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November 1, 2011

Transaction Analysis Blog

Option Day Craziness Part Two

by R.J. Anderson

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Boston Red Sox
Declined 2012 club options on RHP Dan Wheeler and RHP Scott Atchison. [10/31]

Valuable when properly deployed, depicting Wheeler as a righty specialist is about right. During Wheeler’s full three seasons in Tampa Bay, Joe Maddon used him against 69 percent right-handed batters—including over 75 percent righties in 2010. Meanwhile, Terry Francona used him against just 61 percent righties last season, the worst of the bunch. The platoon differential does not explain the entire decline, but it did contribute along with a tougher ballpark and forearm stiffness. Wheeler had to settle for a small deal last winter, and did nothing to change that entering this offseason.

Atchison is still under Boston control and the decline only affects his 2012 pay.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Minnesota Twins
Declined 2012 club option on RHP Joe Nathan. [10/25]
Claimed RHP Jeff Gray off waivers from the Mariners. [10/31]
Claimed LHP Matt Maloney off waivers from the Reds. [10/31]

Nathan rushed back from Tommy John surgery and it showed. He headed to the disabled list with right forearm inflammation after making 17 appearances and boasting a 7.63 earned run average. As the table below shows, Nathan improved once he returned and looked more like the Nathan of old. The Twins still felt paying him an extra $10.5 million next season didn’t add up, even if he is back to good, and it’s hard to blame a 99-loss team for passing on a highly paid closer.

Part of 2011

G

IP

ERA

SO%

BB%

Pre-DL

17

15.1

7.63

20.3%

12.2%

Post-DL

31

29.1

3.38

23.9%

4.3%

Some teams just have a type they look for in players or pitchers. The Twins sure do, and Maloney is a fit. Maloney is a southpaw who lives in the upper-80s while relying on precision and changing speeds to survive. The formula has not translated to major league success in 80 innings due to 18 home runs allowed. Fittingly, we called Maloney “a less gifted Glen Perkins,” in Baseball Prospectus 2011, and Minnesota now has Perkins and his derivative.

Gray is Maloney’s inverse. Right-handed with plenty of fastball, Gray offers little else, and his fastball does not have enough movement for him to survive on the majors on the strength of it. Minnesota is just hoping that Gray’s fifth organization in two years can make something click.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Tampa Bay Rays
Exercised 2012 club options on RHP Kyle Farnsworth and RHP James Shields. [10/31]
Declined 2012 club option on C-R Kelly Shoppach. [10/31]

By now, you know that there is a rule that, when writing about the Rays, requires the author to include a variation of the phrasing, “for a team with their payroll.” Taking on new challenges is fun, so here is to explaining these three moves while abstaining.

The only question about Farnsworth’s option concerned his health. Farnsworth missed time down the stretch with a tender elbow, although the condition allowed him to pitch very late in the year and into the postseason without issue. As for Shields, the biggie is whether the Rays will be the team exercising his other two club options, or if he will be dealt this offseason in order to aid a lineup currently without a solution at first base or designated hitter.  

Declining Shoppach’s $3.2 million option also looks like an easy decision. When the Rays acquired Shoppach from the Indians in late 2009, he carried an all-bat, no-glove reputation. Two seasons later, some regard Shoppach as a defensive wonder. What changed? Better coaching, more practice, or a combination thereof? Neither. Shoppach benefitted from being Shields’s personal catcher for most of the season, and by being on the same team as John Jaso and Robinson Chirinos. Shields owns a brilliant pickoff move (nailing 12 runners by himself this season) that shuts down the running game, meanwhile describing Jaso and Chirinos as defensive liabilities is being kind.

Add in that Shoppach’s offensive numbers have slid, and you wonder if there are some Nichols Law traces to be found, too. Should the Rays look for a true defensive stalwart this winter, they could always sign Jose Molina for cheaper—and you know how important that is for a team with … well, you know.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Toronto Blue Jays
Declined 2012 club option on RHP Jon Rauch. [10/31]
Exercised 2012 club option on E6-R Edwin Encarnacion. [10/31]

Bookmark Rauch’s player page if you think a volatile reliever example will come in handy this offseason. Rauch entered 2011 having tossed 50-plus innings with better than league-average earned run averages in five-straight seasons. True to form, Rauch did throw more than 50 innings, but his earned run average finished at 4.85. Blame it on the American League East, the Rogers Centre, injuries, or random fluctuation, just know that you have to explain why Rauch gave up more home runs in 2011 (11) than he did combined in 2009 and 2010 (eight). A group that should remain blameless is the Toronto front office. By declining the option, they save $3.5 million and could offer Rauch arbitration to milk his Type B status.

Encarnacion struggled early, racking up more strikeouts (39) than extra-base hits-plus-walks (34) in the first half before turning it on in the second half, tallying 62 extra-base hits-plus-walks (34 being walks) versus 38 strikeouts. Toronto is choosing to pay Encarnacion $3.5 million—or $3 million extra when compared to his $500K buyout—and that feels about right. Just don’t expect much defensive value.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Chicago Cubs
Declined club option on RHP Jeff Samardzija. [10/31]

Not arbitration eligible yet, Samardzija will remain with the Cubs at a lower cost. Samardzija endured his first real success as a major leaguer in 2011, tossing 88 innings and striking out about one batter per inning. Converting Samardzija into a starting pitcher has been a Cubs’ pet project for the past few seasons and the early rumblings indicate they might try it again. You can see a future starter in Samardzija if you never take your eyes off the radar gun; otherwise, it is hard to envision a transition being successful.

Samardzija throws a hot fastball that can encroach on triple digits, but the pitch can flatten out at times. He has struggled to harness control over his secondary pitches, although he showed improved control on his slider last season, and the addition of a cutter seems to be helping in that regard. Still, Samardzija had a successful season and that involved walking five batter per nine innings pitched. You don’t tend to see walk rates shrink with increased exposure too often.


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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