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February 4, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Weekly Roundup, January 28-February 3

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with INF-R Alexei Ramirez on a four-year, $31.5 million contract extension covering 2012-15, with a $10 million club option for 2016 ($1 million buyout); signed OF-R Lastings Milledge to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [2/3]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: What seems to be generosity is often no more than disguised ambition, which overlooks a small interest in order to secure a great one.

Ramirez's extension might be the latest case of Kenny Williams' strange, reliable generosity, in that the roving Cubano was already committed through 2011 in the fourth and last year of his initial deal since his defection, and the contract covers his age-30 through -34 seasons—he was never a teenage refugee. He's a fun player because it has been interesting to watch him settle in, but is he $32.5 million worth of fun? Or $42.5 million?

When Ramirez first arrived, there was nothing he wouldn't try, quickly, albeit to mixed results, good, bad, and spectacular, run, swing, and throw, Ramirez was a ball of fast-burning energy from the get-go. What has been more interesting to see has been his adaptiveness, as he's grown somewhat more patient at the plate, not reliably in terms of a better walk rate, but in terms of extending his at-bats. Like most right-handed people who can get balls out of the infield, he profits from confinement in the Cell: his home ISO in his three-year career is 50 points higher than on the road, .173 to .124. His remarkable step forward as a fielder last year in his second season at shortstop certainly deserves recognition of some sort; per new FRAA, it rated as the second-best season from a shortstop in the last three, behind only Brendan Ryan's equally tremendous 2009 season. But where Ryan's brand of Belangerie has unfortunately involved his swinging a baguette at bat, Ramirez has enough pop and plate coverage to actually chip in on offense.

While his performance has skipped around, if you get a combination of that power and his 2009 walk rate and league-leading defense, sure, you've got a star-level shortstop in both halves of the game, and you pay him accordingly. But is three years merely an initial suggestion of what he's capable of, or the summation? Because as surprising as he capacity to develop has been, a bet this big basically demands that he do all of the good and happy things. Well, Williams always was a risk-taker, but chuckling over what's at stake, as Jerry Reinsdorf has recently, only admits that they're sparing no expense to win—but will they actually manage it?

Meanwhile, signing Milledge is a classic White Sox attempt to re-dye a faded blue-chipper they've found in the dumpster. Milledge probably won't be the next Carlos Quentin, and at 26, he's on the verge of going from a maybe to a maybe not. He's a young player who did little to endear himself to the Mets, Nats, and Pirates on his way through their organizations, but it's worth remembering those represent three of the worst-run organizations of recent memory.

That's where the apologies have to stop, because after 1655 plate appearances in the majors, Milledge has become more cipher than mystery. The frustration is that he's not especially patient, and has yet to hit for any serious power—how useful is a right-handed singles hitter in a corner? Moving to the Cell ought to help, since it helps everybody who can get the ball in the air from the right side of the plate, but Milledge sprays instead of pulls, not exactly the recipe for Cell success. Since, barring injury or a deal, the first dozen position players are fairly well set already, Milledge will be dueling with Alejandro De Aza and Brent Lillibridge for the last spot. Will it really take six weeks to sort that out? However, if he sticks, Ozzie Guillen keeps his reserves active, and has always had a soft spot for a bat that provides contact from the bench—remember Pablo Ozuna?

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 3B-R Pedro Feliz to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [2/3]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: We do not despise all those who have vices, but we do despise those that have no virtue.

As harsh as that might seem, last season, there were no players more execrable than Feliz. At least Brandon Wood has a tenuous grip on a future of one sort or another; Feliz has his oft-punched ticket to the postseason from being a get-along, go-along non-factor on the Phillies, and the memory of last being a useful everyday player seven years ago. His glove work at third base gave up the ghost a couple of seasons ago, which wasn't enough to discourage the Astros, or the Cardinals, to both teams' regret. So naturally, he's a Royal, because... well, what? Somebody foresaw that both Mike Aviles and Wilson Betemit might die in tragic corndog-eating accidents, and that this might happen before they want to give the job at third base to Mike Moustakas? There's a difference between acquiring depth, and wasting your time. This had better just be a favor, because there is nothing to suggest that Feliz is anything but done.

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Noted the loss of RHP Rob Delaney on a Rays waiver claim. [1/28]

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Bartolo Colon to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/26]
Signed RHP Freddy Garcia to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/31]
Acquired OF-R Justin Maxwell from the Nationals for RHP Ed Olbrychowski; designated OF-R Jordan Parraz for assignment. [2/2]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: There are crimes which become innocent and even glorious through their splendor, number, and excess.

