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January 12, 2004

Transaction Analysis

The Easts

by Baseball Prospectus

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ATLANTA BRAVES Return to Top

Claimed OF-R Gary Matthews Jr. off of waivers from the Padres. [11/24]

Declined to offer arbitration to RHP Greg Maddux, OF-R Gary Sheffield and 3B-R Vinny Castilla. [12/08]

Signed RHP John Thomson to a two-year contract. [12/09]

Traded RHP Jason Marquis, LHP Ray King and RHP Adam Wainwright to the Cardinals for OF-L J.D. Drew and OF/C-R Eli Marrero. [12/13]

Signed C-R Eddie Perez to a two-year contract. [12/17]

Signed RHP Antonio Alfonseca to a one-year contract. [12/19]

Signed LHP Armando Almanza to a one-year contract. [12/22]

Signed 1B-R Julio Franco to a minor league contract. [1/08]

The J.D. Drew trade is what you might call a high-risk, high-reward venture for the Braves. Drew certainly has the potential to hit a ton, and if he can give the Braves 140 games in right field, Atlanta GM John Schuerholz will look like a genius. That's a pretty hefty 'if' though, considering that Drew has never played 140 big league games in a season. The Braves were smart enough to have the Cardinals tack on Eli Marrero to the trade, who can fill in if/when Johnny Estrada struggles and if/when Drew gets hurt. When it comes to playing time, bet on Marrero out of the three.

Picking up John Thomson was a good move for the Braves, though he may appear to be a poor replacement for Maddux. For about $12 million less than Maddux cost the Braves in 2003, they pick up a pitcher who had an almost identical VORP to him last season (22.1 for Thomson, 22.0 for Maddux). Thomson's now done his time in two of Dante's more trying circles for pitchers, Colorado and Texas, so the spacious confines of the Ted should be a welcome sight, even if Andruw Jones covers less and less of the outfield with each passing day.

Julio Franco will once again be used as a platoon player, this year splitting time with rookie Adam LaRoche. Even at the Orosconian age of 46, Franco still has some platoon value. Gary Matthews Jr. isn't a horrible claim if you use him to back up Andruw Jones, meaning he won't see the light of day except for an occasional pinch-hit. He's even a better claim in Triple-A.

Almanza, Alfonseca and Wright were all added to the bullpen as well. Almanza will take on the LOOGY role vacated by Ray King, while Alfonseca will be another one of Leo Mazzone's projects. Is there a point where pride is no longer a sin? If Mazzone can boost the fortunes of the aptly-initialed AAAAs, shouldn't the BBWAA just induct him into the Hall now?

It's interesting to note that the Braves did not offer arbitration to Gary Sheffield when every report had him ready to sign a deal with the Yankees. Was it a cost-cutting move? Those draft picks ain't cheap to sign, and the odds of Sheffield accepting arbitration seemed low, but it's not as if Sheffield was acting in what could be described as a rational manner. As Machiavelli noted so sagely: "A prince who is not wise himself cannot be wisely advised." (This is probably the first and last time Sheffield will be compared to Niccolo Machiavelli.) Perhaps Schuerholz was afraid he'd offer Sheffield arbitration, and Maddux would accept it. Stranger things have happened.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Signed SS-R Miguel Tejada to a six-year contract. [12/15]

Non-tendered RHP Jason Johnson and LHP Damian Moss. [12/20]

Signed C-R Javy Lopez to a three-year contract. [12/23]

Signed RHP Mike DeJean to a one-year contract. [12/30]

Signed 1B-L Rafael Palmeiro to a one-year contract. [1/10]

After spending five years in the wake of Albert Belle's contract cowering in fear of big free-agent paydays, O's owner Peter Angelos pulled out his checkbook and tried to convince everybody that the Orioles are going to compete in the AL East. Unfortunately for him, they have to match up against both the Yankees and Red Sox, and have targeted players who have good chances of being one-shot wonders. Tejada is the biggest signing, but he's only had one year, 2002, where he's been worth the dozen million a year that Angelos will give him, and at age 28 (cough) you can't reasonably expect him to do any more.

Likewise, Javy Lopez decided to get serious about his playing shape just in time for his contract year, and lo and behold puts up the best season of his career. With a guaranteed $22.5 million over the next three years, can he summon the same sort of motivation to stay in shape and continue to put up .300+ EqAs? Adding Palmeiro to a team that already has David Segui, Marty Cordova, B.J. Surhoff, and Jack Cust is certainly not an example of filling a need, although we'd expect him to hit better than any of the above. It is clearly a place for the Orioles to cut additional bait. And there's no better chum than B.J. Surhoff.

