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December 1, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Changes of Scenery

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Traded P-R Tyler Chatwood to the Rockies for C-R Chris Iannetta.  [11/30]

Last offseason, the Angels jettisoned Mike Napoli to the Blue Jays. The move came after inexplicable mismanagement that saw Jeff Mathis walk away victorious in the battle among backstops for playing time. Now, new general manager Jerry Dipoto has righted a perceived wrong by acquiring another mistreated offensive-minded backstop. The Rockies re-signed Iannetta to a three-year extension prior to the 2010 season before demoting him weeks into the new season. Try as Iannetta might, he never could get back into the organization’s good graces.

Iannetta is not Napoli. His production is contingent on drawing walks, something he has done in more than 12 percent of his plate appearances in each of his five full seasons. In this day, teams should be able to stomach deflated batting averages if the secondary skills are there, particularly from an offense-challenged position, and Iannetta is a good litmus test for their constitutions. As ugly as his .225 average (since 2009) is, the .349 on-base percentage and .198 isolated power should make up for it.

There are concerns beyond Iannetta’s average that should give teams pause, such as his troubles away from Coors Field. The ballpark is not coming with Iannetta to Anaheim, and that could be a problem. Iannetta has hit .262/.377/.492 at home and .208/.338/.369 on the road over his career. While he did sprinkle in strong road performances in 2007 and 2008, his highs in each slash line component since then creates an offering of .175/.321/.353. The other biggie is a clause in Iannetta’s contract that allows him to void a 2013 club option worth $5 million upon a trade.

Unless Iannetta collapses, he could test the open market, although, there is the chance the Angels use the 2012 season for negotiation or cajoling purposes. This could be a promising marriage, if only Mike Scioscia avoids sins of the past by benching Iannetta in favor of Mathis. How this trade affects the Angels’ treatment of Hank Conger remains to be seen, although you have to think he will take to caddying Iannetta for the year.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed P-R Jonathan Broxton to a one-year deal worth $4 million with an additional $1 million in incentives. [11/29]

To entice Broxton, the Royals had Jeff Francoeur and Ned Yost take him hunting across Jeff Foxworthy-owned land. It sounds like a bad joke, but such is life. As Craig Calcaterra noted, the real reason for Broxton joining the Royals has less to do with whatever occurred on that punchline-rich hunting trip and more about the $4 million guaranteed. Had Broxton stayed healthy and performed well last season, $4 million would be a small part of his deal. He did not, and so it is not.

Reliever volatility is a banal subject, but anyone looking for a relevant example could do worse than pointing out Broxton. The Dodgers re-signed him to a two-year deal worth $11 million in January 2010. Over the contract’s life, Broxton went from one of the top relievers in the game to an afterthought in his own bullpen. Aiding in Broxton’s descent was a mostly wasted 2011 season, as he appeared in just 14 games before succumbing to elbow surgery.

Dayton Moore is rolling the dice with Broxton, hoping that the potbellied flame-thrower looks like his old self in his new setting. It’s way too early to tell whether the gamble will pay off, but an interesting aspect of Broxton’s recent performances revolves around his platoon splits. In the past, he struggled against lefties and pitched superbly versus righties. Over the last two seasons, those results have shifted, with Broxton shutting down lefties but stumbling against righties. The catalyst for the shift is hard to finger.  It does not appear that Broxton’s arsenal has changed, but for whatever reason, the results have.

If Broxton (and Joakim Soria) rebound, the Royals have the potential to field a strong bullpen. While Moore acquired Jonathan Sanchez and re-signed Bruce Chen, the reality is that a good bullpen might be necessary to buttress a pedestrian rotation. Otherwise, the Royals are getting serious about the postseason by taking last tournament’s bullpen dependency to heart. In Soria, Broxton, Greg Holland, Luis Coleman, Tim Collins, Blake Wood, and some combination of Everett Teaford, Jeremy Jeffress, and Kelvin Herrera, the Royals have a crew that should be enough to get the job done most nights.

Observant readers will notice Aaron Crow is absent from that list of bullpen candidates, and for good reason. The Royals were impressed by Crow’s 2011—in which he finished with the second-lowest earned run average in the pen—enough to consider moving him back to the rotation. Starting games would not be a new experience for Crow. He was drafted as a starter and made 29 starts in 2010 in the minors for the Royals before they chose to break him into the majors as a reliever.

Crow’s performance in those starts left something to be desired, namely good results. A 5.73 earned run average, 2.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and hit rate exceeding 10 per nine innings pitched do not suggest a smooth transition to the major leagues. Still, Crow did show good stuff. A low-to-mid-90s fastball with good sink and a knockout slider are enough to retire major-league batters. The problem is that Crow’s mechanics hurt his strike-throwing consistency, pigeonholing him as a fastball-only pitcher.

If nothing else, credit the Royals’ imagination on both ends of the Broxton signing. Maybe Broxton fails to recapture his old magic, and maybe Crow winds up back in the bullpen, but these are the kind of low-risk moves a team on the rise can benefit from.

