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January 2, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Royals Carry a Mig Stick

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed INF-R Miguel Tejada to a minor-league deal worth $1.1 million if he spends the season in the majors. [12/31]

Spring training, September, and winter ball are the times when evaluation errors are most prevalent, so says a popular scouting parlance. The Royals are thumbing their nose at the old saying by signing Tejada on the strengths of his winter ball feats.

Dayton Moore presumably would like Tejada to earn a roster spot, either as a utility player or as a second baseman, over Chris Getz, Irving Falu, or Johnny Giavotella. The bar isn’t high. Falu is unlikely to sustain his level of performance put forth in a cameo last season, and neither Getz nor Giavotella has proven they belong in the lineup every day. Tejada doesn’t need to turn the clock back five or six years to make the roster: two or three will do.

The plausibility of such a scenario depends on your willingness to forgive Tejada’s past two seasons. His poor play for the Giants in 2011 earned him a release, and his poorer play for the Orioles Triple-A affiliate in 2012 earned him another. Both stints looked like the beginning of forced retirement, yet Tejada played on. The time off must have done him well, since at least three teams this winter showed interest in the 38-year-old. Perhaps the paucity of remaining free-agent options—Ryan Theriot and Kelly Johnson might be the most intriguing second base choices left—necessitates fecund solutions, or perhaps Tejada just looks that good in winter ball. (Worth noting: Hector Luna is a Triple Crown candidate in the same league.)

Regardless of motive, no one can be sure about Tejada’s performance in 2013 (though the odds are stacked against him succeeding). You can be sure about putting the financial worries to bed. In an ideal world, veterans like Tejada would take the league minimum or thereabout. In this flawed world at hand, veterans like Tejada usually sign for around twice or thrice the league minimum. Look no further than Eric Hinske’s deal earlier in the winter (worth about a million) or Eric Chavez’s deal last winter following years of ineffectiveness (about $900,000). The existence of similar deals does not mean the Royals are using this money in a smart manner, but it does mean they aren’t alone.

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-R Matt Diaz to a minor-league deal. [12/26]

An incomplete timeline of Diaz’s career:

  • June 1999: Drafted by the Devil Rays in round 17
  • July 2003: Makes his big-league debut
  • February 2005: Claimed off waivers by the Orioles
  • February 2005: Becomes a free agent
  • February 2005: Signs with the Royals
  • December 2005: Traded to the Braves
  • January 2008: Signs a one-year deal worth $1.2 million to avoid arbitration
  • January 2009: Signs a one-year deal worth $1.2 million to avoid arbitration
  • December 2009: Signs a one-year deal worth $2.5 million to avoid arbitration
  • December 2010: Signs a two-year deal worth $4.25 million with the Pirates
  • December 2012: Signs a minor-league deal with the Yankees

As though you needed proof of how quickly fate can turn for a platoon outfielder: Diaz signed his first multi-year deal about two years before agreeing to ride buses to and from minor-league towns. The Yankees’ recent success with similar players is reason to believe Diaz could eke out another successful season. If Diaz’s thumb continues to ache then he could be just a camp body, a 35-year-old bereft of bat speed. You could have said many of the same words about Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Bartolo Colon, and each of those players worked out for the Yankees. Diaz may not, but the opportunity cost is small.

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Hisanori Takahashi to a minor-league deal. [12/27]

Takahashi found little success in 2012, splitting the year between the Angels and Pirates. The one thing Takahashi did well was retire left-handed batters. Given Takahashi’s past (quality seasons in 2010 and 2011) and a marketable skill, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him open the year as the second southpaw in the Cubs bullpen. If not, he should spend time in Wrigley before the season is out.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Reportedly will sign LHP Michael Gonzalez to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million plus incentives. [12/28]

Despite not signing with the Nationals this year until May, or playing with them until June, Gonzalez managed to throw 35 2/3 good innings, in which he held left-handers to a .204 True Average. His reward is a one-year deal to become Milwaukee’s main left-handed reliever. You have to like this one for Doug Melvin considering similarly skilled relievers Randy Choate and Sean Burnett got multi-year deals. There’s little risk and plenty of reward. Gonzalez, though limited to a narrow role, does offer the Brewers some flexibility as well: Tom Gorzelanny won’t be Milwaukee’s only lefty in the bullpen and could be freed up for a swing role.

NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Aaron Laffey to a minor-league deal. [12/27]

Laugh if you want, but remember that the Mets gave 24 starts last season to Jeremy Hefner, Miguel Batista, Collin McHugh, and Chris Schwinden. Laffey—a small southpaw dependent upon fastball command and his changeup—is an upgrade over that ragged bunch, and a sure bet to appear in a few big-league games. The Mets could toy with using Laffey in the bullpen as a long reliever or second left-hander, though his platoon splits do not suggest he’d be an effective specialist.

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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