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January 3, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Second Times Around

by Ben Lindbergh and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Myles Jaye and RHP Daniel Webb from the Blue Jays in exchange for RHP Jason Frasor. [1/1]

While the White Sox obviously weren't going to get much for a short reliever who is effective but a bit expensive for a non-late-inning arm, they at least found some upside in a pair of six-foot-three righties with arm strength. The better prospect is Jaye, who signed for $250,000 out of the 2010 draft and was impressive in the Appy League in 2010. He's in the low 90s and projectable, but his slider and changeup are fringy offerings that need to improve. He'll make his full-season debut in 2012.

Webb has been a disappointment since signing for an over-slot bonus of his own, receiving $450,000 in 2009. While he has low-90s velocity, like Jaye, he's developed little around it, and his delivery can get messy, creating command issues.—Kevin Goldstein

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-R Andruw Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract. [12/30]

It’s not often that a player goes from bust to bargain as quickly as Andruw Jones has.* The Dodgers wooed Jones away from Atlanta in December of 2007 on a two-year, $36.2 million deal that gave the lifetime Brave—fresh off his 10th straight Gold Glove, and with 368 homers under his rapidly-expanding belt—the fifth-highest average annual salary in baseball. They soon discovered that the 30-year-old they’d signed had transformed into an old, overweight, and injury-prone 31, as Jones spent over 100 days on the DL with right knee problems during the 2008 season and did even more damage to the Dodgers when he was active.

*Though These days, it’s even less often that the Yankees appear in Transaction Analysis.

Los Angeles had no interest in seeing the sequel and released him the following January with a whopping $22.1 million remaining on his contract. Since then, he’s reinvented himself with the aid of a few hitter-friendly parks in reserve roles with the Rangers, White Sox and Yankees, whom he joined last season and will play for again in 2012. Jones’ transition from star to part-time player was sudden, and his eventual Hall of Fame case will depend on the voters having long enough memories to remember him as a young player who could do everything but hit for a high average. (He accomplished even that in 2000, when he hit .303.) But not every player has the skillset and temperament to carve out a home on the bench, so despite his diminished state, Jones’ second act is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there’s not as much money in being a bench bat, but with the Dodgers still sending deferred payments his way, Jones has been content to settle for base salaries not far above league minimum. The $2 million the Yankees will pay him in 2012 represents a slight raise as a reward for good service last season, and he can earn up to $1.4 million more if he hits all of his prearranged plate appearance thresholds. The Yanks would love to see more of the same offensive fireworks they saw during his .291/.416/.612 second half; while that’s not very likely, Jones does seem to have plenty left in the tank. Like many aging players who become more patient to compensate for fading physical skills, he has walked more often in recent years than he did as a regular, and he still mashes lefties, putting up a .323 TAv against them last season and boasting a .309 multi-year platoon mark. Although he hit just .172 against same-handed hurlers as a Yankee, the sample size (76 PA) was too small to yield any conclusions, and his multi-year TAv of .264 against righties suggests that he’s far from helpless against them.

Jones remains playable in a corner, and he might appear there more often in 2011, with Jesus Montero expected to see time at DH against southpaws. The market might have supported a higher salary for a productive part-time outfielder/pinch-hitter like Jones; the Dodgers, who are already paying Jones more not to play for them than the Yankees are to have him in uniform, compounded the problem by giving a perplexing $4.5 million handout to Juan Rivera, a less useful player. By all accounts, though, Jones is happy in New York, and the Yankees should be equally pleased to have another player made from the same mold as the 30-something OF/DH bats who’d seen better days but proved to have a number of good ones left during their last dynasty.—Ben Lindbergh

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Jason Frasor from the White Sox for RHP Myles Jaye and RHP Daniel Webb. [1/1]
Signed LHP Darren Oliver to a one-year contract. [12/30]

Alex Anthopoulos traded for Sergio Santos at the Winter Meetings, but he wasn’t finished browsing through Kenny Williams’ bullpen. On the first day of 2012, he picked up Jason Frasor for a pair of prospects, bringing the franchise leader in games pitched back to Toronto. Frasor throws hard for someone his size, and he served the Blue Jays well as a setup arm for the better part of a decade. However, because he has a pair of obvious weaknesses as a pitcher, his flirtations with the closer role didn’t take. While he can be counted on to strike out about a batter per inning, he walks one roughly every other frame. He’s also extremely vulnerable to lefties, who notched a .319 TAv against him last season (and a .293 multi-year mark). His control problems and ROOGY tendencies force his managers to pick his high-leverage outings carefully, but he’s always available to take the ball—his next DL trip will be his first—and a team could do much worse with its secondary setup man.

It’s possible to take Toronto’s reliever acquisitions as a sign that the Jays consider themselves on the verge of contention, but we could have said the same thing last winter, when Anthopoulous imported Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, and Jon Rauch. As my colleague R.J. Anderson reminded me, Anthopoulos seems to enjoy shorting players like other people short stocks. He reacquired both players he traded in the Rajai Davis deal, Trystan Magnuson and Danny Farquhar, for cash and David Purcey, respectively, and now he’s bringing Frasor back into the fold after using him to trade for Colby Rasmus. In light of those moves, it might be wise for future players traded by Toronto to hold on to their Ontario housing for a while.

The Jays’ other relief acquisition is the perfect complement for Frasor. Last season, Darren Oliver handed out walks less than half as frequently as Frasor did, and he’s also a much more effective antidote to left-handers. Oliver’s weighted, multi-year TAv against southpaws is just .236; even better, his multi-year mark against righties is also .236, which means he can be used in all situations. As a result, he’s always been an innings eater. His body held up through his thirties and didn’t give him any obvious trouble in his age-40 season, though the Rangers limited him to his fewest frames since 1995 in deference to his advanced age.

As I tweeted in November, Oliver’s late-career success makes for some unusual ERA splits, though his trajectory looks less unusual once you realize that he’s another in a long line of failed starters converted to bullpen work—it just took him longer than most to make the transition. All signs pointed to his continuing to make up for lost time in Texas, where he did three tours of duty and made his only two World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. The Rangers don’t have a lefty reliever under contract for next season save for Michael Kirkman (unless Matt Harrison returns to the bullpen), so at first blush, it seems somewhat surprising that they let him walk without an offer.

However, the team’s front office isn’t sentimental, as it showed by making little effort to keep C.J. Wilson away from a division rival earlier this winter. Oliver is old and not inexpensive—although the terms of his Toronto deal haven’t been released, he made $3.25 million last season—and the Rangers reportedly wanted him back in a more limited LOOGY rule, while the Jays were willing to let him face batters on both sides of the plate. Last year, they proved that a bullpen doesn't have to be a finished product by Opening Day by remaking their relief corps at midseason, when they added Mike Gonzalez to their left-handed mix. This year, they’ll let someone else pay Oliver for his age-41 season, take the compensatory sandwich pick, and worry about where they’ll get their 50-inning specialist later.—Ben Lindbergh

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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