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December 6, 2012

Skewed Left

How the Teams That Did Nothing in Nashville Did

by Zachary Levine

You know how they told you if you didn’t get off your ass and do something in life you’d be a loser? Not true at the winter meetings, where many of life’s rules seem not to apply—things like laws of human sleep patterns and normal snack pricing structures. Here at the winter meetings, you can do nothing at all and still be a winner in our books.

We’ve seen writing all week about who won and who lost various transactions—see, go-getters can be losers too—but here’s a look at the teams and people who notably did nothing at all (or hadn’t as we went to press) and how their week went.

WINNERS

The Dodgers: Baseball’s predestined busiest team of the offseason was anything but at winter meetings, but the market is being nice enough to wait for them.

Zack Greinke is still a free agent, and fortunately for the Dodgers, if he is indeed their big prize of the offseason, so too are consolation prizes Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, and Kyle Lohse. A run on these lesser options, which appeared to be beginning with Dan Haren to the Nats but gathered no momentum, would have set the Dodgers up for an all-out bidding war against their suburban rivals and the Rangers for Greinke’s services with scarcity in the supply.

The best news came Wednesday night, when the Angels filled a spot in their rotation with Joe Blanton, likely further diminishing the competition.

The Phillies: They still have no outfielders, and that’s kind of a problem, because even in a small ballpark, having Chase Utley chase baseballs to the center-field fence is hardly ideal. But the Phillies may have dodged a problem in avoiding a Wilton Lopez trade that was reportedly in the works for Tyler Cloyd and Sebastian Valle.

Lopez is a terrific reliever. He has unintentionally walked 33 batters in 223 1/3 career innings. He is also someone whom Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said—when Lopez sprained his UCL in 2012—could be looking at a Tommy John surgery down the road. He was shut down in 2011 after overuse and missed 28 days with the UCL sprain this past year in addition to a later day-to-day bout with elbow tightness.

The Rockies were comfortable enough with the pictures to give up Alex White, who did not fare well in Colorado but is young and will be a cheap factor in the Astros rotation as Lopez enters arbitration eligibility. Lopez is a perfect fit for Coors Field as a ground ball pitcher, yet it’s unclear why the Rockies wanted this rising cost given their current state of affairs.

The Phillies, meanwhile, may have lucked out of a bad investment when the medicals fell through. Combine that with the shrinking cost of Michael Bourn (see below) and it was a quietly good week for a team that really needed one.

Related honorable mention: The Mets staying out of the grossly inflated LOOGY market. Standing pat at Tim Byrdak’s minor-league deal looks okay even if that injured left shoulder just dangles like a willow branch for the rest of his life.

LOSERS

Michael Bourn: He’s still going to get more money than B.J. Upton. That sentence ends with a period, not a question mark. Right? He’s still going to get more money than B.J. Upton?

Probably. Bourn, whose potential suitors are dwindling through other moves, had his agent Scott Boras presenting reporters with the verbal equivalent of the famous Boras brochures. He cited Bourn’s 60 defensive runs saved (close to accurate, Fangraphs has him at 62) over the past four years while taking a major shot at an unnamed player who already signed, that obviously being Upton, whose DRS figure has been negative in that time. He stressed stolen bases, too, and called Bourn the best option on the market.

But this isn’t about talent now as much as a bidding war that Boras still needs to exist. Atlanta is out because of Upton. Washington, thought to be a prime location with the need for a center fielder and a leadoff hitter, is out because of Denard Span. And this week it was bye-bye Boston (Shane Victorino) and San Francisco (Angel Pagan).

Bourn’s best hope now might be a bidding war between the Mariners and Phillies, but the Mariners are a better fit for a right fielder like Nick Swisher. (And by the way, laughs on laughs on laughs if the M’s shrink Safeco Field this winter only to have their best asset be outfield defense with Bourn and Franklin Gutierrez.)

Boras, in holding court in Nashville Wednesday, was making this about Bourn vs. Upton when Bourn vs. reality of the market is the bigger issue.

The Yankees: The infield depth chart is horrific and got no better in the aftermath of an injury to Alex Rodriguez that will keep him out through June. Right now, our depth charts guru Jason Martinez projects David Adams as the starting third baseman and Cuban 27-year-old Yadil Mujica as the shortstop if Derek Jeter can’t be ready for Opening Day. (The Eduardo Nunez experience could always be dusted off as well.)

A three-year deal for $12 million like the White Sox gave out would have been a long commitment to the meh Jeff Keppinger, whose best asset is an uncanny ability not to strike out—6.4 percent of his 2,705 plate appearances were K’s. That doesn’t play all that well with the advantages Yankee Stadium could provide, but as a competent utility man, he’d do well to play third base regularly in A-Rod’s absence and then settle into a role where he would spell fragile players for a day and let them DH.

No Keppinger has the Yankees looking probably nervously at an overpay for Kevin Youkilis, who has less versatility should Rodriguez return. And that’s to say nothing of the holes at catcher (Chris Stewart?), right field (Chris Dickerson?), and DH.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

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