Glass family got taken off the hook after letting Trey Hillman trash Meche's arm and then perhaps letting a training staff deservedly under fire--from BP emeritus Rany Jazayerli first and foremost--finish the job. That these are the people getting the $12 million back may not seem right in terms of karma, but maybe the Royals will answer Meche's largesse with a generous gesture of their own. I can think of a couple of ideas.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Agreed to terms with MI-S Alexi Casilla on a one-year, $865,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Agreed to terms with RHP Matt Capps on a one-year, $7.15 million contract, and with LHP Glen Perkins on a one-year, $700,000 contract, avoiding arbitration with both. [1/18]

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with RHPs Philip Hughes ($2.7 million) and Joba Chamberlain ($1.4 million), and LHP Boone Logan ($1.2 million), avoiding arbitration with all three. [1/18]

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with RHPs David Aardsma ($4.5 million) and Brandon League, and LHP Jaso Vargas, avoiding arbitration with all three. [1/18]

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with CF-R B.J. Upton on a one-year, $4.825 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]
Agreed to terms with RHP Andy Sonnanstine on a one-year, $912,500 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Released LHP Clay Rapada. [1/14]
Agreed to terms with LHP C.J. Wilson ($7 million) and RF-R Nelson Cruz on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with RHP Chad Billingsley on a one-year, $6.275 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed DH-R Marcus Thames to a one-year contract. [1/18]

If you stick with the definition of a platoon as a solution at a position where you don't have a good player, I suppose that platooning the flat-footed Thames and former DH Jay Gibbons in left qualifies. It's interesting that, in this age of overrating defensive value, the Dodgers are zagging in the other direction to stock the slot with this tandem, but frankly, I don't blame them. As long as Matt Kemp's investment in playing center field gets second-guessed, there's already room for Tony Gwynn Jr. to play a useful role as a reserve, with Kemp moving toward a corner now and again. At some point during the season, there's also the possibility that the system's fourth-best prospect, Trayvon Robinson, will make it up and take over in center, which would shunt Kemp into a corner to stay. So while the Jaycus Gibbames platoon isn't really inspiring as much more than an adequate source of power, not a lot of OBP, and very little else, it's also deliberately a cheap holding pattern, and perhaps something of a tell as far as how much the organization values Robinson. There's also nothing that says the Dodgers are utterly done this winter; if signing Johnny Damon or Jermaine Dye winds up nearing desperation pricing, there's nothing that says Ned Colletti might not move in at the last instant.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Agreed to terms with LHP Manny Parra ($1.2 million) and 1B-L Prince Fielder ($15.5 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

Fielder's agreement is noteworthy because it's a record for an arb-eligible player who has yet to reach free agency, but let's face it, it's salary trivia, and you could argue he settled when there was more he might have won from the panel. But as far as celebrating his historic stack o'cash, the scale of the settlement was almost automatic because of established precedents. As discussed yesterday with Joey Votto's multi-year agreement, pricing of that last season of arbitration eligibility if you're a first-base bopper has already been fairly well set by what happened with Ryan Howard's negotiated settlements that came after he filed for and won $10 million from the panel in 2008, in his first year of arbitration. When Howard followed that up with asking for $18 million for 2009, being offered $14 million, and agreeing to $15 million and $19 million in the first two years of the multi-year package the Phillies agreed to, you can see how Fielder winds up looking relatively cheap at this price. In terms of market behavior, this was simply a foregone conclusion; that Fielder's name is the one attached to the trivia question isn't merely trivial, it's transient, and a symptom of the fact that Fielder plans on letting the market set his price next winter.

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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