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January 23, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Pena's Power Returns to St. Pete

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Clayton Mortensen from the Rockies for SS-S Marco Scutaro. [1/21]

In effect, Boston trades Scutaro’s contract for a non-entity so they can pursue a starting pitcher. Pardon anyone who finds this trade more befitting of the NBA.

The immediate return on Scutaro is Mortensen, who you may remember as a former first-round pick and as a part of the Matt Holliday-to-St. Louis trade. His stock has slipped since, as the gangly righty’s high-80s sinker gets groundballs, but his overall package has not produced inspiring results in the majors or high-minors in recent years. Unless something changes, Mortensen’s upside might lay in the bullpen as a situational reliever.

Boston’s real prize is ostensibly adding a pitcher like Roy Oswalt to a rotation that already holds Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Daniel Bard. Is there a high amount of risk in that projected rotation? Yes. Is there a high amount of potential reward in that projected rotation? Absolutely. Whether the drop-off from Scutaro to the new shortstop (reportedly a Nick Punto-Mikes Aviles platoon) is worth upgrading from Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller, Carlos Silva, or Alfredo Aceves to Oswalt is the equation that needs solving before writing this off as a smart or stupid pursuit. For its part, PECOTA sees Oswalt as the best pitcher of the pack by a fair margin:

Pitcher

PECOTA ERA

Roy Oswalts

3.55

Alfredo Aceves

3.93

Carlos Silva

4.88

Andrew Miller

5.71

Aaron Cook

5.85

Meanwhile, Scutaro hit .284/.356/.404 over the past three seasons, while Punto and Aviles should be able to come close based on their multi-year platoon numbers (Punto versus righties: .249/.345/.344; Aviles versus lefties: .295/.334/.476). One has to be high on the other facets of Scutaro’s game compared to the Punto-Aviles tandem to feel the Red Sox are taking a massive hit at the position.

When viewed in a vacuum, this is a poor trade. In a larger picture, this is just a piece of a sequence of movement. In that sense, the only quibble to take with Boston is whether they could have squeezed more out of Colorado than Mortensen, although time may have been of the essence given the fluidity of negotiations.

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Joel Zumaya to a one-year deal that could be worth up to $1.7 million. [1/18]

You knew some team would gamble on Zumaya, the questions were who and how much. We’ve now learned that the answers are the Twins and at least $850,000 with the normal array of incentives that could double Zumaya’s salary with a clean bill of health.

The most recent report on Zumaya suggests that his secondary stuff has been his focus and that he can still bring the heat when necessary. How his stuff will translate versus major leaguers, however, is anyone’s guess at this point. Maybe he returns to his old form, like in 2006 when he struck out 97 and allowed 98 hits-plus-walks, or maybe he settles into being a decent middle reliever with a few too many scars on his right arm.

Unfortunately, envisioning Zumaya as a long-term fixture is a difficult image to conjure. The last time he threw more than 40 major league innings in a season came in his rookie season. In the time since, Zumaya and the 60-day disabled list have become downright chummy, with Zumaya visiting once per season. Just about every major site on his right arm—from his shoulder to his finger, including his elbow and wrist—has caused him to miss time, and pretending all of those issues are in the past is something that must be proven before accepted, rather than wished into existence.

There is a non-zero chance the Twins will receive more return on investment from Zumaya than any other team who signed a free agent reliever this offseason. There is an even better chance that sentence becomes a fixture in future Zumaya write-ups, as his body continues to work against him and his once-promising career.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-R Jonny Gomes to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million. [1/20]

When the A’s acquired Seth Smith, the logical follow-up move was to secure a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who could serve in a timeshare with Smith. Sure enough, Gomes fits the bill. Gomes’s multi-year platoon splits include a .293/.385/.477 line versus lefties, whereas Smith has hit .290/.360/.521 against righties. If Bob Melvin can use the two in a strict platoon, the offensive values figure to be worth his time.

Gomes’s defense is a noticeable downgrade from Smith’s, and he will make gaffes on even routine-looking plays, as a Google Images search for Gomes will reveal. At the very least, Gomes’s home runs, peculiar defensive routes, and sophomoric antics should keep A’s fans amused, if not enthused. Perhaps Gomes can bring back the plastic rooster he bought and nicknamed Cocky while in Tampa Bay. Gomes would sneak Cocky into the dugout during rallies and later hid the statuette in a ballpark after a lengthy losing streak.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 1B-L Carlos Pena to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. [1/20]

Pena returns to the place where he shed the bust label by earning an All-Star appearance, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger. The list of pros associated with Pena outweighs his cons. He hits dingers, walks, smiles, thunderclaps, and signs tacos; he also strikes out a lot, hits into exaggerated shifts, and struggles with left-handed pitching. That last con tends to call for a platoon, but the Rays dealt with Casey Kotchman playing daily last season, and Pena’s three-year numbers versus lefties dwarf his predecessor’s efforts over the same span.

Some consternation exists about whether Pena can outhit his disappointing 2010 tallies within the American League East at this stage in his career. It is a legitimate question, but keep in mind that Pena’s 2011 season was not just a product of Wrigley Field. As ESPN Florida’s Tommy Rancel noted, Pena posted some of the league’s best power numbers on the road. Besides, Pena’s previous success at Tropicana Field and within the division suggests he should be capable, even with another year added on.

The other concern with Pena is how his defense stacks up to Kotchman’s. Pena might own a Gold Glove, but he lacks aureate defensive metrics (although one could argue that Kotchman possessed an overinflated reputation with the glove too). Skill-set wise, Pena is more nimble, making him more likely to make a play going back on a ball or ranging out of his zone; he also has impressive footwork when adjusting to throws. Kotchman, meanwhile, has surer hands, good in-zone prowess, and a strong, accurate arm. Overall, Kotchman owns the better package, though the change does not figure to threaten the Rays’ ability to field a competent defense.

Even if the Rays are downgrading on defense, the upgrades in offense and reliability make the switch worth the effort. Pena and Kotchman may have posted similar Wins Above Replacement Player scores in 2011, but the former is a safer bet to provide similar value going forward, while the latter seemingly maxed out last season. Having the ability to maximize upside and minimize risk within the same package is unusual, and that makes the Rays’ decision to make their old first baseman into their new first baseman an easy one. 

COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired SS-S Marco Scutaro from the Red Sox for RHP Clayton Mortensen. [1/21]

Seemingly no other general manager has spent the offseason flipping his roster around like Colorado’s Dan O’Dowd. Come opening day, O’Dowd will have installed new starters at catcher, second base, third base, and right field.

Scutaro will slide from shortstop in Boston to second base in Colorado, a move that figures to help his defense and help O’Dowd solve a problem, at least for the time being. After shuffling through Jose Lopez, Mark Ellis, and a few others last season, the offensive bar is set low enough (.256/.304/.351) that Scutaro’s PECOTA projection (.274/.346/.382) foretells of at least an 18-point gain in each of the slash line categories.

O’Dowd should be heralded for taking advantage of an opportunity and for somehow keeping the details quiet enough to the point where another team did not—perhaps could not—jump in and take Scutaro away for a better offer. Although, maybe that speaks to the velocity in which the deal was completed.


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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