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November 1, 2012

Transaction Analysis

The League of Extraordinary Salary Commitment

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-sign RHP Jake Peavy to a two-year deal worth $29 million. [10/30]
Exercised 2013 contract option on Gavin Floyd (worth $9.5 million). [10/30]
Declined 2013 contract options on 3B-R Kevin Youkilis (worth $13 million) and RHP Brett Myers (worth $10 million). [10/30]

Rick Hahn is a greenhorn but his first moves as general manager show savvy beyond his experience. The White Sox’ new boss found a way to keep two rotation parts in place while freeing up some additional funds. He also made two obvious decisions to cut bait with in-season acquisitions. Nothing to date tells us whether Hahn will succeed running the show in Chicago, but so far so good.

Hahn’s handling of Peavy is impressive. Remember, Hahn entered negotiations with a $22 million option in his back pocket. If the White Sox wanted Peavy for the 2013 season, they could have him at a hefty cost. He maneuvered around the option and nimbly secured Peavy’s services for 2013 and 2014 at the cost of an additional $7 million, all the while reducing the immediate payroll hit. Hahn’s deft negotiating prevented Peavy from testing the open market, where he may have found a more lucrative deal available.

There is risk for Hahn in re-signing Peavy. Last season was the first time since 2007 Peavy threw 200 or more innings in a season. Injuries to his shoulder, elbow, and ankle have limited him at various points over the past five seasons. Those kinds of injuries could reappear, but Hahn is relying on his well-regarded medical staff to keep Peavy on the mound. The good news is Peavy has found a way to throw 100-plus innings in each of those seasons. He is an injury risk, make no mistake, but the volatility lays in the 100-200 inning range rather than the 0-50 range of someone like Rich Harden.

Hahn is saving $19 million in 2013 salary obligations by paying Youkilis and Myers a combined $4 million in buyout fees. Chicago reportedly could bring Myers back as a starting pitcher at a reduced cost. The latter part applies to Youkilis as well, since Chicago lacks a suitable in-house alternative at the hot corner. Hahn has expressed interest in re-signing both.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Ervin Santana and cash from the Angels for LHP Brandon Sisk. [10/31]

As they did with Chris Volstad, the Royals are buying low and hoping Santana bounces back. Obligatory table:

Ervin Santana’s Peripherals, 2010-12

Season

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

2010

6.8

3.0

8.9

1.1

2011

7.0

2.8

8.1

1.0

2012

6.7

3.1

8.3

2.0

 

Santana saw his peripherals worsen across the board, though mostly by insignificant amounts. The big change was home runs. The exact reasoning for those home runs had to do with Santana essentially tipping his slider, if you believe Mike Scioscia

“First thing is it telegraphs your pitches; if you're throwing each of your pitches out of a different arm slot, which has been the case that we're seeing—you want that consistency . You want everything out of the same look. If he does get that same look and you're high, then your slider is gonna have more depth and not as much velocity and your fastball's probably going to be a little straighter without that late life. Some guys throw out of that slot because that's their natural slot; that's the way they pitch. Ervin's slot is really a high three-quarter slot that he's been trying to find, not as much over the top, and at times he does get too far over the top.”

Santana pitched better down the stretch. Over his final 10 starts, he tossed 62 innings, fanned 55 batters, walked 16, allowed 15 home runs, and had a 3.63 ERA. The home runs remained problematic, but here’s a thought experiment: How would Santana’s home run problem be viewed if this were a sabermetrically-inclined front office acquiring him? Do we focus on the negative too much because it’s the Royals? These are questions without a right answer, but ones worth asking nonetheless.

There is a negative here regardless of how the Royals lean: The opportunity cost involved. Kansas City is paying Santana $12 million, which would seemingly limit what they can do over the remainder of the offseason. On the bright side, Santana is on a one-year deal, meaning the Royals can cut bait if his home run problems continue.

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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RHP Rafael Soriano opted out of his contract and became a free agent. [10/31]

Scott Boras is the best agent in sports. Soriano receives $1.5 million for opting out of what amount to a one-year deal worth $14 million. Simple math tells us Boras believes he can find a $12.5 million bid out there, and probably more. Expect Boras to leverage Mariano Rivera’s uncertainty against the Yankees. Will the same internal forces that brought Soriano to New York in the first place intervene in order to keep Soriano in town? Boras can only hope. 

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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LHP Dallas Braden and RHP Joey Devine elected free agency after being outrighted to Triple-A. [10/30]

Two shoulder surgeries have caused Braden to miss most of the past two seasons, including all of the 2012 season campaign. When healthy, Braden is a southpaw with more guts than stuff. He gained prominence in 2010 after throwing a perfect game and then educating Alex Rodriguez about the property rights of the mound. It seems doubtful that Braden will return to form entirely, but a team would be wise to give him a look-see. In typical Braden fashion, he told Susan Slusser he’ll find a job because, “I’m left-handed and have a heartbeat.”

Anyone familiar with Devine’s 2008 dominance (45 2/3 innings, 49 strikeouts, and nine runs allowed) will invariably feel the heartbeat quicken upon seeing Devine’s name on the free-agent list.  Unfortunately, he is a low-probability signing. Devine has thrown 46 1/3 innings in the four seasons since, all contained to a 49-apperance stretch in 2011. He underwent Tommy John surgery in April and will not be a factor again until the 2013 season starts at earliest—if ever again. 

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-sign RHP Brandon League to a three-year deal worth $22.5 million with a vesting option. [10/30]

Ned Colletti’s attempt to correct the economy continues. You had to know Colletti would pursue a safety net at closer after Kenley Jansen’s late-season heart woes. Rather than dip into the open market, Colletti stayed within the organization and re-signed League.

Handing out a three-year deal to any non-elite reliever is asking for a lousy return on investment—ditto the $7.5 million average annual value. Why then are the Dodgers marching into the land of poor ROI? It might be that Colletti suspects the rest of the league, flush with cash, will hit the market with similar ferocity; causing an apparent overpay to blend in with the norm in the coming weeks. The chicken-or-the-egg scenario here is whether Colletti’s attempt to beat the market inadvertently set the market, but that’s a topic for another day. In a market with so many right-handed relief options available, it seems fair to ask if the endowment effect fooled the Dodgers into liking League more than they should.

Maybe, or maybe it’s some other form of attachment. Los Angeles tweaked League’s mechanics after acquiring him at the trade deadline. He pitched well over the ensuing 27 1/3 innings, leaving the Dodgers to wonder if their fixes have changed his true-talent level. The odds are against League being a dominant reliever, but you have to sympathize with the Dodgers to an extent. Los Angeles made an investment—in time and emotion—when they changed his mechanics. Why allow another team to enjoy the fruits of their labor by letting League walk?

In all likelihood, no one, save League and his agency, will stamp this move with a gold star in three years. You can make sense of it from the Dodgers’ point of view if you want to, however.

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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