February 3, 2014
Ain't Nothin' But Hammels
Signed INF-S Wilson Betemit to a minor-league deal. [1/31]
The past 16 months haven't been kind to Betemit. Torn cartilage in his wrist sidelined him late in 2012, and a knee injury suffered last spring delayed his comeback attempt. When Betemit did return to the field, the Orioles gave him 10 plate appearances before moving on. Now Betemit will try again with the Rays. It's a smart move for him; under hitting coach Derek Shelton, the Rays have revitalized the careers of Casey Kotchman, Jeff Keppinger, James Loney, and others. Ponce De Leon never found the fountain of youth in Florida—perhaps because Tropicana Field wasn't built yet.
Betemit's plight differs from those, as his is borne from injuries, not poor performance. Although he's a nominal switch-hitter, he's only useful against right-handed pitchers; likewise, he's played across the diamond in the past, though asking him to play a stressing position nowadays is a bad idea. That's okay, the Rays and their versatile roster could use the added offensive depth in case Matt Joyce—who, for the moment, figures to serve as designated hitter most days—disappears for a chunk of the season again. At worst, Joe Maddon can use Betemit to pinch-hit for Jose Molina and other feeble right-handed hitters late in games. There's just one catch: he has to remain healthy first. —R.J. Anderson
There has been a long line of fantasy players who have bet on Wilson Betemit in deep leagues and been hugely disappointed. This year is unlikely to be any different. At this point in his career, the best version of himself is likely 80-85 percent of Matt Joyce--who unfortunately sits ahead of him on the depth chart. He may be worth a dollar in AL-only leagues if it looks like he'll make the 25-man roster because in the event of an injury, Joe Maddon could shift players around enough to get Betemit a couple hundred at bats. —Bret Sayre
Signed RHP Jason Hammel to a one-year deal worth $6 million. [1/31]
Signed RHP James McDonald to a minor-league deal. [1/31]
Save for an unexpectedly strong debut season in Baltimore, Hammel has profiled as a no. 4 starter for years. His arsenal is deep, including a low-90s fastball and curveball, but his command is spotty at times. Durability is another concern for the lanky right-hander. He hasn't thrown more than 150 innings since 2011, and has never topped 180. The Cubs aren't too concerned with that. Just make your starts through June, maybe the first half of July, then pack your bags. A repeat of the Scott Baker fiasco, in which the Cubs paid for three starts in September, is the worst-case scenario here.
As for the best-case scenario, the Cubs have seemingly gotten decent value at the time of their previous trades. Maholm packaged with Reed Johnson brought back Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman, while Feldman and Steve Clevenger netted the Cubs Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. Vizcaino hasn't pitched in a regular-season game for the Cubs yet due to injury, and Chapman is no longer with the organization. But Arrieta and Strop should open the season in Chicago's rotation and bullpen. The lesson here is that, if history repeats itself, and the Cubs trade Hammel, they'll likely land a reliever and a project.
Speaking of projects, McDonald is a wild card. He's shown flashes of being more than a back-end starter before, thanks to his big curve, but durability has remained a concern. Perhaps the Cubs will give him a shot in the bullpen, where he could try his hand at middle relief. If not, expect to see him make a start or two for the Cubs before the year is out. —R.J. Anderson
This move gets the big stamp of approval from the fantasy community. Not only is Hammel moving out of one of the most extreme hitter's parks to a more neutral environment, but he's moving from the AL East to the NL Central. It wasn't pretty for him in 2013 when he was healthy, but this still a pitcher only one year removed from a 123 ERA+ and nearly a strikeout per inning. He's worth gambling on at the end of very deep mixed leagues, and worth a couple of dollars in NL-only formats.
The opportunity for McDonald is certainly better with the Cubs than with the team the Cubs are likely to be looking up at in the division standings. However, right now he's likely on the outside looking in at the rotation--but with Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel as his main competition, it's not so hard to envision a scenario where that changes. Likely a reserve pick in NL-only leagues, he has enough upside to be worth the gamble there. And if not, hey, it's just a reserve pick. —Bret Sayre
Signed RHP Nick Masset to a minor-league deal. [1/31]
A low-risk signing worth monitoring. Before missing most of the past two seasons (due to a pair of surgeries: one on his shoulder, the other to alleviate his thoracic outlet syndrome), Masset was a workhorse reliever with the Reds, compiling 70 or more innings in each of his three full seasons in Cincy behind a deep arsenal. Recovery from shoulder surgery seems hit or miss, and it's possible Masset is done. If he does regain most of his past ability, though, then he should emerge as a useful middle-relief option for the Rockies. —R.J. Anderson
Signed OF-R Reed Johnson to a minor-league deal. [1/31]
Johnson's best swing of 2013 was aimed at Carlos Gomez. Otherwise the veteran outfielder, whose choice in facial hair suggests a deep-rooted fondness of billy goats, had a forgettable campaign. He appeared en route to a pasture located in a southern climate, but the Marlins were intrigued enough by his handshake and historical splits to offer him a spot in camp. No harm in that; however, fan morale could decline if Dan Jennings sentences Marcell Ozuna and Jake Marisnick to the minors, as the logical plan B in center field consists of a Brian Bogusevic-Johnson platoon. —R.J. Anderson
Signed LHP Tony Sipp to a minor-league deal [2/1]
When the Padres added Patrick Schuster during the Rule 5 draft, many thought he'd make the team as a left-handed specialist. That outcome seems less likely now that Josh Byrnes has acquired two left-handed relievers who eschew the LOOGY label. But, while Alex Torres is ensured a spot in the bullpen, Sipp will have to battle Schuster and others to find a spot. Sipp's fate could come down to what Bud Black prefers in his second lefty: versatility or speciality. If it's the former, then Black should like the erstwhile Diamondback's ability to be passable against both hands. If it's the former instead, then expect Sipp to start the season in the minors. —R.J. Anderson
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson