December 3, 2013
A Medley of Moves
Signed UTL-R Willie Bloomquist to a two-year deal worth $5.8 million. [12/2]
Bloomquist turned 36 about a week ago. Happy birthday, indeed. The last time he was a free agent, back in winter 2011, he signed a two-year deal worth $3.8 million. Now he returns to the Mariners after two good seasons for a few million more. Bloomquist's versatility is the main selling point, as he's well versed in the infield and outfield. That kind of flexibility is tough to quantify without context—how Bloomquist impacts other roster decisions, for instance—and seemingly makes up for his limited offensive game in Seattle's eyes. Giving a super-utility player a multi-year deal is far from ideal, but Bloomquist should upgrade the Mariners bench and falls in line with Skip Schumaker's deal.
Re-signed RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo to a one-year deal. [11/30]
Earlier this winter, Andrew Friedman declined the club option on Oviedo's contract. Because one of Friedman's strengths is reading the market—compare the David DeJesus extension to the deals signed by David Murphy and Chris Young—it's fair to assume Oviedo is returning for less than the $2 million he would have received had the option been exercised. It's also fair to assume the Rays are expecting Oviedo—who always had a good fastball-changeup combination—to serve as a potential high-leverage arm. Whether he can live up to those hopes is unknown—he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011 due to identity- and elbow-related crises—but he would be in line for a bigger payday next winter if he does. —R.J. Anderson
The turnover in the Rays’ closer role has been astonishing in Joe Maddon’s reign, so when a pitcher with something resembling a track record is added to the mix, it requires attention. He’s nothing more than a very late flier in all but the deepest of leagues, but just for fun:
Signed C-S Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8 million deal. [12/2]
Certain signings call for little more than adding up dollars and dividing by wins, but others are almost impossible to evaluate without considering what went before. This is the part where Blue Jays fans should considering averting their eyes; when it comes to Toronto catchers, what went before was ugly. Only the Marlins and White Sox got worse offensive production from their catchers than the Jays did last season, courtesy of a collective .194/.235/.348 line from J.P. Arencibia, Josh Thole, and Henry Blanco. In the wake of J.P. Arencibia’s .227 on-base percentage—the second-lowest ever for a hitter with at least 450 plate appearances, after Hal Lanier’s .222 in 1968—whatever Dioner Navarro does will both look like and be a big improvement.
Navarro’s not as good as his small-sample success with Chicago seemed to suggest—his HR/FB rate was way out of whack, career-wise—but unlike Arencibia, he hits like a normal human, drawing walks, making contact, and taking the occasional pitch outside the strike zone. The switch-hitter has historically had much more success against southpaws, but he’s not nothing against same-handed hurlers, so he’s good enough to start when R. A. Dickey doesn’t. PECOTA projects him for a .251 TAv, which is par for the course among catchers most years, and while he’s not a gifted defender, he’s good enough to get by. Best of all, he’ll make only $3 million next year, almost indistinguishable from the $2.8 million the newly non-tendered Arencibia was projected to earn via arbitration.
This isn’t the most exciting sort of upgrade, the kind that comes from signing a star, but when you’re trying to turn a losing team into a winning one in the space of one winter, replacing a vortex of suck with someone unspectacular and inexpensive is a good place to start. —Ben Lindbergh
Catchers are never as valuable as you want them to be in fantasy. Even if Navarro gets the bulk of the playing time in Toronto and makes good on the late-career renaissance he hinted at last year, he’ll be a poor man’s Carlos Ruiz, and Ruiz isn’t particularly valuable in fantasy himself. But while mixed leaguers can ignore Navarro in most formats, AL-only owners should take notice. He could be a strong option late in drafts/auctions if you’re looking for someone who probably won’t hurt you. —Bret Sayre
While working as an intern for the Yankees’ Publications department during David Robertson’s rookie year, I once asked the reliever about his childhood activities for a short puff piece in Yankees Magazine. His cryptic response was, “Whatever I do now, that’s what I did then.” I don’t remember how I tried to tease more information out of him—I may have channeled my inner Charlie Rose and asked the logical follow-up, “Well, what do you do now?”—but I didn’t end up with any great scoops about his extracurriculars or card collection. In retrospect, I think he might’ve meant that he never did much but play baseball. Regardless, the point was that he hadn’t changed.
Chris Stewart is a much better quote, but he could’ve used a similar line after last season—his performance in 2013 was the same as his performance in previous years, only longer lasting. Yankees fans soured on Stewart after extended exposure to the backstop, the inevitable result of 340 plate appearances’ worth of .218 TAv. But the lack of offense wasn’t unexpected: the 31-year-old entered the year with a .221 lifetime mark. His susceptibility to passed balls—only J.P. Arencibia allowed more than Stewart’s 12—took more fans by surprise, but that shouldn’t have, either: Stewart had eight in less than half as many innings in 2012, and 100 in parts of 10 minor-league seasons. Whatever he did then, that’s what he does now.
The unfortunate thing about the passed balls, aside from all the extra bases allowed, is that they obscured the things Stewart does do well defensively. As usual, he threw out runners at an above-average clip, and as usual, he was a plus pitch framer.
Earlier this season, Stewart told me that he tries to “be like a ninja back there,” and it worked so well that few noticed his receiving skills hidden behind the dual smoke bombs of bad bat and passed balls. The Pirates were among those paying attention, and when his first year of arbitration eligibility and the arrival of Brian McCann made Stewart a non-tender candidate in New York, they took him off the Yankees’ hands. Stewart’s act played better as a backup to Russell Martin than it did as a starter, and now he can reprise his old role in a new setting. The move to PNC Park won’t help his bat, but his catch-and-throw skills will help him clear the low bar of being better than non-tendered Bucs backup Michael McKenry, who was bad at both of those things. —Ben Lindbergh
Re-signed RHP Ryan Vogelsong to a one-year deal worth $5 million. [11/29]
The Giants rotation next season will look a lot like their rotation last season, such is the product of Brian Sabean's winter work. He re-signed Tim Lincecum to start the offseason, and finished his rotation shopping by bringing Vogelsong back into the fold. (Along the way, Tim Hudson was added to serve as Barry Zito's spiritual successor on a few levels—veteran, free-agent signing, former Athletics stalwart, and so on.) Vogelsong is the pitcher of note here; the command-and-control artist missed time in 2013 due to a broken pinky finger. When he was active, he performed poorly for the most part.
Still, no team knows more about Vogelsong's health than the Giants and the price is tame by open-market standards—where back-of-the-rotation types are inking deals worth around $8 million annually. None of which means Sabean will be happy with his signing come July. But it does heighten the odds. —R.J. Anderson
In the end, the 36-year-old stays in the place best suited for his value. But even with the proper placement, Vogelsong is not a recommended fantasy option. His 2011 and 2012 seasons were strong enough that he should get a little bit of a pass for his awful 2013, but in shallow and medium-sized mixed leagues, you should be trying for more upside than Vogelsong can provide at the back of your rotation.
Could it be that Eric Chavez’ perfect game busting hit from September cost Petit a legitimate shot at a rotation spot this spring? Probably not, but with a 2.86 FIP, he at least had an argument for it. Now as the likely sixth starter, Petit may still carry some deep league value throughout the season, but it won’t be from Opening Day.—Bret Sayre
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @benlindbergh