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February 22, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Branyan, Weeks, and Detritus

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Avoided arbitration with RHP Jeremy Guthrie by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $5.75 million contract. [2/11]
Consummated their one-year contract with DH-R Vladimir Guerrero; placed RHP Alfredo Simon on the Restricted List. [2/18]

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Traded RHP Robert Coello to the Cubs for 2B-R Tony Thomas. [2/15]

Mark Twain opines: Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.

Once Theo Epstein decided to use a 40-man slot on signing Alfredo Aceves, Coello was a goner, unlikely to get through waivers (people are claiming Schlitters these days, after all), so getting something with a non-40 flavor before settling for the nothing otherwise on tap was going to be good news. Finding the Cubs willing to part with a useful organizational soldier like Thomas makes for a worthwhile exchange, although which level he'll fit in at, as the double-play partner of either Jose Iglesias or Yamaico Navarro at Double- or Triple-A, remains to be seen. The former Florida State star should provide some measure of power at either level, so he'll help keep the affiliate happy. Conveniently enough, he's not a rostered player for the time being, so the Sox won't have to worry about adding him, now or perhaps ever, although if he builds on last year's second-half power spike (.250 ISO after the break with West Tenn in the Southern League), he'll provide Epstein with an interesting decision next November. If he doesn't make any progress, that isn't the end of the world; it isn't like he's going to move Jed Lowrie out of the way, let alone Dustin Pedroia. In expectations of his likely utility applications, he's at risk for becoming an honorary Hairston, already getting looks at positions beyond second base, having gotten a few game reps in the outfield last season, and sure to get additional consideration elsewhere around the diamond if he's to have a big-league future in this or any organization.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Consummated their one-year contract with MI-R Orlando Cabrera; outrighted RHP Joe Smith to Columbus (Triple-A). [2/18]

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with LF-R Delmon Young on a one-year, $5.375 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/16]

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Luis Ayala to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/11]
Consummated their agreement with OF-R Andruw Jones; designated RHP Brian Schlitter for assignment. [2/14]
Duly noted the loss of Schlitter to the Phillies on a waiver claim. [2/15]
Released LHP Neal Cotts. [2/16]

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHPs Chris Bootcheck and Ricky Orta to minor-league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/16]
Signed UT-L Joe Inglett to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/18]

Mark Twain opines: I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.

Inglett never seems to get much consideration as a utilityman, but within a narrow niche, you have to consider him a success story. As with many minor-league second basemen, he wasn't going to stick as an everyday player at the keystone. By his seventh season as an organizational soldier in the Tribe's system (he was an eighth-round pick in 2000), Inglett was getting tasked with occasional work at shortstop and in the outfield, which guaranteed his ongoing existence. He makes contact, drawing walks well enough, bunting, being left-handed; if it's the little things you want, he can deliver those in plenty. It's been assumed that the utilityman's job at the very bottom of the bench is Elliot Johnson's to lose, but if he does, Inglett's an entirely reasonable alternative.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Agreed to terms with 2B-L Kelly Johnson on a one-year, $5.85 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/14]
Signed 1B-L Russell Branyan to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/17]

Mark Twain opines: It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.

At some point, Branyan was going to have to belong to somebody, and the Snakes had no first baseman, puttering about as they were with a discarded minor-league DH like Juan Miranda, corner utility man Xavier Nady, and former White Sox suspect Brandon Allen. As far as projections, Nady and Miranda both clock in near useless as everyday players, with projected TAv marks of .260, while Allen and Branyan wind up nearly tied in the mid-.270s.

Branyan is at least moving from one of the best pitcher's parks in the tougher league to one of the best hitter's parks.Now, to be sure, Banky-Bank Ballpark West in Phoenix doesn't depress strikeouts to anything like the degree that Coors Field does, so the impact the park will make on the Surfing Slugger won't be quite as dramatic. But he'll bop, here as elsewhere, probably putting up an ISO of .250 or better. He'll walk, here as elsewhere, 11 percent of the time or better. And he'll stand wherever you put him, although the owner's guide strongly recommends first base-only at this late date, five years removed from his occasionally tragic work at the hot corner for the Padres.

What adding him does is create for Kirk Gibson a new/old alternative to his equally execrable options in left, where he was stuck picking between Nady, Gerardo Parra, and perhaps Allen. If Nady's now reduced to part-time applications, Parra may never be more than that, rating as a classic tweener because of his lack of power, even if you accept his past track record for subsequent-season adaptations at a higher level. Allen might be a bit on the bulky side for an everyday option in left, but the Snakes were already considering the move, having given him time in the corner with Reno last summer and a few spins in the big leagues last September.

