January 31, 2014
Mariners Sign Rusty Baker
A pair of low-cost deals aimed at finding cheap, left-handed lightning in a bottle. While Pena and Boesch are at different stages of their careers, both are fighting for survival. Pena hasn't hit well in back-to-back seasons, and his once trademark power has faded. Boesch, on the other hand, cratered in 2012 and failed to bounce back in 2013 due to a shoulder injury. His relative youth and ability to play the corner outfield could give him the edge as the Angels look for Raul Ibanez insurance.
Signed LHP Jose Mijares to a minor-league deal. [1/24]
Mijares keeps bouncing around despite being a solid left-handed specialist. He's not Eric O'Flaherty or anything, but over the past three seasons he's held left-handed batters to a low True Average than the likes of Jake McGee, Jerry Blevins, and Boone Logan, among others—and that's with a rough 2013 included. Perhaps there's something beyond Mijares's production that causes teams to sour on him, but Boston should know, as they've been linked to the pudgy southpaw since the trade deadline. Whether he can find a home in the Opening Day bullpen alongside Andrew Miller and Craig Breslow is to be seen, but this is a nice get as far as January depth signings go.
Re-signed LHP Bruce Chen to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million, with a mutual option worth $5.5 million. [1/30]
Chen will return to Kansas City for a sixth season after all. It's a reasonable enough deal for a potential back-end starter (and one who, it should be noted, potentially made real strides last season). Chen figures to enter spring in competition for a rotation spot with Wade Davis and others, but he's worked in the bullpen in the past and should be open to it again. At worst, he'll serve as a safety net, much like he did in 2013. By the way, the mutual option could pave the way for Chen to spend a seventh season with the Royals; not bad for a pitcher who hadn't spent more than parts of three seasons with any of his previous nine teams.
Peguero is such a cliche that, were he a fictional character, his creator would be derided for unoriginality. The Dominican-born mammoth is a free-swinger's free-swinger, with a career swing rate exceeding 56 percent—that's higher than Pablo Sandoval and Josh Hamilton over the same time period. Peguero further complicates manners by whiffing a lot. Over 57 plate appearances in 2012, he made contact on fewer than half his swings. That's tough to do. Why then would the Royals give the Mariners anything for his services? Because of this:
Chen was a nice, random bargain in AL-only leagues last season, quietly posting a 3.27 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 121 innings. Not all of that time came as a starter though, as Chen made 19 appearances as a reliever last year and that’s a trend that could easily extend into 2014. With talented youngsters behind him in the minors and mildly intriguing names like Danny Duffy and Wade Davis ahead of him, I think it will take ineptitude from or injury to others before Chen sees consistent starts this year. And even if he does see a lot of action as a starter, the upside here is nonexistent.
You could argue that each of these players should be “trending down,” as Chen adds yet another name to a hodgepodge of starts who’ll likely be competing for two starting spots by June or July. But neither Davis nor Chen (nor Duffy, arguably) is going to hold back players with upside like Ventura and Zimmer, so I’m not ready to dock them just yet. If you want to argue that Ventura’s value takes a hit for this, as he was most ready to supplant Duffy or Davis in April, that’s reasonable.—Ben Carsley
Signed RHP Scott Baker to a minor-league deal worth up to $4.25 million. [1/29]
Acquired cash considerations from the Royals for OF-L Carlos Peguero. [1/29]
Baker went close to two years between MLB starts before making three appearances last September with the Cubs. The cause: Tommy John surgery and a prolonged rehab process, which took longer than the usual 12-month timetable; as good a reminder as any that the process is good, but it's not perfect.
The erstwhile Twin looked rusty in those three starts. Baker's velocity received much of the attention for good reason, as he topped out around 90 mph, but his command and arsenal need work, too. At Baker's best, he locates a variety of pitches for strikes, including a fastball he'll cut and sink, a pair of breaking balls, and a changeup. Yet most of those pitches were absent last season, leaving him to rely upon his fastball and slider. To Baker's credit, he threw strikes and gutted out some okay outings—even if it's not a combination conducive to long-term success.
Kudos then to the Mariners for limiting the guaranteed money. If Baker has progressed, he could join a rotation paced by Felix Hernandez and Hishashi Iwakuma. The other three spots seem in limbo, with some combination of Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Brandon Maurer seemingly in line to fill things out. Conversely, the Mariners could dip into the free-agent market again, perhaps to sign Ubaldo Jimenez, in an effort to push closer to contention. A healthy, ready Baker could help. Just don't count on him. —R.J. Anderson
I mean, sure, why not. Baker landed in a favorable ballpark and with a team that stands to at least be average in 2014, so this is a good deal for him. If he stays healthy, he has the potential for fantasy use in favorable starts this season. But the fantasy fawning over a player who was last even remotely healthy/useful in 2011 is a bit puzzling, and I think drafting him is a fool’s errand. Yes, sometimes we get Scott Kazmir miracle comeback stories. The vast majority of the time we don’t, and I don’t want to take a chance on someone who could see fewer innings than Grady Sizemore this year. If Baker makes the team and is healthy in April or May, feel free to pick him up. Until then, stay away.
I don’t believe this impacts the fantasy value of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, or Erasmo Ramirez, given Baker’s low probability of seeing significant time this year. —Ben Carsley
Claimed LHP Pedro Figueroa off waivers from the Rays. [1/29]
Figueroa changes teams for the second time this winter. Here's what we said about him earlier in the month:
Figueroa was a safe bet to be claimed. Yes, he's struggled with control and is out of options, but it's rare to see a southpaw with his velocity (his fastball averaged 96 mph last season, according to Brooks Baseball) pass through waivers. In addition to the heat, Figueroa features a quality hard slider and a changeup. His arm action is long, however, and figures to cost him against right-handed batters when married with his sloppy geography. That means he might be little more than a left-handed specialist when the dust clears. Figueroa ought to compete for a bullpen spot when camp opens.
Bryan Price already has Skip Schumaker and Jack Hannahan available off the bench, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if one of these fellers makes the team as well. Santiago seems like the favorite. He's a poor hitter who can make tons of (questionable) contact, yet his real value lies in his solid defense around the infield. Save for an uncharacteristic 2012, Nelson hasn't shown much offensive ability in the majors. Add in that his glove is two or three steps below Santiago's, and he's facing an uphill battle.
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson