February 27, 2003
February 19-24, 2003
Signed 2B-R Junior Spivey to a two-year contract. [2/23]
This is a nice gesture by the Diamondbacks, because it doesn't really eliminate arbitration headaches as much as it gives a player without leverage a little bit of security. As our forthcoming PECOTA cards, featuring Nate Silver's really interesting Similarity Index and Similarity Scores (very different and significantly more valuable than the old Similarity Scores that generated trivia but no concrete information) tell us, Spivey might be coming off a great season in his age-27 year, but he also ends up being somebody whose season is most comparable to Damion Easley's 1998 or Charlie Neal's 1959. After those uninspiring examples, you can work your way down a bit to get to Phil Garner or Robbie Thompson or Vance Law. Now, I don't know about you, but to me that seems like a very strong hint that overall, you have a picture of a guy who is coming off a great season at the age you should expect great seasons, and then...you have to wonder. Everything should favor Spivey having a useful career; I particularly like the Garner or Law comps for that much less sophisticated wishcasting.
Agreed to terms on a two-year contract with 1B/OF-R Kevin Millar. [2/20]
Signed RHP Robert Person to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/22]
The Red Sox still have questions about who will be in the last two slots at the bottom of the rotation. John Burkett wasn't a major asset last year, Casey Fossum may or may not be an answer, and then you get to the perpetually hanging-on Frank Castillo. So it makes sense to haul in Robert Person, on the off chance that his elbow will be fine all season. As Will Carroll explains it, last year's shoulder problem was a classic compensation injury, where he incurred a relatively minor shoulder injury compensating for an elbow that has been a far more persistent problem. Flash Gordon and Jason Isringhausen have both come back from similar injuries pretty quickly, so there's a chance that Person could be healthy enough to contribute. Whether we can feel safe about using one-inning closers as comps is another story. Still, since he was a quality starter in the not-too-distant past, it sort of makes sense to take a flyer. As for Person, waiting got him a better gig. He could have gone to Pittsburgh or Baltimore or something. Now, on the off chance that everything goes right, he could be the fourth starter on a playoff team.
Signed INF-R Trace Coquillette to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/24]
Normally, in a situation like this, I'd break out a cheap crack about Rodney Scott's unavailability after his tragic gig as a Spinal Tap drummer. However, Coquillette is only going on 29, and unlike Wilton Guerrero, he might actually do things that help a ballclub in some concrete fashion. When you're at the bottom of the barrel hoping for pennies, you don't get picky if they have maple leafs or Lincolns on them.
Signed 1B-B Tony Clark to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/20]
Signed LHP Donovan Osborne to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/22]
If nothing else, Steve Phillips is always busy. I'm sort of surprised at myself, but of the two signings, I'm a lot more positive about Tony Clark. Is he done? Sure, he might be, but he was also useful as recently as 2001. But more importantly, if Mo Vaughn wallows around in noisy mediocrity or worse, gets hurt, the Mets don't really have another internal alternative, and this is a division where 85 wins will contend. So the Mets sign Clark, rather than get caught short-handed down the road, then either have to make a deal from a bad spot, or do something radical like move Piazza and split the catching duties between Jason Phillips and Vance Wilson. This was a nice bit of risk assessment, although if Clark has a bad camp, he may not stick. There are reasonably good odds on a lousy spring, given that he's a big, slow slugger, and perhaps representative of the type that Bill James reasonably posited flames out in his early 30s.
Meanwhile, the Mets are chasing butterflies and fancies with Donovan Osborne. I know it's fashionable to be promoting everyone as a potential Chris Hammond wannabe, but Hammond was remarkable and healthy, while Osborne is born to be broken.
Signed LF-R Ron Gant to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/21]
Gant is banking on being what he's been for awhile, a nice platoon partner and part-time player, and a fine fill-in if your starting left fielder goes down or struggles. He makes an interesting contrast to Clark (see above), in that he's seven years older, but still more valuable. But that also goes back to Gant's beginnings. He might have been a bad second baseman, but he was athletic enough to play the position and steal bases and hit triples, the sort of thing Clark gets to watch other people do. In themselves, those sorts of things don't describe Gant as much as they statistically reflect the better athlete. So even though Gant still strikes out a lot, and is essentially a talented Three True Outcomes hitter, he's still here and still has obvious value, even though he's the one pushing 40, and Clark is a lot closer to his days of starring.
