April 5, 2012
Getting Caught Up Before Opening Day
Stewart is your garden-variety backup backstop. He can’t hit, but he makes up for it by being a good receiver and marksman, having gunned down 39 percent of prospective thieves. The Yankees had to choose between Stewart and his inverse, the poor-fielding Francisco Cervelli, and went with Stewart. There isn’t anything wrong with that—New York would score runs if they let Jay Jaffe don the tools of ignorance—so the outrage over this acquisition should be limited or sardonic in nature.
Signed RHP Chad Durbin. [4/3]
For the second time in a week, Atlanta dipped into the free-agent market to add a veteran pitcher. Durbin will join Livan Hernandez in the Braves bullpen as Anthony Varvaro heads to the disabled list. Here is what I wrote when the Nationals added Durbin:
Claimed UTL-L Luis Valbuena off waivers from the Blue Jays. [4/4]
Valbuena is perpetually on the fringe. He reached Triple-A as a 22-year-old and has hit .304/.387/.468 in the 900-plus plate appearances since, but his lack of options is the real reason he gets to enjoy this year’s Opening Day festivities. Valbuena has yet to show that he can hit major-league pitching in more than 800 major-league plate appearances. The Cubs are going to give it a go, in part because they don’t have clearly better alternatives. Maybe things will click for Valbuena. If not, the only audible noise will be another chance circling the drain.
Claimed RHP Alfredo Simon off waivers from the Orioles. [4/3]
Throwing hard has its benefits—like never-ending lines of willing employers and dates—just ask Simon. The Reds are the sixth organization of Simon’s career and their waiver claim represents the eighth time he has changed teams. Why do teams keep giving him chances? Because, despite Simon being used mostly as a starter last season, his fastball averaged 94 mph and touched 97.
Simon will soon turn 31 and that, along with his lack of options, makes his status as a project problematic. Usually the bad teams are the ones taking flyers, but the Reds have a spot to spare, at least in the interim, as injuries have claimed Ryan Madson and the start of Nick Masset and Jordan Smith’s seasons. Dusty Baker will still have Sean Marshall and Jose Arredondo at his disposal, and the Reds moved Aroldis Chapman back into the pen, giving them another weapon. That leaves Simon in a middle-relief role at best, and mopping up innings with Sam LeCure at worst. If Simon shows a flash between now and the time the Reds need a roster spot, he can hang around. If not, the Reds can bail without much lost. They wouldn’t be the first to do so, and they won’t be the last.
Re-signed LHP Jonathon Niese to a five-year contract extension worth $25.5 million with two club options that could make the deal worth $46 million. [4/4]
The Mets were paying attention when I picked Niese to have a breakout season:
Whether a breakout is coming or not, the Mets felt comfortable enough with Niese to commit to a lengthy extension. The easy, yet apt, comparison to make here is to Derek Holland. Holland, like Niese, is a young southpaw with a similar number of starts who signed a five-year extension worth $28 million not too long ago. It isn’t a perfect comparison because Holland pitches in a tougher environment and has more perceived upside, but the numbers between the two are similar enough to think that the Mets may have used Holland’s deal as a template:
New York stands to gain up to three additional years of control of Niese, making this an extension that could bolster his trade value as much as anything. For the time being, the Mets would be thrilled to see Niese make them—and me—look a little more prescient than we are.
Acquired RHP George Kontos for C-R Chris Stewart. [4/4]
Originally a fifth-round pick from Northwestern University, Kontos is a survivor of Tommy John surgery and the Rule 5 draft alike. He made his major-league debut last September, appearing in seven games, and his future is in the bullpen. A low-90s fastball and slider could be enough for Kontos to become a middle-relief option, but he struggles with left-handed batters and lacks the stuff to handle the late innings.