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December 6, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Fascinating Mu Thing

by R.J. Anderson, Ben Lindbergh and Ben Carsley

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Edward Mujica to a two-year deal worth $9.5 million. [12/5]

One thing we've learned—or, at least, think we've learned—about Ben Cherington is he values late-inning experience. He traded for Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon in his first offseason, then added Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara in his second. While the track record on those deals is spotty—the first three pitchers missed significant time due to injuries and/or poor performance—each pitcher worked late in games before his arrival in Boston and took a turn as closer while wearing red socks.

Mujica's chances of closing in 2014 appear slim; Uehara is coming off a terrific season, and the Red Sox have a bullpen full of quality, versatile arms. Of course, you could've said the same thing last winter about Uehara (we did) and look how that turned out. Bullpens are weird, fickle things, so Cherington's eagerness to add reasonably priced depth to an already deep unit is laudable.

Since 2009, his first full season in the majors, Mujica has averaged 74 innings per year. Among pitchers with single-digit starts, only Washington's Tyler Clippard has accumulated more innings over the same period. From a wide angle, Mujica's work as a closer last season should have changed his free-agent outlook. However, Mujica finished the season on a sour note, perhaps due to shoulder and groin issues, and lost his closer's gig before disappearing in the postseason. He reached the open market in an awkward state: at once more proven and unreliable than before.

Entering the offseason, we knew the market was flooded with capable end-game relievers, including a few proven closers and reliable set-up men. It was reasonable to believe, given the limited late-inning bullpen spots available across the league and the laws of supply and demand, that someone would slip through the cracks and sign a worse deal than merited. Mujica seemed like an obvious underpay candidate for the above reasons. It's hard to know how this contract will look in two months but, for the time being, it stacks up well next to the contracts signed by other right-handed set-up men like Brian Wilson (one year, $10 million) and Joe Smith (three years, $15 million)—even if Mujica's ninth-inning experience never comes in handy. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy

Edward Mujica

Mujica is solid enough pitcher, but he doesn't strike many batters out and is a bit homer-prone, neither of which will play very well in Fenway Park or in the American League. He can be relied upon for an above-average WHIP since he never walks anyone, and he'll collect his fair share of holds with a decent ERA pitching near the back of Boston's bullpen. That's not enough to make him especially relevant in most standard leagues, though, and he's best left for AL Only or deeper mixed leagues where holds are included as a category. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, and Andrew Miller all figure to lose a few holds thanks to this move, but none of the above see a dramatic decline in value.

Brandon Workman

With Mujica, Tazawa, Breslow, and Miller joining Uehara, Burke Badenhop, and Franklin Morales in the Red Sox bullpen, it looks like Workman may begin the year in Triple-A, possibly as part of a loaded Pawtucket rotation. While his best bet for accumulating legitimate MLB value may come as a back-end starter or a frequently used long reliever, his best shot at fantasy relevancy comes near the back of a bullpen. With this many options on hand, Workman is unlikely to see a ton of saves or holds for the foreseeable future. Ben Carsley

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Ronald Belisario to a one-year deal worth $3 million. [12/5]

Another day, another non-tendered reliever finds a home in Chicago. Wesley Wright joined the Cubs on Wednesday, Belisario the White Sox on Thursday. Here's what we wrote about the bespectacled one when he was set free:

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.

Belisario figures to serve in middle-to-late relief alongside Addison Reed, Matt Lindstrom, and Nathan Jones.

MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed IF-S Rafael Furcal to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. [12/5]

With the Players Association surely arching an eyebrow at their payroll, the Marlins make another move in the placatory Placido Polanco/Juan Pierre mold, bringing in a diminished veteran on a one-year deal as a bridge to another depressing season. Furcal, who turned 36 in October, was an undeserving All-Star for St. Louis in 2012, but he marked off a big box on his injury bingo card in 2013, missing the whole season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March.

With Adeiny Hechavarria stationed (and perhaps better positioned) at short, Furcal will slide to second, where he last appeared (for one game) in 2004, and last appeared semi-regularly during his rookie season. The position switch should help hide an age-induced decrease in range, and the throw from the keystone should be easier on his surgically repaired arm. It’s hard to know what to expect from him offensively, but he was a below-average hitter when we last saw him, and his days of being a difference maker on the basepaths are long behind him. He’ll take some walks and put the ball in play, but it’s probably safe to pencil him in for a sub-.350 SLG in Marlins Park. Maybe he’ll find some time to mentor the Marlins’ youngsters and pass along a few lessons learned from his nine trips to October and 10 trips to the DL.

The move displaces some players you wouldn’t want to own on your fantasy team: Donovan Solano and Ed Lucas will become bench guys and platoon with Greg Dobbs at third, Derek Dietrich will make his first trip to New Orleans for more minor-league seasoning, and I’ll stop writing this sentence before it gets any sadder. Marlins second basemen hit .235/.292/.349 last season; Furcal can probably top the first two legs of that triple-slash line as long as his health holds up. If by some miracle he manages to be both intact and productive for the first few months of the season, the Marlins could try to flip him to a contender.

Speaking of his health, this report appeared in the NY Post on Saturday:

The Mets had begun the offseason intrigued about enlisting Rafael Furcal to play shortstop next year. Furcal missed all of last season for the Cardinals after needing Tommy John surgery last March.

But the more the Mets researched the 36-year-old free agent, the greater their worry about his physical viability became, to the point that one executive said the switch-hitter no longer is a candidate for the Mets.

Officials who do not work for the Mets but have received progress reports from Furcal’s workouts in Miami expressed the same physical concerns. The plan was for Furcal to begin throwing in a more aggressive way this week.

It’s not a great sign when the Mets are scared off by your health history. Healthy or hurt, Furcal won’t move the needle much for the 2014 Marlins, but either way, he’ll hardly eat into the profits from Jeffrey Loria’s last sale. —Ben Lindbergh

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