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January 25, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Marcum Off the List

by Ben Lindbergh

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a one-year contract for $1.25-$1.5 million plus incentives that could increase its value up to $3 million. [1/24]
Signed RHP Jamey Wright to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. [1/22]
Signed RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. [1/22]

I wrote about Farnsworth a little under two weeks ago, when I went looking for potential bargains at the bottom of the free-agent barrel:

A right elbow strain cost Farnsworth the first three months of last season, and in his second game back, he walked four and allowed three runs. From that point on, he pitched to a 3.16 ERA with 22 strikeouts and nine walks in 25 2/3 innings, not far off the solid peripherals he’d posted in previous years. His fastball velocity was down a bit from where it had been before the elbow issue, but “down,” for Farnsworth, meant an average of 95.4 mph. The righty has recorded a 3.16 FIP over the past four seasons since picking up a cutter in Kansas City and becoming a more complete pitcher, and he should serve some team well in a setup role.

As it turns out, that team will be Tampa Bay, the same one he served last season. Among some fanbases, Farnsworth’s name is still synonymous with frustration and flameouts, but he’s not the same pitcher who allowed 1.5 home runs per nine innings as a Yankee or 1.4 per nine as a Cub. In addition to the cutter, Farnsworth has relied much more heavily on a sinker that he offered under 10 percent of the time from 2007-2008 but has thrown over 35 percent of the time in Tampa Bay. The extra grounders he’s earned as a result over the past four seasons have allowed him to cut his home run rate to 0.6 per nine since his career-altering stint in Kansas City, making him more trustworthy than ever before. He’s not particularly durable, but the Rays did well to re-sign him at such a reasonable rate. And after bringing back both Farnsworth and Joel Peralta (in addition to Fernando Rodney), they’ll be able to rely on previous seasons’ relief finds rather than having to unearth some new ones for 2013.

Nonetheless, the Rays aren’t averse to new blood: Tampa Bay also added 38-year-old Jamey Wright to fill the vacated Burke Badenhop Memorial Low-Leverage Relief Spot. A below-average starter through his age-31 season, Wright took a profitable detour on his way out of the league, moving to the bullpen and prolonging his career in the process. In short bursts, he picked up some velocity and abandoned some of his extraneous offerings in order to focus on his sinker, cutter, and curve, transforming into an extreme groundball guy who can still get some strikeouts. Wright suffers from shaky control, but the Rays are the right team for groundball guys, so the journeyman’s latest change of address could be beneficial. As Tommy Rancel pointed out, Wright’s main spring training competition will come from younger players with minor-league options remaining, so the righty has a real chance to stick on the roster.

Juan Carlos Oviedo, at one time a Marlins closer who went by the name Leo Nunez, is more of a speculative play for the future. Oviedo missed all of last season due to a combination of identity-fraud issues and an injured elbow that required Tommy John surgery in September. Given the procedure’s typical recovery time, he’s almost certain to miss all of 2013, too. His contract includes an option for 2014, so the Rays will nurture him through the rehab process now in the hope of reaping some reward later.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed OF-R Scott Hairston to a two-year, $6 million contract. [1/23]

For most of the winter, Hairston was tied to New York teams; earlier this month, his agent, Casey Close, made it sound as if his client was already down to deciding between boroughs, not cities. Then the Yankees’ commitment issues cost them another potential free-agent fit, and the Mets killed negotiations by countering Hairston’s two-year, $8 million asking price with a one-year, $2 million offer. In came the Cubs, who hadn’t been linked to Hairston until last week. And that’s why you shouldn’t believe most rumors you read.

Hairston is an older, more productive, and more expensive model of Delmon Young, the right-handed-hitting outfielder whom the Phillies signed with more fanfare on Tuesday. He’s better at the things (okay, thing) Young is good at—hitting lefties—and less bad at the things Young is awful at—fielding, baserunning, conditioning, and anger management. He joins a crowded Cubs outfield that includes Alfonso Soriano (for now), David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Dave Sappelt, and inexplicable fan favorite Tony Campana, whom Hairston probably pushes off the roster.

Hairston will fill the Reed Johnson role for Chicago, spelling DeJesus in center but making most of his starts in a corner against southpaw pitchers. He profiles perfectly as a right-field platoon partner for Schierholtz, Chicago’s other offseason outfield acquisition. Hairston, the righty, has a weighted multi-year TAv of .300 vs. left-handers, and Schierholtz, the southpaw, has a .285 multi-year mark against righties. Put the two together and protect them against same-handed pitchers, and the duo becomes a safe bet to meet or exceed the collective .276 TAv recorded by NL right fielders last season. For a league-average line, a combined cost of $5.25 million (plus the opportunity cost of a second roster spot) seems like a fair price to pay.

Hairston is unlikely to replicate his 2012 performance at age 33, but after spending the last five-plus seasons in cavernous parks—Petco, the Coliseum, and Citi Field—he’ll have a chance to play in a place where righties can actually hit homers, which should help offset any decline in his counting stats.

Barring a Soriano trade, the Hairston signing might be the Cubs’ last major move of the offseason. And it’s been a busy one: compare their list of signings to that of the Astros, their fellow NL Central doormats last season.

Cubs

Astros

Player

Years

Salary ($M)

Player

Years

Salary ($M)

Edwin Jackson

4

52

Carlos Pena

1

2.9

Carlos Villanueva

2

10

Jose Veras

1

2

Scott Feldman

1

6

 

 

 

Scott Hairston

2

6

 

 

 

Scott Baker

1

5.5

 

 

 

Nate Schierholtz

1

2.25

 

 

 

Ian Stewart

1

2

 

 

 

Dioner Navarro

1

1.75

 

 

 

Shawn Camp

1

1.35

 

 

 

TOTALS

14

86.85

 

2

4.9

One of those teams is clearly committed to losing for the long(er) haul before emerging on the other side; the other, blessed with a bigger budget, seems to be trying to haul itself out of the basement sooner. It’s probably too much to expect contention as soon as this season, even with a lot of luck, but respectability looks within reach.

NEW YORK METS
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Signed RHP Shaun Marcum to a one-year contract. [1/24]

Marcum’s signing allows us to scratch another name off our November “50 Best Free Agents” list, leaving only five behind. It also allows us to add a name to the list of Mets free-agent acquisitions, which was blank before this move (though Sandy Alderson hasn’t exactly been idle).

The deal is pending a physical, which in Marcum’s case is far from a formality. In fact, the physical might be the most pivotal part, given that Marcum missed over two months of last season with a right elbow strain. When healthy, he’s been effective, almost without fail. When not healthy, he’s been on the disabled list for long stretches of time. The Mets are hoping they get the pitcher who had an ERA between 3.30 and 3.70, a strikeout rate between seven and eight per nine innings, and a walk rate between two and three per nine in the last four seasons he’s pitched. What they don’t want is the pitcher who’s been on the DL in four of the past five years, including the 2009 season that he missed completely. Unfortunately, with the exception of 2011, it’s been tough to separate the two.

Despite (or maybe because of) all the uncertainty, the move makes sense for both parties. The Mets get a fifth starter who has some chance to be a bargain and become a trade chip in July, rounding out a rotation that already includes Johan Santana, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey. Marcum, a fly-ball pitcher and the slowest-throwing right-hander in baseball (non-R.A. Dickey division), gets a pitcher’s park where he can try to prove he’s healthy and land a larger offer next winter, when he’ll turn 32.

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

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