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-L David DeJesus to a two-year deal worth $10 million with a club option. [11/30]

Meet the first notable signing of Jed Hoyer’s career in Chicago. The last two seasons of DeJesus’s career resemble a whirligig, with some ups and downs and a move from right to left.

Back in 2010, the Royals were poised to trade DeJesus at the deadline to a member of a captivated market. Reportedly, talks had gotten to the point with the Rays where Jake McGee’s name was bandied about. Before Dayton Moore pulled the trigger, DeJesus suffered a thumb injury, ending his season and those talks alike. Kansas City still elected to trade DeJesus, despite projected Type-A status, to Oakland for Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks.  DeJesus did not maintain that status, hitting .240/.323/.376 for the Athletics—an output that culminated in the second lowest True Average of his career.

If DeJesus had elected to sign a one-year deal to rebuild his value, no one would have batted an eyelash. Instead, the Cubs gave DeJesus a guaranteed two years and $10 million, with the chance to earn more. Ostensibly, DeJesus will become the team’s starting right fielder for now, therefore removing Tyler Colvin from the starting lineup.

DeJesus might leave fans feeling a twinge of déjà vu with a skill set similar to Kosuke Fukudome’s. He can play center field, making him something more than a tweener, and has in the past. Unlike the prototypical center fielder, DeJesus does not steal bases well or often and has more stolen base failures than successes over the last three seasons. A .277/.349/.417 offering since 2009 paints a picture of what DeJesus offers at the dish, including struggles against left-handed pitching; some walks, never more than 9.1 percent; some power, but more gap-based than light tower; and good contact skills, excepting 2011.

One wonders what role, if any, residual effects from the thumb injury played in his down 2011.  Another factor is Oakland’s ballpark. Wrigley Field is more endearing to left-handed hitters than the previous ballparks DeJesus has played home games in, making an offensive bounceback a possibility. At the same time, DeJesus will turn 32 in December, and expecting a slight decline is reasonable.  Using Wins Above Replacement Player, DeJesus has been worth 3.8, 1.7, and 2.1 wins over the past three seasons. Suggesting that DeJesus is a two-to-three-win player is not a stretch.

With DeJesus now in the fold, the Cubs would like to move Alfonso Soriano to another team. Hoyer may find that moving Soriano to another dimension is an easier feat, with the $54 million and no-trade clause in his contract to overcome. Alternatively, the Cubs could look to trade Marlon Byrd, who has $6.5 million remaining on his deal. The impetus to trade Soriano or Byrd is to make room for top prospect Brett Jackson. Jackson played well last season while splitting time between the high minors, so expect to see him patrolling the Wrigley outfield at some point this summer, and expect DeJesus to be flanking him.

COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C-R Ramon Hernandez to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million. [11/30]
Traded C-R Chris Iannetta to the Angels for P-R Tyler Chatwood. [11/30]

Adding context is an important piece in analyzing transactions. With these moves, the need is gone; all the context you can ask for is evident. The Rockies decided they would rather have Hernandez and Chatwood than Iannetta.

Hernandez is 35 years old and spent the past three seasons with the Reds, hitting .280/.348/.413. Add in caught stealing rates between 34 and 37 percent and a reputation for being a poor framer to get the full Hernandez picture. If you compare Hernandez’s raw line to Iannetta’s over the same time (.225/.349/.423), everyone can see that Hernandez has offered more average, a comparable on-base percentage, and a little less power before you adjust for park effects. Hernandez is also older and therefore riskier, and cheaper by about $2 million. Should Hernandez crater, Wilin Rosario could find himself as the real winner in Iannetta’s departure.

Chatwood is a short righty with a low-to-mid-90s sinker and a promising curve. He turns 22 in December, yet already has more than 140 innings in the majors under his belt. The experience might be a good thing, but the results are a bad thing. Chatwood almost walked more men than he struck out in the process of compiling a 4.75 earned run average. These are not new struggles for Chatwood, who has floundered since reaching Double-A in 2010:

Level

IP

SO/9

BB/9

HR/9

MLB

142

4.69

4.50

0.89

Triple-A

21.2

5.94

4.67

1.27

Double-A

68.1

4.76

3.57

0.40

Total

232

4.81

4.23

0.78

Point to the velocity, age, and rushed treatment as reasons to still believe in Chatwood, fine. Plenty of young pitchers have struggled in their first exposure to the majors. Heck, plenty of 21-year-olds have struggled and then gone on to be something more, Javier Vazquez (6.06 earned run average), Zack Greinke (5.80), and Greg Maddux (5.61) among them. However, those three had better strikeout-to-walk ratios during their learning experiences. The best modern examples with similar component stats are Chad Billingsley, Ryan Dempster, and Brett Myers. If Chatwood can turn into one of those, the Rockies should be pleased. For the time being, look for Chatwood to spend some time in the minors.


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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