Maybe I don't share a sense of despair on Andy Pettitte's retirement day, any more than I feel any particular sense of despair that the Yankees have had to fall back on the likes of Colon or Chief to distract Joe Girardi from his unnerving fascination with Sergio Mitre. For Evil Empire minions given to rending their garments over the arrival of both, why not just chill, and recognize this is how the other half lives, and has, for... oh, what, the last 15 years?

Frankly, the idea of lining up a series of veteran maybes to compete for the last two slots in the rotation for the front half of the season is basic, boring, and sound, or everything that drama-addicted Bombers fans can't really abide. The only Yankee pitching prospects with much in the way of experience and success above A-ball are David Phelps and Ivan Nova, and neither sets prospect-monger hearts a-racin'. Neither Andrew Brackman or Manny Banuelos, as promising as they are, have passed extended Double-A tests with flying colors yet—they may by June, but that's then, and there are games on the schedule in the meantime.

Meanwhile, as they wait on the kids, this is what other big-league teams have done and will do: they find a way to make do. So, enter Colon and Garcia, at no real expense. To heap either with the outsized expectation that either might star is, of course, silly. On the other, using the standard in play in Steve's piece, Garcia already represents a likely success, since last year he posted a 94 ERA+ in his first full season back from the 2007 shoulder surgery that had taken his career off the rails. Keep in mind, he did that pitching in the Cell, an even tougher homer haven than NuYankee. He posted a .491 SNWP, and produced 19 quality starts through the first six innings in 28 turns. Set your standard for what most teams get from a fifth man in a rotation, and that doesn't look too shabby—it is anything but a guarantee of failure, or success.

Less certain by far is the big man, but even here, Colon is at least interesting, not because he's been so bad for so long or used to be famous or has a trophy he shouldn't have, but because he may have finally done something about his weight, having reportedly lost 40 pounds before showing up for winter league action. There, he's been throwing in the low 90s again, and dominating on the diamond. Of course, dominating in the Dominican is not dominating in the majors, and you don't want to go nuts over a 5-to-1 K/BB ratio. To their credit, the Yankees didn't—the gave the guy an invitation to see who or what shows up. I wouldn't set my expectations low—I wouldn't entertain any whatsoever, and that's about the extent of the Yankees' investment. If someone besides the flabby disappointment of the recent past shows up, who's to say what he's capable of?

Oh, but they won't star, says the whine. Well, setting the insubstantial cosmetic standard for what's pretty enough aside, that's not the job either were signed for. (A.J. Burnett was.) Since the cost to sign Colon and Garcia was dug up from under some couch cushions, boo-hoo-hoo, Javier Vazquez, they ain't. (Oops.) This isn't trading for Dave LaPoint again—it's picking usable temps using change fished from a barcalounger to be named later, while aiming higher than Mitre or Dustin Moseley and the like.

Finally, picking up Maxwell might be the best link in the Yankees' extended daisy chain in trying to wind up with a better outfielder from somebody else's system, since they have so few of use within the system. Although reliably fragile, Maxwell has the range for center, the arm for right, the speed to pinch-run with, and power that would play in a platoon role at the very least. As an upgrade from Greg Golson, he's a fairly sweet exploitation snag in trade before he was due to hit waivers.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Consummated their contract with LHP Brian Fuentes; designated INF-R Steve Tolleson for assignment. [1/26]
Noted that INF-R Steve Tolleson cleared waivers, and will be granted a spring-training NRI. [1/28]

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 1B-L Casey Kotchman to a minor-league contract. [1/28]
Belatedly made their deals with OF-L Johnny Damon and DH-R Manny Ramirez official. [1/31]
Signed INF-S Felipe Lopez to a minor-league contract. [2/2]
Signed RHP Juan Cruz to a minor-league contract. [2/3]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: It is not enough to have great qualities; We should also have the management of them.

As ghastly as Kotchman, F-Lop, and Cruz have been at times, each has something to offer, so naturally if anyone was going to be willing to redeem them, it might be the coolest kids on the block. After all, if one or all fail, so what? But if Kotchman winds up wresting the job from Dan Johnson, that's a matter of acquiring depth's benefits and avoiding disaster if one weak alternative flops. If F-Lop makes a good enough impression, he can provide OBP at second, third, and short, although putting him on the roster means providing the Sox with a sandwich pick (not from their own stock); a minor annoyance, that. And Cruz? After the indignity of being the other much-lamented Royal reliever, along with once and future teammate Kyle Farnsworth. There's something amusing about the proposition that the Rays might dare to succeed with that same duo, the one that did the Royals so few favors.

