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March 26, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Dombrowski Gone Wild

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Traded INF-S Andrew Romine to the Tigers for LHP Jose Alvarez. [3/21]

A classic spring training trade. Jerry Dipoto wanted another starter in case of emergency, and found a willing partner to swap depth with in Dave Dombrowski. Alvarez is your stereotypical Triple-A starter: he's young but not promising; has big-league experience but isn't demanding; and—best of all—costs nothing to acquire and employ. Perhaps Alvarez hangs around the back end of a rotation for a few years on the strength of his curveball and his control, or maybe he becomes an effective second lefty out of the pen. But in all likelihood, this is the beginning of a career spent in reserve. Still beats Brad Mills.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed INF-R David Adams off waivers from the Indians; designated RHP Kelvin De La Cruz for assignment. [3/22]

Traded INF-R Alex Gonzalez to the Tigers for UTL-S Steve Lombardozzi; designated C-L Johnny Monell for assignment. [3/24]

Dan Duquette might be the best scrap artist in baseball. He takes pieces other teams don't want with the confidence that he can make something from it. At worst, Duquette is building depth—not great depth, but depth nonetheless. That was the point when he signed Gonzalez to a minor-league deal in February, and that was the point when he claimed Adams off waivers. Sometimes better opportunities present themselves, and that's why Duquette jumped at the chance to spin the veteran shortstop for another utility option.

Duquette's two additions are similar in the sense that neither can cut it at shortstop or hit well enough to man second or third base full-time. Yet both could achieve careers as extra infielders despite unimpressive beginnings. Lombardozzi's aggressive approach has prevented his contact skills from translating well to the majors thus far, but he's been tolerable against right-handed pitchers. Adams, on the other hand, hasn't enjoyed success at the big-league level, but he has hit throughout the minors. Lombardozzi figures to get the first crack at a MLB job—Adams, after all, couldn't edge Elliot Johnson this spring for a gig in Cleveland—however both could spend time in the majors before the year ends.

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to a one-year extension with DH-L David Ortiz worth $16 million, with a vesting option for 2016 and a team option for 2017. [3/24]

A fair deal for both sides. Ortiz gains probably the most long-term security of any 38-year-old DH in league history. At minimum he gets another guaranteed year. And why not? Ortiz is a tremendous, transcendent talent who has defied the aging curve for years now. He's only human though and, at some point, he's going to break down. Whether that occurs in 2014, 2016, or somewhere thereafter is anyone's guess. That means there is some risk to the deal, but the extension is structured in a way that protects the Red Sox if the decline happens anytime after the 2014 season. Maybe Ortiz falls to pieces this season and the deal looks premature in retrospect; it looks fine for the time being.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to a five-year extension with LHP Jose Quintana worth $26.5 million, with two options worth a combined $22 million. [3/24]

When the White Sox signed Quintana as a minor-league free-agent a few years ago, they probably never thought they'd guarantee him more than $25 million one day in the future. Yet here we are, nearly two full seasons after his big-league debut, and you can understand why they made the commitment. Quintana followed a surprise rookie campaign with an even better sophomore effort, and looks the part of a middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Quintana would've qualified as a Super Two after the season, so the White Sox crunched some numbers on what they expected him to make after four turns through the arbitration process, and arrived at around $27 million. It's a fair guess; he would've finished around there had he made $3 million in year one then increased by multiples of two from thereon. Add in the two club options worth slightly more than what the White Sox were expecting him to make through arbitration, and it looks like a solid deal.

DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Traded LHP Jose Alvarez to the Angels for INF-S Andrew Romine. [3/21]

Traded UTL-S Steve Lombardozzi to the Orioles for INF-R Alex Gonzalez. [3/24]

Signed OF-R J.D. Martinez to a minor-league deal. [3/24]

A busy week for Dave Dombrowski demands a crusty literary device. Just how should Tigers fans feel about each move?

