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November 11, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Overpaid Filler Player Edition

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Signed UTL-R Willie Bloomquist to a two-year deal worth $3.8 million. [11/9]
Signed P-R Chris Jakubauskas to a minor league contract. [11/9]
Released P-R Kam Mickolio. [11/9]

Days after engaging in a public spat, the D’Backs and Scott Boras reached a multi-year agreement for Bloomquist’s services. The best zinger in the mini-feud came from the super-agent. Citing John McDonald’s .169 average is cruel; however, suggesting Kevin Towers acted without logic in re-signing McDonald while arguing for Bloomquist takes real moxie. McDonald produced more Wins Above Replacement Player in 2011 than Bloomquist—a feat accomplished by finishing above replacement level. 

Guaranteeing Bloomquist two years and an annual average value near $2 million is questionable for the reasons you would expect. Towers’s short run in Arizona includes two other comparable signings, in which he gave McDonald and Geoff Blum two years as well. Utility infielders of this grade should not be hard to find, yet Towers seems to work under a football ideology. If the player earns the second year, great, otherwise send him packing with his relatively low pay.

Bloomquist is familiar with the team and is a former Sun Devil, but the major reason he returns is for stability in the middle infield. Stephen Drew’s status is up in the air after breaking his ankle last July and could become a free agent at season’s end. A 2013 club option worth $10 million looms, the decision for which will be based on when and how Drew returns. At second base, the club has interest in retaining free agent Aaron Hill, with nothing in ink yet. Drew’s situation is a hardship, albeit one that does not excuse entering next season with Bloomquist penciled in as a starter. Should Hill bolt, expect the Diamondbacks to troll the middle infielder market once more before camp opens.

Arizona’s other two transactions involve former Seattle farmhands. Jakubauskas fits Towers’s pitcher mold of choice.  Right-handed with a low-90s fastball, Jakubauskas has more than 150 innings while allowing almost 1.5 home runs per nine innings pitched. He looks better if you believe all home run rates regress to the league-average; otherwise, he merely provides depth and mop-up innings.

While Jakubauskas arrives, Mickolio departs. One of five players who went to Baltimore for Erik Bedard, Mickolio looked like a potential future closer. Big body, big fastball, and bigger mechanical problems, Mickolio’s 29 major league appearances have included strikeouts, walks, and too many hits. Employment, like love, is temporary for most. Expect Mickolio to spend the fourth anniversary of the Bedard trade with his fourth organization.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed C-R Rod Barajas to a one-year contract worth $4 million with a $3.5 million club option for 2013. [11/10]

No team appeared more likely to acquire a catcher this offseason than Pittsburgh. Coinciding injuries to Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit exposed the Pirates’ lacking backstop depth during the season, casting fringe major leaguers into the starting lineup too often for comfort. Players like Eric Fryer, Wyatt Toregas, and Dusty Brown function fine as organizational depth, but are out of their element as big-league starters. The need became a necessity once Neal Huntington declined options on Snyder and Doumit, leaving the Pirates’ depth chart bottom-heavy and talent-light.

Huntington confirmed what a team-high salary implied in the post-signing media session: Barajas will enter the season as the starter. Unlike Doumit, who walks a fair bit, Barajas steps up to the plate with a swing-first, ask-later approach that produced a .231/.275/.424 line over the last three seasons. Barajas’s power placates an otherwise empty line and provides him with the fourth-highest isolated power among backstops (with more than 1,000 plate appearances) since 2009. Conversely, Barajas has the third-lowest walk-to-strikeout ratio over the same stretch, higher only than Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Olivo. PNC Park restricts right-handed pop, making Barajas a poor fit.

Barajas is not Pudge behind the plate, but he passes for the closest thing when compared to Doumit. Despite similar caught stealing rates (Barajas has sat at 26.5 percent since 2009), Doumit’s shoddy receiving serves as the bumper between the two. Barajas grades out as slightly below average, and yet that alone is a marked upgrade over the catcher-in-name-only Doumit.

Old catchers and injuries stick together like peanut butter and bread, and the Pirates seem resigned to the idea that the backup will get a fair share of playing time. The in-house options of choice appear to be Michael McKenry and Jason Jaramillo. Pittsburgh acquired the offensive-minded McKenry during the 2011 season, and his game relies upon walks and the occasional double, with a hitch in his swing preventing him from offering much average. Jaramillo, on the other hand, switch-hits for show and is a pure catch-and-throw backstop. Neither profiles as a legitimate starting option.

The Pirates’ decision to add an option for 2013 is an interesting touch, too. Ostensibly, the plan is to have Barajas fade into the reserve role as Tony Sanchez steps into the driver’s seat. Whether that happens depends on the former first-rounder’s ability to rebound from a poor 2011 season. Sanchez has not played well since breaking his jaw in 2010 and should be in line to repeat Double-A. Polish has been key with Sanchez since his drafting, so the Pirates could push him to Triple-A and perhaps the majors with a bounce back season.

If the money feels like a secondary concern here, that’s because it is. By declining the options of Snyder, Doumit, Paul Maholm, and Ronny Cedeno, the Pirates saved $24 million on their 2012 payroll. If Barajas’s comments about the Pirates’ aggressiveness as a suitor are true, then perhaps Pittsburgh decided to get its top option, even if it meant overpaying. It could be a sound choice if Barajas solidifies their catching corps until Sanchez arrives, although the aforementioned Olivo received less last offseason and looks like the better player.

Pittsburgh seems content with the deal, and Barajas’s management team should be tickled, but the happiest of the bunch might be the Dodgers. With the arbitration offer deadline still some ways off, Los Angeles now nets a sandwich pick due to Barajas’s Type B status without ever having to extend the courtesy.                                              

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

Related Content:  Pittsburgh Pirates,  Pittsburgh,  Rod Barajas

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