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January 27, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Cody Ross to Boston

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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Signed OF-R Cody Ross to a one-year deal worth $3 million. [1/23]

From postseason hero to platoon outfielder in 15 months. Shed tears if you must, but know that it’s a role he would have gladly taken as recently as 2007. Back then, Ross was in organization number four and still seeking his first major league season with 400-plus plate appearances. In the time since, Ross has earned more than 2,000 trips to the big league plate, more than $12 million in earnings, and the aforementioned World Series ring.

Calling Ross a fourth outfielder seems fair, as he could play center on occasion to break up an otherwise all-lefty outfield. Most of the time, it seems that Ross and Ryan Sweeney will lock hands as dance partners, with Sweeney tangoing with righties and Ross doing the cha-cha with lefties. While Ross had a bit of a down season against lefties in 2011, platoon splits tend to be riddled with random variance, and plus the combination of enduring lower body injuries and playing in San Francisco may have taken their toll.

Should Carl Crawford’s wrist surgery sideline him entering the season, then Ross might be a starter on opening day for arguably the best team in the American League. See, no tears necessary.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 2B-R Jeff Keppinger to a one-year deal. [1/25]

Keppinger, like former teammate Cody Ross, heads to the American League East with eyes on carrying the short stick in a lefty-righty platoon. The odds-on favorite to carry the long stick is Matt Joyce, although the Rays have worked with Joyce on playing first base this winter, so it is possible that you will occasionally see Keppinger and Joyce in the same lineup at the expense of Carlos Pena.

What does Keppinger bring to a team with contention hopes? Start with the .305/.339/.467 multi-year line against lefties, the ability to play multiple infield defensive positions (albeit not well), and end with his deft bat control. Only Juan Pierre has struck out less often than Keppinger since 2009 amongst batters with 1,000-plus plate appearances. Given that the Rays have added more strikeouts to their lineup this offseason, Keppinger adds a touch of diversity.

Keppinger is different from the utility infielders the Rays employed last season too. Neither Reid Brignac nor Elliot Johnson hit much, although both were serviceable fielders. If the Rays can find another right-handed bat, expect Johnson and Brignac to be squeezed off the roster, and it would not be too surprising if one or both are gone from the organization by opening day—Johnson because he lacks options and can elect free agency if the Rays attempt to outright him again, and Brignac because the Rays’ are flush with upper-level shortstops, and he appears to be the worst of the bunch.

CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Jeff Francis to a minor league deal. [1/25]

Francis is a success story regardless of what happens with the Reds, as he fought his way back from labrum surgery and is now 51 appearances into his post-surgery career. Some of the results—namely his strikeout-to-walk ratio and groundball rate—are praiseworthy, but his inability to limit hits have left him as a subpar starting pitcher. Cincinnati would figure to be the first above-average defensive unit behind Francis since his injury, but it’s no given that he’ll even get a chance to pitch for the Reds. Because this is a minor league deal and Francis fits the requirements, it is worth noting that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement states:

III-a-3. Article XX(B) free agents signing minor league contracts who are not added to the Opening Day roster or unconditionally released 5 days prior to Opening Day shall receive an additional $100,000 retention bonus and the right to opt out on June 1.

If this is the best offer Francis could get now, it isn’t likely that spring training will alter his stock too much one way or the other. Pitching in the minors works as a prolonged audition, but in effect, Francis will be waiting in the wings in case the Reds suffer an injury or a bout of ineffectiveness. The Reds are going to compete, and having a proven major league innings sponge just a phone call away is comforting, even if a phone call after the first two months could lead Francis to another team.

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C-R Chris Snyder to a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $350,000 with incentives and a mutual option for the 2013 season worth $4 million. [1/20]

Jason Castro will miss at least the beginning of spring training, which would have left Humberto Quintero as the Astros’ default starter at catcher. Such a fate is undesirable, and so Houston is going to roll the dice on Chris Snyder’s back. Snyder, if you remember, underwent surgery last June on his lower back and missed the rest of the season because of it.

Being hurt is something of a constant state for Snyder, who has hit .216/.333/.372 since 2009 in a shade under 700 plate appearances. That isn’t a stunning line until you consider Quintero’s .237/.266/.330 offering over the same period in a similar amount of trips. Castro, Quintero, and Snyder: that’s it as far as catchers on the 40-man roster go. Beyond those three, the Astros have extended a camp initiation to Carlos Corporan. And beyond that? Well, you just hope the Astros can get through the season with some combination of those four completing their battery.

Betting on a catcher with back issues to recover is a risk, albeit one with low stakes given the money and competitive nature involved. Maybe Snyder can develop into a trade chip or even just a serviceable reserve and mentor to Castro. Otherwise, there is no harm in trying—well, maybe for Snyder.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Brad Lidge to a one-year deal worth $1 million. [1/26]

Did anyone, anyone at all, realize that Lidge’s earned run average over the past two seasons sits at 2.49? Probably not, and for good reason: Lidge missed most of the 2011 season with a shoulder strain. Upon return, Lidge brought his usual strikeout rates (albeit with an extra helping of walks) but lacked his trademark velocity. Instead, his average fastball sat below 90 miles per hour, which sent his slider usage through the roof.