Let's start with indifference. Romine comes from a baseball family and does enough things (field, run, and bunt) to compensate for his poor hitting. Factor in that Alvarez was seventh, or perhaps eighth on the organization's depth chart, and his departure for a utility infielder is tough to summon emotion over. Ditto for the Martinez signing. Any player who can't make the Astros deserves a crooked look—particularly one who wraps the bat toward the catcher during his load—but it wasn't long ago he showed promise as a potential second-division starter. The upside here is Martinez develops into an extra outfielder; the downside is he's released without ever playing for the Tigers. Whatever.

Now to the anger. Lombardozzi was part of the Doug Fister trade—which cannot be referenced without a bodyguard like maligned, questioned, or criticized. Folks hated the deal even before part of the return was traded prior to appearing in a regular-season game with the organization, so of course they're going to hate it even more now. Add in who the piece was swapped for—a 37-year-old shortstop who posted an 18 OPS+ last season and was a free agent until February—along with the timing—during opt-out week for seasoned veterans—and Tigers fans are going to ask themselves if Gonzalez is superior enough to Cesar Izturis to merit Lombardozzi. (The answer is probably yes, though that relies on Gonzalez's bat improving.)

There is an angle to the Lombardozzi-Gonzalez trade to be happy about, however, as it confirms that Dombrowski is still a rational actor. General managers across all sports are blasted for their stubbornness when it comes to cutting loose busted prospects, overpaid free agents, or poor trade acquisitions. Dombrowski didn't overvalue Lombardozzi because he acquired him a few months ago. He viewed the utility infielder in a sober light and determined his team was better off with a short-term upgrade instead—even if it made his recent trade look worse.

Tigers fans have every right to question Dombrowski, and many will remain angry at him for a few months to come. Just give the man this: he knows the world is round.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed OF-R Kent Matthes off waivers from the Rockies. [3/20]

According to Susan Slusser, one of the reasons the A's traded for Craig Gentry was to limit what they call Exposure—the drop-off to the next option as measured by their internal metrics. Matthes won't change the equation much, but he is an interesting, albeit limited piece of organizational sunblock. The 27-year-old corner outfielder reached Triple-A for the first time last season, and continued to showcase his plus raw power and arm strength. Alas, Matthes has struggled with injuries and a poor approach at the plate, the latter of which could hinder him useless against big-league pitchers. The odds are slim he becomes more than a spare outfielder slash pinch hitter, but the A's have to take these small gambles on depth when they can.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed 4C-R Matt Tuiasosopo off waivers from the Diamondbacks; released LHP Luis Perez. [3/20]

A little known rule: spring training can't end until Alex Anthopoulos makes a waiver claim. Tuiasosopo is Anthopoulos' appeal to the regular-season gods, and perhaps a cheap and useful reserve. Calling him Senior Citizen Tui would be a stretch, as the feller nicknamed Baby Tui is just 27 years old, but he did spend most of last year sitting on a bench. When Tuiasosopo played, he batted .244/.351/.415 with an offensive style slanted toward the three true outcomes. PECOTA expects a step back (.215/.310/.365), yet the Jays tolerated a similar performance in 2013 from Mark DeRosa (.235/.326/.407). Finding a defensive home for Tuiasosopo has been an ongoing struggle, and John Gibbons is unlikely to crack the case. Nonetheless, Gibbons will wear the burden with pride if it comes attached to a quality hitter.

ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Aaron Harang; released RHP Freddy Garcia. [3/24]

With choices like these, how could the Braves go right? PECOTA favors Sweaty Freddy by a fair margin, yet the Braves elected for the Harangutang. Realistically, neither no. 5 pick figures to do much, so the tiebreaker may have been durability: Harang has consistently made 25-plus starts in recent years, while Garcia has not. The Braves have some starters on the way back (namely Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd), so Harang would be wise to heed Baseball Prospectus 2014's advice to "keep his bags packed."

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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