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January 11, 2012

Transaction Analysis

The Far East-East Coast Connection

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Wei-Yin Chen to a three-year deal worth less than $12 million. [1/9]

Dan Duquette is trying to re-build the Orioles’ rotation, and so far he is trying to do so without committing to a lengthy and expensive contract. Chen is the second pitcher Duquette has plucked from Nippon Professional Baseball, joining the soft-tossing Tsuyoshi Wada. While Chen owns more upside than Wada, there are some questions about whether he can survive in the American League East.

Keith Law ranked Chen as one of the better free agents available this offseason while noting that teams could have varying levels of interest depending on when they saw him pitch. Early in the season, Chen offered declined velocity (instead of his usual low-to-mid-90s) and a bite-free slider that perked up as 2011 rolled on. Chen did manage a career-low walk rate, but it came with a career-low strikeout rate. Fanning five batters per nine in NPB does not suggest major league success lies ahead. Additionally, Chen’s strikeout rates dipped in each season since 2008. Patterns like that can mean nothing, but it is something to consider with the reports of diminished stuff.

Unlike Hisashi Iwakuma, Chen’s delivery does not include any hesitation or movement that could upset timing. It even looks a bit like Scott Kazmir’s when you take Chen’s size (6-foot-nothing) into account. As much as the Orioles would like to see Chen imitate a young Kazmir, they may have to settle for the latter day version or—should his stuff go and stay down—the mediocre reliever version.

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Aaron Cook to a minor league deal. [1/8]
Signed RHP Carlos Silva to a minor league deal. [1/3]

You know how the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry goes: one team’s move is always a response to the other team’s latest. Under those rules, Cook and Silva are CARMINE’s answer to the pinstriped duo of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Cook and Silva may form a humdrum tag-team, but at least the price tags match, as Cook will make $1.5 million if he reaches the majors while Silva gets a prorated $1 million.

Unlike Silva, Cook pitched in the major leagues last season.  He is an extreme pitch-to-contact groundballer who has declined since making the All-Star team in 2008. Injuries are a constant theme with Cook—he has made seven trips to the disabled list since 2004—but his peripherals have remained mostly static since his younger days:

Statistics

2005-2007

2009-2011

GS

70

68

IP

462

382.2

H/9

10.1

10.6

SO/9

3.4

4.4

BB/9

2.2

3.2

HR/9

0.8

0.9

ERA+

119

94

QS%

61%

46%

Just because Cook is unlikely to provide 200 innings or a shiny earned run average does not mean he cannot add marginal value to the Red Sox. Granted, Cook has fallen below that 94 adjusted-earned run average in each of the past two seasons, but it is hard to tell whether that is the result of a steady decline or just an unfortunate arrangement of numbers. If Cook proves the trend to be an irrelevant pattern, then he could provide the Red Sox with some back-end support the club missed last season. In the interim, expect Cook to open in Pawtucket and stay there until an injury occurs.

Silva is a more difficult player to evaluate. He has thrown 102 pitches in the majors since the 2010 trade deadline, with that season proving to be his most effective in years. Cardiac ablation sidelined Silva for a good chunk of 2010, and then shoulder stiffness and general conditioning woes limited him to 36 innings in the Yankees’ system in 2011. The odds of Silva getting back to his 2010 groove—where he reeled off 13 quality starts in 16 tries—are remote; still, the cost is low enough to store him in Pawtucket as an insurance policy.

In adding two groundball-heavy pitchers, Boston is playing to its defensive strength. While the Red Sox finished 20th in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, they ranked 11th in turning groundballs into outs. Neither Cook nor Silva is an apparent silver bullet to the Red Sox’ pitching woes, but then again, the same could have been—and was—written about the Yankees’ dependency on Colon and Garcia, and that worked out fine.

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Paul Maholm to a one-year deal worth $4.75 million with a club option worth $6.5 million for 2013. [1/9]

Maholm is no stranger to Wrigley Field or the Cubs, having spent the past six seasons making 25 or more starts for the Pirates. The dossier on Maholm goes like this: is left-handed; gets groundballs; good for 180-to-200 innings a year; ideally a number-four or -five starter; ended last season early thanks to a strained throwing shoulder. Given that package in a vacuum, the Cubs are getting a good deal.

There are, however, some concerns worth expressing that go beyond the shoulder strain. Maholm struggles with right-handed batters, and PNC Park tends to constrict those batters better than Wrigley Field. Further, Maholm—who consistently records groundball rates in excess of 50 percent—will have to pitch in front of a defensive that allowed hits on groundballs at a higher rate than all teams except the Twins. The Cubs have made changes at the hot corner (Ian Stewart in for Aramis Ramirez) and the cold corner (Bryan LaHair in for Carlos Pena), but whether those two moves are enough to improve the infield glove-work is indeterminable at this point.

Invariably, Maholm’s signing will fuel the already rampant Matt Garza-to-Detroit speculation. Jed Hoyer has already acquired four pitchers who started in the majors last season (including Travis Wood and Andy Sonnanstine, both of whom could begin the season in the minors), and it doesn’t seem like he is content just yet.

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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