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with RHP David Bush on a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/30]

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Jason Frasor on a one-year, $3.5 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/28]
Agreed to terms with RHP Frank Francisco on a one-year, $4 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/29]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Outrighted RHP Brian Sweeney to Reno (Triple-A). [1/27]
Outrighted RHP Rafael Rodriguez to Reno. [2/1]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Signed RHP Rodrigo Lopez to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/31]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: Whatever good things people say of us, they tell us nothing new.

What initially looking like it would only be a two-step has become instead a reel deal now that a third wheel's been invited to the dance. As cats' paws for camp competitions go, Lopez makes for an interesting challenger to push youngsters Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy in the fight for the fifth slot.

Although he remains a chuck-and-duck fifth man in the best of times, and produced just a .399 SNWP last season while leading his league in losses for the second time in his career, he was pitching for a god-awful Snakes team, and was a fly-ball pitcher who had to call an extra-base-hit-bandbox home. His 4.76 SIERA suggests he deserved a slightly better fate—which you might say of most Snakes—and he did manage 15 quality starts through six innings in his 33 turns (three of which were subsequently blown by one of the worst bullpens in recorded history). With just a 13.3 percent strikeout rate last year, he's fairly defense-dependent, which might prove exciting on a mediocre defensive team whose infield will feature an increasingly sessile Chipper Jones and the permanently stumble-thumbed Dan Uggla.

While adding him is no act of any particular genius, there are worse people to line up, in case the kids either get hurt or disappoint. But it might also be more than that; with Fredi Gonzalez running his first camp, as with any new manager, you can expect that new guys might stick on the margins of a club as their new skipper's signature additions. You can also take signing Lopez to the pile of non-roster invites as a confirmation that Kenshin Kawakami's chances of being that guy just died a necessarily quiet death.

COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Avoided arbitration with 3B-L Ian Stewart by signing him to a one-year, $2.2875 million (base) contract, avoiding arbitration; outrighted RHP Sam Deduno to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [1/28]
Agreed to terms with RHP Rafael Betancourt on a two-year, $7.77 million (base) contract, with a $4.25 million club option for 2013 ($250,000 buyout), avoiding arbitration. [1/30]

FLORIDA MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed PH-L Greg Dobbs to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/31]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: We pardon to the extent that we love.

Considering I'm emptying both barrels into Pedro Feliz elsewhere in today's column, you might wonder why Dobbs, a guy with a .252 career TAv coming off a .210 season, gets treated more generously. I guess it boils down to the very reason why I've always enjoyed following transactions and roster makeovers; I'm invariably curious about the bit parts as well as the regulars, and in the same way that following where Lenny Harris or Bill Almon or Harry Spilman wound up any particular season, Dobbs has become one of those guys I wonder about. More than half of his career appearances have been as a pinch-hitter (286 of 555), and he's managed a career .247/.308/.421 line in a reliably tough gig. He's a platoon bat and someone you stick in one of the four corners if you must, but for all that, he's managed to eke out a career.

That said, his chances of becoming more Fish than foul seem dodgy from the get-go. Having him and Wes Helms seems like having a matched set, a platoon of unglovely veteran reserves, but since Helms, first baseman Gaby Sanchez, and third-base prospect Matt Dominguez do all bat righty, that's about the most generous thing you can say about Dobbs' chances. The more practical problem is that there's not that much cause to prefer him to non-roster alternatives like Ruben Gotay or Sloppy Joe Thurston, beyond his longer track record of success in a reserve role; he might have some good dope on the Phillies besides. Sometimes, that's enough, but it's not all that likely.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Mike MacDougal to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/28]
Agreed to terms with LHP Hong-Chih Kuo on a one-year, $2.725 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/2]
Agreed to terms with RHP Merkin Valdez and LHP Ron Mahay on minor-league contracts, with spring-training NRIs. [2/3]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.

I've said this elsewhere, but here again, one of the most interesting thing to see shake out is a rookie manager's first spring training. While Don Mattingly will have in Rick Honeycutt the same pitching coach who preceded and outlasted Joe Torre, you might expect that Mattingly might not come to the same conclusions about who to keep and why. More interesting still, the Dodgers may have openings, because there are just four relievers I'd say were definitely set in their slots: Jonathan Broxton, Kuo, and Matt Guerrier, plus Vicente Padilla if none of the front five in the rotation get hurt. Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen are both probable keepers, but we'll see—that's six.

