December 12, 2013
How Great Thou Bart
Acquired RHP Anthony Bass and a player to be named later or cash considerations from the Padres for a player to be named later or cash considerations. [12/11]
A minor deal with some implications for the Astros bullpen. Through his first 40 career appearances, Bass had a shiny ERA with solid peripherals to boot. Everything has gone wrong for him since, including an achy shoulder and inability to retire big-league hitters. Still, the Wayne State product has a fastball that touches the mid-90s and a pair of secondary offerings. Bass used to profile as a reliever, and there's a chance he is one with the Astros. The question is whether he'll take a spot in middle relief, or replace Lucas Harrell as the team's designated swingman.
Signed RHP Bartolo Colon to a two-year deal worth $20 million. [12/11]
Another veteran signing for the Mets, Colon joins Chris Young and Curtis Granderson as sensible winter additions. By now, the big man's game is pretty straightforward: He's going to throw a lot of fastballs for strikes, average around six innings per start, and surprise with his athleticism. Risk is the one thing worth wondering about. The length and modest money keeps it to this side of a franchise-altering plunge, but the Mets are banking on Colon avoiding injury and suspension. That Oakland chose to sign Scott Kazmir for a couple million more is sure to raise eyebrows. In the end, Colon is far from a sure thing to make 30 starts, but plopping him in Citi Field with a strong outfield defense and letting him do his thing seems like it should yield good results. —R.J. Anderson
There are a number of moving pieces for fantasy in Colon moving from Oakland to New York. First of all, the NL should mean more strikeouts and slightly slimmer ratios. And yes, I said slimmer in a Bartolo Colon writeup--the irony is not lost on me. On the other hand, he's leaving behind a better offense, meaning he should see a slight decrease in win potential. Finally, he's (slightly) more of an injury risk in the NL, as he'll need to come to the plate 50-plus times and that is just not something his body is cut out for. The top-20 pitcher from last year will have a very tough time repeating that effort, but he can hold the ratios enough to be a top-40 pitcher (if he can stay on the field enough to throw 175 innings.
The swingman had a very impressive 2013 season, putting up a 3.44 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 75 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings between nine starts and 24 relief appearances. This kind of success was unlikely to continue in an extended rotation stint, but now it looks like he won't even get the chance to prove it. He could hold value in NL-only leagues as a reliever with high innings totals and solid ratios, but he even looks to be a reserve in those formats at this point.
Don't worry, keeper/dynasty leaguers, this isn't targeted at you. With Colon holding down a rotation spot, it just becomes much less likely that we see the next great Mets' pitching prospect before July. In other words, if you were thinking about taking him in a redraft league (outside of NL-only leagues with reserve spots), it's a less interesting proposition now. —Bret Sayre
Signed RHP Edinson Volquez to a one-year deal worth $5 million. [12/11]
On a per-inning basis, no pitcher with 400-plus frames has allowed more baserunners over the past three seasons than Volquez. So what to make of Neal Huntington's willingness to guarantee the erratic righty $5 million in the middle of December? For one, the rising prices of back-end starters makes this a relatively cheap deal; others will bring in $8 million or more next season, providing Volquez with a low bar to clear in order to validate his cost.
The other aspect to keep in mind is the Pirates have to take chances on this type—the stuff-over-results arms—because they can't afford the upside otherwise. To wit, Pittsburgh received one of the best returns on investment from last winter's free-agent class when they signed and fixed Francisco Liriano. Naturally, everyone forgets they signed and did not fix Jonathan Sanchez. But that failure didn't dent pitching coach Ray Searage's confidence, as he explained in October:
I don’t want to sound arrogant, but as an organization we believe that we can fix anybody and a delivery because we have a lot of talented people all up and down the chain […] When he came over and what we saw and what we got we go ‘Hey, we can do this, this is fixable, we can fix this.’
As admirable as Searage's confidence and belief in himself and his staff are, it's hard to accept Volquez is more likely to follow Liriano than Sanchez. His stuff remains high quality—particularly his fastball and changeup—and last season he posted his career walk rate. Yet he's inconsistent and that career-best walk rate was still 9.9 percent. It's possible Searage and company strike gold again. More likely, Volquez reminds us why a guy with his stuff was available for $5 million.—R.J. Anderson
This is a good landing spot for Volquez. He heads to a good team that plays in a park that suppresses home runs, and to an organization that has had its fair share of success redeeming “broken” pitchers over the past several years. If Volquez is going to turn it around anywhere, Pittsburgh seems like a good place to try.
None of that means that I think he’ll be particularly successful, though. PNC Park can’t help Volquez lower his walk rate, nor will it reverse the downward trend in his velocity. Plus, Volquez is coming from two pitcher-friendly environments in Los Angeles and San Diego, which means that while he certainly could’ve picked a worse landing spot this offseason, it’s not as though we can suddenly expect his numbers to drastically change. You can take a flier on him in NL-only leagues, but that’s all I’d recommend at this point.
If Burnett does decide he wants to come back, Volquez doesn’t have enough talent to prevent Pittsburgh from pulling the trigger on another one-year deal. But it’s possible that this deal signifies that Burnett is retiring, which would stink for our purposes, as he was the 33rd-best fantasy starter last season. Let’s hope the Volquez acquisition is unrelated.
Locke put up a solid 3.52 ERA in 166 MLB innings last season, but his low strikeout rate and high walk rate likely did him in here. Odds are you weren’t planning on making Locke a cornerstone of your 2014 team anyway, but he does see a drop in NL-only and dynasty leagues with the Volquez news. With his strong ground ball rates and experience, though, I’m guessing he’ll be first in line to get the call should a need in the rotation arise. —Ben Carsley
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson