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December 4, 2013

Transaction Analysis

A Non-Tender Bender

by R.J. Anderson


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Acquired 2B-S Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later from the Athletics for RHP Jim Johnson. [12/2]

Rather than pay Johnson in upwards of $10 million through arbitration, the Orioles dumped him on the Athletics for what might amount to their starting second baseman. The 26-year-old Weeks fell out of favor in Oakland in the two years since his breakout 2011. He barely played in the majors last season, and the Alberto Callaspo acquisition made him redundant. You can understand why the Orioles are interested in Weeks: Brian Roberts is a free agent, Jonathan Schoop might not be ready yet, and anytime you get a crack at a youngster not two years removed from a good season you have to consider it. If Weeks can stay on the field, he should compete for the keystone gig come spring training.

Meanwhile, the more interesting development is what happens in the ninth inning. The Orioles could stay internal and promote, say, Tommy Hunter. But it seems more likely that they'll dip into a saturated closer's market and land one of the last relievers standing. There's more quality out there than landing spots, so Baltimore should be fine.

Fantasy: When Weeks reached the majors after just 45 games in Triple-A and hit .303 in 437 PA, he seemed ready to settle in as the team’s second baseman for the foreseeable future, but a nightmarish follow-up campaign saw him hit just .221 and fall out of favor entirely as he spent virtually all of 2013 at Triple-A. The Orioles have desperately searched for a second baseman to finally take over for Brian Roberts, who has played just 192 of a possible 648 games the past four seasons.

This trade gives Weeks a fresh start, with a wide open chance for the former 12th overall pick to establish himself as a legitimate big leaguer. His 2011 debut gave us a clear look at his upside: speed and batting average. He can be a .300 AVG/35 SB guy in a full season if he hits like the guy we saw back in 2011, but even a .270 hitter in full-time work should net at least 25 stolen bases. For now he is a middle infield option in deeper mixed leagues and late second base pickup in AL-only leagues as long as you back up options within your lineup. —Paul Sporer

BOSTON RED SOX
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Non-tendered RHP Andrew Bailey and OF-L Ryan Kalish. [12/2]

Bailey gets his walking papers, even after reports suggested he would be tendered a contract. The erstwhile Athletic always seems to be dealing with injuries, as he's missed time in each of the past four years due to some malady or another. Most recently, Bailey underwent shoulder surgery and isn't expect back until the second half of 2014. As a result, Boston didn't feel handing him a 40-man roster spot and a chance to head to arbitration was a worthwhile investment. It's hard to blame them.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Non-tendered 2B-L Chris Getz. [12/2]

It's hard to believe Getz lasted this long. Kansas City acquired him four years ago—back when Mark Teahen had trade value—and he's done nothing since to suggest he deserves a 25-man roster spot. Most notably, he hit .248/.305/.295 in more than 1,100 plate appearances. Even those who believe he's an above-average defender have to admit that's tough to swallow from a second baseman. Kansas City tried to replace Getz a few times and this winter won't be any different; he just won't be around should Plan A fails.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Acquired RHP Jim Johnson from the Orioles for 2B-S Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later. [12/2]

A Billy Beane team acquiring a $10 million closer seems like a piece of fiction, but here we are. Johnson is in the peculiar spot where he catches flak for his inflated save totals—something that, in reality, should be a good thing. Yet overrated isn't synonymous with bad or untalented, and his numbers over the past three seasons spell this out; be it his 2.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 156 ERA+, or 0.5 HR/9. He's a reliable, durable strike-thrower and groundball generator who Oakland can be certain has the heartbeat for the ninth inning. Factor in that the A's can avoid adding to Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle's arbitration costs, and that they might net a draft pick for Johnson next winter (though that's no sure thing at this point), and the idea of Beane adding an expensive closer makes sense after all.

Fantasy: Moving from Camden Yards to the O.co Coliseum isn’t a bad move for Johnson even though he’s never shown much of a home-road split and often fared better at home. But his new teammates' defense will mean a bit of downgrade at first blush.

The groundball artist won’t maximize the spacious grounds in the Oakland outfield nearly as much as last year’s closer Grant Balfour did with his 39 percent fly-ball rate. In fact, Balfour ranged from 0.84 to 0.97 in G/F ratio as an Athletic and never saw his ERA north of 2.00 at home in his three years with them. Johnson has posted a 2.10 G/F ratio or higher in all but one year (1.73) of his career with the last three ranging from 2.56 to 2.93 as he benefited mightily from J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Manny Machado at third for the last year and a half. The downgrade to Jed Lowrie at shortstop hurts much more than the friendlier ballpark helps. Josh Donaldson is sharp at third, but it’s still a downgrade from Machado, who was elite.