For the seventh, you might expect a lefty. The likely choices there both come with back stories. The choice from the 40-man, Scott Elbert, is trying to come back from a literally lost season—he walked away for a stretch after getting demoted last June. Mahay look like the obvious veteran alternative, and should be recovered from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, but there's a wrinkle: Will Mattingly, someone who was an active during the Labor War of '94, look past Mahay's past, when the young then-outfielder was talked into crossing the line? It marks the first time Mahay might ever be managed in the majors by someone who went on strike.

Or, Mattingly could skip the whole second lefty gambit, and pick between Carlos Monasterios, or Ramon Troncoso, Jon Link or Blake Hawksworth? Or could a journeyman like MacDougal or Valdez slip into the picture? It may not seem likely, but that's the thing with a new manager with no track record—we just can't be sure.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 1B/OF-L Mark Kotsay to a one-year, $800,000 (base) contract. [2/3]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: To know how to hide one's ability is great skill.

So Kotsay has that going for him, right? Well, sure, yuk yuk, but here again, not unlike Dobbs with the Marlins, there's something to be said for having a guy who can stand at first base and the outfield corners, and who knows how to keep sharp in a reserve role. And for whatever reason, Kotsay seems to be a popular teammate. But Jim Edmonds he is not—Edmonds arrived last year after an involuntary year off after a great partial season starting for the Cubs, where Kotsay's going on several seasons' worth of creeping decrepitude. And a guaranteed contract? The outfield already has Chris Dickerson and Craig Counsell as lefty bats off the bench to help compensate for that right-leaning lineup. Beyond having those two around already, why throw yet another stumbling block in Mat Gamel's path? There is nothing that Gamel has left to learn at Triple-A, and between his availability to play all four corners, why not keep him in regular playing rotation backing up at all four and forgo this pleasant diversion with Kotsay? Where Ron Roenicke goes with this decision should be interesting, because Gamel is as ready as he's ever going to get, while Kotsay's effectively done.

NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with RHP R.A. Dickey on a two-year contract with a club option for 2013, avoiding arbitration, and pending arbitration. [1/28]
Agreed to terms with OF-S Angel Pagan one a one-year $3.5 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/31]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Joe Beimel to a minor-league contract with a spring-training NRI. [1/28]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: Perfect valour consists in doing without witnesses that which we would be capable of doing before everyone.

Which is pretty much the definition of choosing Piracy as a career path, no? As someone who came up and debuted as a Pirate, Beimel knows what he's condemning himself to: the empty palace, the irrelevance and the ignominy, and perhaps the hope for liberation at the end of July.

Life as a situational lefty is much like that of lots of other purportedly action-packed careers: hours of boredom punctuated by brief moments of terror. This was especially the case for Beimel last season, as he was shunted into a situational lefty role that has never really been his best usage pattern; he's bass-ackwards on his career. However, he did limit lefties to .221/.275/.379, or more power than you'd like, but still functional. Given that he doesn't rely on a breaking pitch, you can wonder about how much effectiveness he has left with a slow fastball/changeup mix. Happily for Beimel, his quest for ignored relief heroics won't have to suffer the challenge of any rostered veterans with better track records, and even if it's just the Pirates, the prize still puts you in the major leagues.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed RHP Sam Deduno off waivers from the Rockies. [1/28]
Designated PH-R Oscar Salazar for assignment. [2/1]

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Designated OF-R Justin Maxwell for assignment. [1/27]
Outrighted RHP Shairon Martis to Syracuse (Triple-A); traded OF-R Justin Maxwell to the Yankees for RHP Ed Olbrychowski; signed RHP Cla Meredith and INF-L Alex Cora to minor-league contracts with spring-training NRIs. [2/2]
Signed OF-L Laynce Nix to a minor-league contract with spring-training NRIs. [2/3]

François de La Rochefoucauld says: We are very far from always knowing our own wishes.

Adding Nix to the mix for outfield reserves might give the club something they don't have: lefty pop from a player who can play center, so that if they decide they're no longer all that excited about Roger Bernadina, they'll have a playable reserve to match with Mike Morse from the bench. Riggleman's benches tend to be well-designed units put to good use—he likes having some power available from the pine, and Nix might serve.


This week, we sought guidance from the observations of noted 17th century cynic, soldier, and snob, François de La Rochefoucauld. Next time, we'll be coming stateside, I promise.

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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