Those 19 innings in 2011 are not enough to ensure that Lidge’s new approach will work, but the Nationals are in a position to experiment. Washington is not counting on Lidge to close—that would be Drew Storen—nor be the everyday set-up man—say hello to Tyler Clippard—but if he can help out Henry Rodriguez and Sean Burnett in the sixth and seventh innings, then why not? If he fails, the Nationals lose just a million dollars. The upside is worth it, as the Nationals could boast two of the three most interesting pitchers in baseball.


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:  Cody Ross,  Jeff Keppinger

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

FrankL

Cody Ross. Nice role player.
Red Sox. Arguably best team in the AL? I'm a long-time Bostn fan and I must argue with that question. Big questions at SP (who will be #4 and #5), SS, LF, RF, C, even 3B.

The Sox will score runs, but they have an awful lot of questions. Will Bard/Aceves convert to SP.? (Will DiceK come back healthy?) Can Aviles/Punto handle the SS position? Will Crawford bounce back? Are Salty/Shoppach up for a full season? Will the RF tandem of Sweeney/Ross produce? Can Youkilis stay healthy for an entire season?

Even if the answer to all of those questions is "yes", one must expect some regression towards their mean for the remaining Sox: Gonzalez, Pedroia, and especially Ellsbury.

I fear it will be a season of chasing for a wild card: Texas, California, and the Yankees have clearly loaded up; Tampa Bay, the Tigers, and the Angels aren't chopped meat.

Jan 27, 2012 06:56 AM
rating: 5
 
BurrRutledge

That jumped out at me, too. Only if by "arguably" you mean that it could get you into a scuffle if you said that out loud in the Bronx.

If Pre-Season PECOTA is predicting the Red Sox "arguably" the best team in the AL in any other definition, I think you may need to kick its tires.

Jan 27, 2012 12:33 PM
rating: 2
 
cfinberg

But doesn't it feel just like old times?! It's so much more fun to have them be mediocre when we expect it than when we don't. It got a little bland there in the mid-Aughties.

The Tigers will likely take 1st again so their Wild Card chances don't apply. I'm skeptical of the Angels bats even with Pujols, and they have to duke it out with the Rangers in any case. And the Rays, whose batting is almost as bad as their pitching is good, could go either way. I don't think it will be easy, but I think the Sox have as good a chance as anyone to make the postseason. Anyone other than the Yankees and Tigers, that is...

The Sox managed to score the most runs in the majors in 2011, after all. And while their pitching will likely be unsightly, I have trouble believing that it will be demonstrably worse than last year's Bataan Death March (admittedly that might be due to my rosy glasses). There are also plenty of reasons why the players would be especially motivated this season, and were especially complacent last season.

Not saying it adds up to the World Series, but I think it's reasonable to expect it to add up to more than 3rd place AGAIN [hands the mic back].

Jan 27, 2012 20:04 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

It gets lost in the shuffle that the 2011 Red Sox had the best record in the AL at the end of the day on September 1st. They then proceeded to go 7-20. You can't dismiss that from their season, but I think looking at that time it's pretty clear it was indicative of injuries and severe under-performance from normally reliable players.

I can certainly see why some regression would be expected from Ellsbury, but Pedroia's and Gonzalez's performances were consistent with their careers to this point. Also, Carl Crawford, a consistent All Star player, put up one of the worst seasons for a regular player in my memory. If he's even league average that's a huge jump. It was a similar story in right field for the Red Sox. Improvement at those positions should be enough to off set Ellsbury and the step down at shortstop.

I'm not saying the Red Sox are the best team in the AL, but I do think they're flying under the radar a bit. If they had the best record in the AL at the end of the season I wouldn't be surprised a bit.

Jan 28, 2012 11:06 AM
rating: 1
 
CalledStrike3

I would agree with the Red Sox "crowning" rebuttal...Its possible the Red Sox finish 4th in their division! as Toronto is on the come and finished well last year.

Jan 27, 2012 12:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think the idea that the Red Sox needed to clear payroll room by trading Scutaro just to get Ross (and make a play for Oswalt) shows that things are a little off kilter at Fenway.

Btw, I also find it curious how there's been almost no rumors on JD Drew. It's been very very quiet on that front.

Jan 28, 2012 09:32 AM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

Drew was a) 35, b) injured and c) terrible (he hit .222/.315/.302) last season. What part of that package is intriguing?

Jan 28, 2012 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Old injured players are still getting contracts though. For example, Jack Cust had a similar year (.213/.344/.329) with a worse defensive reputation and still got $600k from the Astros. As recently as 2010, Drew had a full season with an OPS of .793.

And, on the flipside, with all the controversy surrounding Drew's initial rookie contracts, I figure there would've been some kind of article about him by now.

Jan 28, 2012 20:24 PM
rating: 0
 
saigonsam

There are lots of rumors about JD Drew retiring.

Jan 29, 2012 17:51 PM
rating: 1
 
graignettles

I'm pretty sure JD Drew retired last year and forgot to tell everyone...

Jan 31, 2012 19:22 PM
rating: 1
 
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