Which way will Gibson go? Assuming nobody comes to camp and then goes oh-for-March, his choice will end up telling us something about him as a manager. If he favors athleticism and speed, Parra is the relatively obvious choice. If he merely favors experience, then Nady might suck up 400 PAs as a mostly harmless regular en route to a desultory last-place finish. In the abstract, Allen would be the right choice if the Snakes are focused on something as simple as scoring runs, even if his defense in left might be Klesko-esque in its immobility. The quandary is that this would give the Snakes a very left-leaning, low-OBP lineup, with Branyan and Allen joining Miguel Montero, Stephen Drew, and Kelly Johnson. All of them contribute on the secondary average side of things, but it would make for an offense where the contributions in kind might inspire Gibby to pick Parra just to deliver something different, if not necessarily better.

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Robert Coello from the Red Sox for 2B-R Tony Thomas. [2/15]
Agreed to terms with RHP Carlos Marmol on a three-year, $20 million extension, avoiding arbitration. [2/14]

Mark Twain opines: Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.

Marmol's magnificence as the game's reigning home-plate decider is already a matter of record, although he slacked off in the second half last season to wind up striking out "just" 42.07 percent of the opposing batters he faced last year, which ranks merely fourth all-time. The real question is whether, at this price, it was worth the Cubs' while to buy out not just the last two years of Marmol's arbitration eligibility, but also his first year of free agency, since they're paying $10.2 million for the arbitration years, and $9.8 million for the season beyond their established control. As market rates for premium closers go, that's fairly reasonable, and for Jim Hendry, a man already given to overpaying relievers, it borders on bargain pricing relative to what he's shelled out for Luis Vizcaino, Bobby Howry, or John Grabow.

As for trading for Coello, this is less a ringing endorsement of his stuff than an admission that, beyond his Marmolosity and Kerry Wood, opportunities for right-handed relief help are relatively open, especially if the organization sticks with a decision to move Andrew Cashner back to rotation work (presumably in Iowa if Carlos Silva earns his keep). Coello's a big former catcher with indie league experience, and is a bit of a one-trick pony, throwing a nice enough cutter that doesn't get much past 90, with or without a backwind. If he can sell that one offering often enough to survive as a back-end arm in the bullpen, the opportunity's there for him to stick around to man one of two middle-relief jobs if he can stand out in a crowd that includes Jeff Samardzija, Marcos Mateo, Esmailin Caridad, Justin Berg, and Jeff Stevens, plus non-roster invites Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer.

COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Claudio Vargas to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/8]
Signed RHP John Maine to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/17]
Agreed to terms with RHP Matt Belisle to a two-year, $6.125 million contract, replacing their initial arbitration-avoiding deal of 1/11. [2/19]

Mark Twain opines: Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.

Someone was going to remember Maine and forgive him his past shoulder problems, even if only in a probationary way, so why not the Rockies, given that Aaron Cook's equally fickle shoulder isn't entirely right? The problem is that, even if Maine is healthy, he's an extreme flyball pitcher headed for high altitudes. There's no guarantee that his fastball will be back on the right side of 90 after dipping lower than that last year before surgery to clear out scar tissue, and his wildness in recent years makes him a big inning waiting to happen, headed to the ballpark where big innings are automatically part of the program. As depth-minded options go, though, keep in mind that the Rockies don't appear to have a ton of big league-ready alternatives if Cook can't go or breaks down again. Felipe Paulino will probably wind up in the pen, leaving Esmil Rogers contending with trade pickup Clayton Mortensen and perhaps Cory Riordan for the dignity of being the staff's initial notional sixth starter. Whether or not Maine improves matters any remains to be seen, of course.

Which leaves the one possibility the Rockies may prefer to avoid, which would be deciding that Matt Belisle's pointed in the wrong direction. That might sound strange, given their successful resurrection of the journeyman's career last year in a relief role, but keep in mind before last season's success he'd been a utility pitcher, manning the fifth slot in the Reds' rotation as recently as 2007. In that season, he made 30 starts, accumulated 1.7 SNLVAR, and managed a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio while posting a promising 4.16 SIERA. Perhaps with the additions of Matt Lindstrom and Paulino, Jim Tracy might decide he has enough live arms in the pen.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Lance Cormier to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/16]

Mark Twain opined: I can live two months on a good compliment.

In the thicket of alternatives for the Dodgers' pen, a discarded middle-inning mop-up man from the AL East might seem a strange addition. However, considering that last season the Bums were forced to press Carlos Monasterios into duty in the rotation and spent a too-long chunk of the summer hoping that John Ely was good enough, you can understand how a veteran utility pitcher would hold some attraction as a mid-February addition, rather than risk a repeat. Vicente Padilla's locked in for a sixth starter's job, waiting for one of the front five to break down, but having a right-hander who makes his living with several flavors of breaking stuff knocking around as an alternative isn't so terrible, either to take Padilla's place in the pen once that glass needs breaking, or to spot-start as needed.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to terms with 2B-R Rickie Weeks on a four-year, $38.5 million contract extension, avoiding arbitration. [2/16]

Mark Twain opines: Honesty is the best policy—when there's money in it.