With the A's, Gant makes for a good insurance policy in left, as well as a platoon partner for Erubiel Durazo or Scott Hatteberg in the DH slot. He'll more likely draw platoon duties at DH and perhaps left initially, but if Terrence Long continues to do a convincing impression of Mitchell Page's career-long swooning spiral from a solid rookie season, he won't last as the everyday left fielder. The leading alternative to Long or Gant is Adam Piatt, who is interesting when healthy, and Eric Byrnes, who will have trouble pushing past such august company while also fending off a challenge from Rontrez Johnson for the fifth outfielder's job. All in all, it's another camp where Billy Beane has collected a large number of bats (I haven't even brought up professional hitters like Billy McMillon, Olmedo Saenz, Mitch Meluskey, or even Jason Grabowski, all guys who can hit in the majors), and where Ken Macha will have a lot of flexibility in picking and choosing his roster.
Placed INF-R Pat Meares on the 60-day DL. [2/23]
This was a double payoff, emphasis on pay. First, the Bucs get the 40-man roster spot back, since Meares fulfilled his job of generating an insurance payment, and can now ride off to whatever land beyond where the sunset is, where people can find Operation Shutdown in happy action. Like...Tampa Bay, perhaps. Anyway, more basically, the Pirates needed the spot back to add a player whose value wasn't summed up on the bottom line, as they were planning to sign Reggie Sanders as this article was being clacked upon my keyboard. The notable thing that the Sanders signing will achieve is screwing the Yankees, who will almost certainly have to play and/or eat Rondell and Buffalo for weeks and months to come, as one more window for potential dumpery slams shut.
Confessed that OF-R Alex Ochoa has elected to depart for greener pastures in the land of Godzilla, signing a contract with the Chunichi Dragons. [2/19]
The Cardinals are in a situation screaming out for a trade, because otherwise this is just another one of those self-hobbling little roster accidents that seem to pile up on the LaRussians because they feel the need to carry two catchers who can't hit and seven relievers. So now that Ochoa is gone and J.D. Drew is still hurt, the Cardinals are left with options like Orlando Palmeiro, So Taguchi or Kerry Robinson for a spare outfield slot or two. And those are all the bodies on the 40-man roster, no less; the NRIs include Todd Dunwoody and Jon Nunnally. Kurt Abbott has stumbled around in the outfield now and again, so now that he's a NRI, he might even get taken seriously as a multi-position scrubeenie.
You can elect to be optimistic, because funky things happen in the game as a matter of course. You can't rule out Nunnally finally resurrecting his career, or Palmeiro continuing to do what he does best and being a nice OBP source. Maybe Kerry Robinson will be useful instead of Alex Sanchez Lite. Maybe So Taguchi has a talented friend at loose ends on the other side of the Pacific who will come and take his place. But more basically, the Cardinals have offensive issues if Drew misses a significant portion of the regular season, because Tino Martinez and Fernando Vina aren't threats, and the non-Marrero catchers even less so. Losing Ochoa right now hurts, pure and simple.
Signed LHP Kirk Rueter to a two-year contract extension through the 2005 season. [2/19]
It's a $12 million deal, with $3 million in bonuses, $4 million due in 2004, and $5 million due in 2005. So basically, it's a nice reward for a solid citizen who's been sort of the Giants' modern little knockoff of Herb Pennock, a good starter on a team armed with the offensive demigod of his day. That's not a knock on Rueter, but life is a lot easier when runs are a little more available for you than they are for the other guy. Rueter's skills have been valuable: he's basically taken his turn every fifth day for six years, and while he's not as extreme as somebody like Bob Tewksbury was, he's basically a control pitcher. He's a little more deliberately wild, because he's always going to have to be careful. The question becomes whether he's going to start slipping at some point, to where he becomes so careful that his walks spike and he starts getting hammered. And that's the rub: Will he avoid becoming that guy over the next three years? Unfortunately, I don't share Brian Sabean's confidence that he won't.
Chris Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.