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December 21, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Transaction Jackson Settles In

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed C-L A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million. [12/20]

Here’s a thought. Will the Rangers, with Pierzynski and Geovany Soto in tow, pair the former Chicago backstops in a platoon? Even in 2012, the finest offensive season of Pierzynski’s career, he failed to hit left-handed pitching. Yet Pierzynski did manage to hit 27 home runs after hitting 30 in the previous three seasons combined. Convincing any player—even a soon-to-be 36-year-old backstop—to accept a smaller role after his banner season is a tough task. Still, it’s hard to look at the strengths and weaknesses of Pierzynski and Soto and ignore how they align perfectly: Pierzynski hits righties; Soto hits lefties; Soto is a better defender; Pierzynski the better instigator; both play with vigor.

Perhaps the Rangers spelled this out to Pierzynski and sold him on the arrangement, or perhaps he sought it. The curious aspect is that he took a one-year deal to leave Chicago. Either the White Sox have something else on the burner or the Rangers were willing to pay Pierzynski enough to move to Texas for a year. Whatever the motive and explanation, Pierzynski should be a solid addition to a Rangers ballclub suffering through an offseason of farewells and just-shorts. 

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed RHP Carlos Villanueva to a two-year deal worth $10 million. [12/20]
Signed RHP Edwin Jackson to a four-year deal worth $52 million. [12/20]

Villanueva has 56 big-league starts to his name but never more than 16 in a single season (he set that career-high in 2012). Chicago is becoming the land of opportunity for swingmen. First Scott Feldman, now Villanueva. There are reasons why the Brewers and Blue Jays never committed to Villanueva as a full-time starter. It starts with a mediocre fastball and extends to questionable durability and command of his secondary pitches. Re-watch a few of his starts from last season and count how many changeups and curveballs are up and over the plate. It is no surprise then that Villanueva’s likelihood of allowing an extra-base hit is higher as a starter than as a reliever. There’s little risk in trying Villanueva in the rotation, just don’t act surprised if he spends year two in the bullpen.

The Cubs’ other signing should spend years one through four in the rotation, though the question is which team’s rotation. Transaction Jackson has not spent more than 363 consecutive days with a team since the 2008 trade that sent him from Tampa Bay to Detroit. From there Jackson went to Arizona, then Chicago, then St. Louis, then Washington, and now Chicago again (albeit the north side).

Jackson’s nomadic tendencies are hard to explain. He’s one of 14 pitchers with 30-plus starts in each of the past five seasons*. True, Jackson—blessed with mid-90s velocity and a knockout slider—is not the ace or frontline starter portended by his stuff or brilliant debut. He is, however, a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse with good athleticism and character. Dream about what Jackson could have been while playing ducks and drakes if you want, but that he is a solid, dependable starter.

*The others: A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Cole Hamels, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, James Shields, Jered Weaver, Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Ubaldo Jimenez.

Of course, when a non-competitor signs a pitcher for $52 million you expect better superlatives than solid and dependable. Examine this deal with a win curve and nothing else and there’s little logic to it. Consider what Jackson’s presence allows. Now the Cubs can trade Matt Garza without taxing their bullpen, inserting a replacement-level starter, or rushing a youngster to the show.

In fact, Jed Hoyer can keep his young starters in the incubator as long as he wants because the Cubs can flex their financial might to sign the Villanuevas and Feldmans of the world to short-term arrangements. In the end, it’s all about the money, and the Cubs have plenty of it, honey. They can afford to splurge on a durable, quality piece like Jackson. In return, he can move into a house instead of an apartment or hotel room. 

MIAMI MARLINS
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Signed 3B-R Placido Polanco to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million. [12/20]

Polanco is the latest in the Marlins’ prolonged efforts to find a solid, everyday third baseman in the post-Miguel Cabrera era. The 37-year-old has scabs to pick, but fewer than the rumored free-agent alternatives (Brandon Inge and Miguel Tejada).

An inflamed back limited Polanco’s effectiveness at the plate last season, and landed him on the disabled list twice. He remains a skilled defender with good bat-to-ball skills; the latter trait should give Mike Redmond the ability to hit-and-run with Polanco as he sees fit. You could hardly blame Redmond if he sees it fit often, as Polanco’s game is void of power and speed to the point where he has tallied more double plays than home runs in five straight seasons. Still, Polanco can provide offensive value so long as the bloopers are dropping and the liners are clearing gloves.

Ultimately, Polanco is a one-year stopgap. Miami acquired Zack Cox last deadline amidst a messy season. Cox’s future is in doubt and the 2013 season is judgment day. By adding a veteran like Polanco, the Marlins can listen to the trial and form a verdict before entering next winter and perhaps resuming their hunt for a solid third baseman.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Signed LHP Tom Gorzelanny to a two-year deal worth around $6 million. [12/20]

In 2012, for the first time in Gorzelanny’s career, he failed to start in at least half of his appearances. Instead Davey Johnson used Gorzelanny as a multiple-inning reliever capable of retiring left-handed batters: the southpaw faced a career-high 42 percent left-handed batters (up from 24 percent) and pitched multiple innings in 27 of his 44 relief appearances. You have to assume the Brewers plan to use Gorzelanny—who gets by with a low-90s fastball and changing speeds—in a similar manner; otherwise, passing on Randy Choate (who signed for $7.5 million over three years) is questionable. It is worth noting that Milwaukee went through most of the 2011 season without a left-handed one-out specialist, so they may prefer flexibility to limited brilliance.

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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