Weeks could afford this choice, given his long history of injury and mild disappointment in the face of crushing expectations; after putting up a career year in his age-27 season, why not take the money and run? One barrel-rolling backstop into the keystone might chop a knee out of the remainder of his career, at which point that's $38.5 million he's never going to get a bite at again. For Weeks, this was easy.

For the Brewers, however, it comes with a pair of overlapping questions. First, is Rickie Weeks a cornerstone of the team's future? His breakout at the plate in 2010 obviously might seem to suggest as much, since he made good on his step forward in 2009. Unfortunately, he also lost ground in the field, ranking towards or at the bottom of several of the publicly available defensive metrics, including new-flavor FRAA (-7.4 Runs Above Average). That might be cause for concern for leather nellies given to bleating about the overriding necessity of defense up the middle, but I'd turn to the game-hating example of Jeff Kent, a second baseman who generally bounced between the poles of adequate and awful at the keystone en route to what ought to be an inevitable election to the Hall of Fame. Perhaps his glove was a luxury you could only afford on teams that had Barry Bonds or Jeff Bagwell or a power pitching staff, at least if you wanted to win... perhaps, but I can't blame the Brewers for being willing to give it a shot, especially since they've done their fair share of lining up the rest of the roster to provide power in their lineup and defense-independent pitching.

On offense, I'm willing to accede to the proposition that a healthy Weeks is a championship-caliber bat; turning again to Kent as an interesting contrast, it's worth remembering that Kent didn't produce a season as good as Weeks' last year until his age-30 season. Of course, Kent's remarkable thirtysomething stretch—just as remarkably unquestioned by the vigilant ex post facto steroids witch hunt—makes for an impossible peak to match, blow for blow, but that isn't what the Brewers are asking of Weeks. They just need the great or the good from their second baseman through his age-31 season to feel amply rewarded for their confidence.

The second question is whether the Brewers can afford Weeks and the championship ballclub he could be a part of. There, I'm inclined to be almost as generous as they've been. Obviously, this deal was signed after they acquired Zack Greinke, an exchange that also gave them certainty in terms of what they're paying for the front man in their rotation. That's an item they could not have acquired at Greinke's price tag on the open market. It also comes after they've made their multi-year commitments to Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, as well as bringing in Randy Wolf as a free agent for perhaps as long as four years.

The missing man in that equation is Prince Fielder, of course. This wasn't always necessarily a zero-sum proposition; scenarios where you wind up with Fielder and Weeks might have once been possible, perhaps even as recently as a year ago, but with each additional major commitment, it seems as if the Brewers are operating in the confidence that they don't have to leave money in the bank to pay a Prince-ly ransom. Picking between the two over the medium term, it's obviously easier to find an effective bat for first base than it is to find a second baseman who can help an offense as much as Weeks does. Even assuming that Fielder ever was re-signable as a Beertown proposition, the Leafeater's sure to cost more than this for a longer stretch, and if Weeks comes with warning labels concerning his health, Fielder comes with an automatic recommendation that his brand of defensive indifference should wind up at DH soonest, as well as the bulk to overshadow any sunny expectations for a glorious stretch deep into his thirties.

In reductionist terms, if affording Fielder in 2012 and beyond would have handicapped their ability to get Greinke or come to this sort of arrangement with Weeks, Doug Melvin made the best of all possible choices with the hand he's slowly assembled. He's elected to pick the options that observe positional scarcity, securing top-shelf talent for below-market price tags. Set in contrast to the luxury of affording Fielder for Boras-set wages on the open market, this wasn't just the right call in terms of looking at talent distribution, it was also the smartest way to spend what Brewer bucks there are.

NEW YORK METS
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Signed RHP Jason Isringhausen to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/16]
Signed 1B-R Chris Shelton to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/19]

Mark Twain opines: I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

It's said that dogs come home to die, while cats head for the outdoors to leave their bones under one bush or another, so you can't really argue that there's a particular mammalian fallback where these things are concerned. The last survivor of Generation K has to finish his career somewhere. Bill Pulsipher hasn't pitched in the majors since 2005, having only generated 0.5 WARP, and was last spotted on both sides of the States, pitching for Winnipeg in the Northern League and Puebla in the Mexican League as recently as 2009. Paul Wilson hasn't pitched for anyone since 2006, but he cranked out 2.6 WARP before flaming out. So Izzy represents the success story, as the guy with a ring, 293 career saves, and 22.5 WARP.