Johnson regains the deficit by trading Boston, New York, and Toronto for Houston, Seattle, and Los Angeles. His former AL East mates not only feature tough ballparks, but stout lineups to go with them. Meanwhile the AL West has Seattle offering the combo of modest lineup and friendly ballpark, Houston being among baseball’s worst teams for at least another season, and Los Angeles counterbalancing their decent lineup with a nice place to pitch. Texas is a hitter’s haven, but a groundball machine like Johnson can survive there. After an MLB-best 101 saves in the last two seasons, Johnson remains a solid closer option in all formats. His strikeout rate knocks him down a tier or two, but it’s worth noting that he did improve it by 26 percent in 2013. —Paul Sporer

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Non-tendered OF-L Sam Fuld and LHP Wesley Wright. [12/2]

The pint-sized Fuld adds value off the bench with quality baserunning and defensive play across the outfield—he's particularly apt at returning the ball from the outfield in a hurry. Offensively, Fuld relies on walking and putting the ball in play; he hits too many pop-ups for a player with limited strength. Wright is a quality left-handed specialist who should find work quickly.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Non-tendered C-R J.P. Arencibia. [12/2]

Finding a big-league job after posting a .227 on-base percentage in almost 500 plate appearances should be a tough task. But, in Arencibia's case, it might not be. The former Volunteer still has good raw power and last season he improved his defensive chops. While those attributes don't excuse his horrendous strikeout-to-walk ratio, they do make it easier to consider his past numbers proof he can provide value to a team. Factor in the paucity of worthwhile catchers, and some team is going to take a chance on Arencibia bouncing back.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Non-tendered RHP Daniel Hudson. [12/2]

Hudson might be everyone's favorite non-tender target. That despite him having missed most of the past two seasons due to a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Normally, the expected recovery period has the pitcher returning in about 12 months, but subsequent operations can prolong the process; so odds are Hudson will miss at least the first half of the 2014 season, and perhaps more. Nonetheless, his past success and (presumably) lesser salary make him an attractive option from the outside looking in. Now the question is whether Hudson is willing to return to Arizona at a reduced cost.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Non-tendered SS-R Paul Janish, 2B-S Elliot Johnson, and RHP Cristhian Martinez. [12/2]

Janish is a quality defensive shortstop with a horrendous bat. So bad, in fact, that his career True Average (.211) is closer to Rey Ordonez (.214) than Brendan Ryan (.235). Think that's bad? Consider Johnson, who is a similarly poor hitter without the elite glove at shortstop. In other words, he's a second baseman who can't hit. Charming. Martinez is useful, but he underwent shoulder surgery in July and his status for camp is up in the air.

MIAMI MARLINS
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Non-tendered UTL-L Chris Coghlan and RHP Ryan Webb. [12/2]

Coghlan, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year award winner, is never going to regain his past stock. Yet his defensive versatility and offensive capability versus right-handed pitchers could make him attractive to teams looking for a cheap super-utility type. Likewise, Webb should have no problem finding a new gig. He's a big right-handed reliever with a good fastball-slider combination and extreme groundball tendencies. Add in the years of team control remaining, and Webb is more than a one-year fix.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Non-tendered RHP Ronald Belisario. [12/2]

While Belisario didn't have his best season in 2013—his hit and strikeout rates went the wrong way relative to his standout 2012 performance—it's surprising to see the Dodgers cut him free. The almost 31-year-old Venezuelan native has three years of team control remaining, and seemingly wouldn't have earned too much in his first trot through the arbitration process. Instead, he'll have to find a new team. Although Belisario has had his share of issues in the past—ranging from substance abuse to immigration woes—and his sinker-slider combination isn't effective against lefties, he's still a capable righty-on-righty groundball-getting reliever who can help a team in the middle-to-late innings.

NEW YORK METS
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Non-tendered RHP Scott Atchison, Headache-L Jordany Valdespin, INF-L Omar Quintanilla, RHP Jeremy Hefner, and INF-R Justin Turner. [12/2]

When Atchison wasn't sidelined last season due to bone spurs and a strained groin, he was posting numbers comparable to his work as a utility arm with the Red Sox. There's nothing special about his game: He keeps the ball in the yard, throws strikes, and does enough work against lefties and righties alike to avoid the specialist tag. Granted, he's a 37-year-old with a cranky elbow, but teams could do worse than adding him as the sixth or seventh arm in the pen.

The rest of the group is a mixed bag. Valdespin marries minor-league production with major-league attitude, hence the Mets cutting the cord despite him not yet being arbitration eligible. Turner should find work as a potential extra infielder with the ability to hit for average and willingness to play all over. Quintanilla and Hefner are organizational depth.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Non-tendered RHP John Axford. [12/2]

The Cardinals deemed Axford's potential arbitration prize too much for their budget, and so the former Brewers closer hits the open market. Axford struggled last season with the long ball, and his command can be wonky at times. His mid-90s fastball is the key to his arsenal, though he'll also throw a pair of breaking balls to keep batters off-balance. Given Axford's experience in the ninth inning, it wouldn't be surprising to see a team tab him as their new closer. Otherwise, his versatility should appeal to teams without a cemented back-end.

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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