For all that plus a few tens of millions of dollars paid out in his name, Isringhausen owes a big thank you to Billy Beane. It was Beane who fished Izzy from the Mets' mess back at the deadline in '99 in exchange for Billy Taylor, several chimes into the midnight stroke that was about to turn the old man's late-blossoming career back into a pumpkin. Winding up with Oakland at a time when the A's had no alternatives was a godsend for the third of the Mets' three lost boys; power-puffer Doug Jones represented a placeholder at best at the age of 42, so Izzy got a few shots. Sure enough, faster than you can bottle the stuff, you had another proud wearer of "closer moxie," the save-ory scent. It isn't inconceivable that he would have had a career anyway, but the hyperactive Steve Phillips Mets weren't a very likely venue, and as Pulsipher and Wilson found, where you go can make as much of a difference as who you are, as they were shipped to the hapless Selig'd-up Brewers and the hopeless Naimoli Devil Rays.

So now it's almost 13 years since the deal that freed Isringhausen from wormy Big Apple hype, and he's back, trying to finish where he started, 38 years old and a step away from baseball eternity, another of the game's transient heroes eking out a last opportunity. I don't think there's a need to have a rooting interest one way or another. It's interesting to see that this is where he's chosen to make his last stand, and while he'll never be able to repay the hopes invested in him as a Met back in the day, there's something generous in the gesture of letting him try to end it here in particular.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Claimed RHP Brian Schlitter off waivers from the Yankees; designated RHP Drew Carpenter for assignment. [2/15]
Outrighted RHP Drew Carpenter to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [2/20]

Mark Twain opines: Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.

You may well wonder why the Phillies bothered to get grabbity and spend a 40-man slot on Schlitter, since his stuff seems pre-made for a long career at Triple-A, while Carpenter has occasionally merited mention towards the back of the club's list of prospects. However, Schlitter throws almost as hard as the beatings he seems to reliably endure and the Phillies like tools as much as anybody, and whatever his honorable past within the organization, Carpenter's just a finesse righty who was almost certain to make it through waivers, and did. When it comes to making out a roster, keep in mind, the Phillies just successfully ported Brian Bocock across an entire winter on the roster as well as snagging shortstop Carlos Rivero off waivers from the Indians as well as drafting 28-year-old non-utilityman Michael Martinez from the Nats via Rule 5, this from an organization that pointedly retained Wilson Valdez for depth. There's a point at which you have to bless Ruben Amaro Jr. for getting the big names so very right, because sometimes it seems as if he's just randomly stocking the last half-dozen slots on the 40-man.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Announced the retirement of OF-L Jim Edmonds. [2/18]

Mark Twain opines: A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.

In the end, he just couldn't bear playing through the bad wheels, which leaves me feeling robbed, not so much for the present as much as for the 2009 season that, by rights, he could have given us if somebody somewhere had had the good sense to think that maybe Jim Edmonds would be a lot handier to have around than, say, Randy Winn or Jeff Francoeur or Jose Guillen, Garret Anderson or Ryan Church or... really, how many people had to be employed to keep Jim Edmonds out of baseball for a year? Especially after the critical role he'd played on the Cubs' division-winning team of 2008? Skip talk of whether or not Dave Kingman or Jose Canseco was blackballed; a season without Edmonds in action remains one of the dopier collective outcomes in recent memory. As he made clear with his play last year, he could still help a team; when healthy, Jim Edmonds could never not play.

As all who saw him know, he was as incredible to watch in person as he was on SportsCenter, perhaps this generation's Pete Reiser and Fred Lynn all wrapped up in one. He's the ballplayer who, by rights, might ask of his creator why he didn't get more life from his career, and has to listen to "the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long." Perhaps he'll take it better than Roy Batty; the man has a ring and the compensation of considerable wealth by your standards or mine, and a long life ahead of him to spend it in. But the gifts he had, and then gave to us on the diamond, are not the sort to be forgotten easily, and on the list of great careers that will necessarily fall short of the Hall of Fame, you could easily place Edmonds' towards the top of the heap in history's dustbin.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Formalized their two-year deal with 1B-L Adam LaRoche; designated RHP Luis Atilano for assignment. [2/15]
Outrighted RHP Luis Atilano to Syracuse (Triple-A). [2/20]

Mark Twain opines: Better a broken promise than none at all.

Atilano was already trying to come back from his latest elbow surgery, and even without that, the finesse righty would have been bumped to the back of a pack that includes the seemingly healthy Chien-Ming Wang, "exciting" Cuban emigré Yunesky Maya, and Gorzo the Magnificent. Just as they'd successfully taken J.D. Martin and Shairon Martis off the 40-man without having to lose too much sleep over the risk of losing them to a waiver claim, Atilano's status as damaged goods with limited upside when his elbow is working made him eminently outrightable. Taken collectively, this is a symptom of a better collection of pitching, both on the 40-man and within the organization—at least as far as you take that comment with a staff counting on Jason Marquis.

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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