Where they can't cut bait is on the pitching staff. DeJean is the only addition so far to a staff that has lost more than half of its innings from 2003 (Rodrigo Lopez is the only returning pitcher who had 100 innings for the Orioles last year, and he's pitching badly while adding excessive mileage in winter ball). Oriole fans can take some comfort in the fact that several of their unproven pitchers (Kurt Ainsworth, Matt Riley, Eric Dubose, John Stephens) have strong minor league pedigrees, but any jitters with the majors can make this a very bad staff in 2004. Even if things break right for the Orioles, it's not as if they're going to be populating the mound with something resembling a championship rotation.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Acquired RHP Curt Schilling from Arizona for LHP Casey Fossum, RHP Brandon Lyon, LHP Jorge De La Rosa and OF-R Michael Goss [11/28]

Signed manager Terry Francona to a three-year contract with a club option. [12/4]

Signed RHP Keith Foulke to a three-year contract with a mutual option for 2007 [12/14]

Acquired IF-R Mark Bellhorn from the Colorado Rockies for a PTBNL. [12/16]

Signed IF-R Pokey Reese to a one-year contract [12/24]

Entering the off-season, Boston's largest goals were to strengthen the rotation and bullpen, so acquiring both the best starting pitcher and best relief pitcher on the market is pretty sweet. Let's face it: Replacing John Burkett with Curt Schilling is an upgrade that no other team is going to be able to match, at least not without some contract wet work. All three departing hurlers have their uses and their upsides, but none was going to help the 2004 team.

Of more interest is the signing of Foulke, as he is being counted on to help stabilize a chaotic bullpen situation. Usage aside, the most important factor in a good bullpen is having quality pitchers, and adding Foulke to Scott Williamson, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, and assorted parts should make this a team strength in 2004. In announcing the deal, GM Theo Epstein was careful not to use the word "closer," instead saying the Foulke would be a "weapon" who would be called on to pitch the games' most important innings. Bravo, but hopefully the new manager is better prepared than the old one for an angry media the first time Foulke comes into a tie game and is ineffective. Which bring us to…

The choice of Terry Francona as the team's skipper has been met with a collective yawn, mainly because of his lackluster record in Philadelphia in the late 1990s. A more important consideration is that Francona and Epstein are in complete agreement as to the construction and use of the roster, that the skipper is an extension of the front office. Presumably that's all worked out, and Francona can concentrate of motivating his charges. Or at least that's what he probably said in the interviews.

Finally, there is the changing of the guard at second base. In a recent radio interview, Epstein mentioned that the Red Sox allowed more ground balls through the right side of the infield than any team in baseball. With that in mind, the team bid Todd Walker adieu, and gave the job to Reese, a terrific defensive player who can't hit. Whether this turns out to be an overreaction, or a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, is going to be an interesting story to follow. Derek Lowe, for one, is likely happy about it. And maybe either Peter or Paul will hit lefties.

FLORIDA MARLINS Return to Top

Signed 2B Luis Castillo to a three-year deal.

Signed 3B Mike Lowell to a four-year deal.

Signed PH Lenny Harris to a one-year deal.

Acquired 1B Hee Seop Choi and RHP Mike Nannini from the Cubs for 1B Derrek Lee

Acquired RHP Mike Neu and LHP Billy Murphy from the Athletics for LHP Mark Redman

Much like the 2003 Angels, the Marlins may be falling victim to the complacency and risk-aversion that comes with success. Unlike the Angels, the Marlins' success wasn't based on a group of players who miraculously stayed healthy while outperforming expectations. A mostly intact Marlin squad isn't likely to have the same problems the Halos encountered; the Marlins are younger and less dependent on performance facets subject to enormous variations. Signing Castillo was the most straightforward deal the Marlins made in the attempt to keep their championship team together. The three-year deal could be economical, given Castillo has been an integral part of the offense, but his lingering hip injury bears watching, as it could make the contract a problem.

Lowell's deal is one of the most interesting contracts in baseball history, and opens the door for lots of creative negotiations in the future. The final three years of the deal are only guaranteed if the Marlins acquire financing from the city to construct a new stadium, meaning that the team can place the blame for the breakup of the team on the city if Lowell opts to leave after next season. "We're willing to go that high, Pepe, but the money in year four is contingent upon two things-first, Pixar has to agree to give us at least $4.5 million annually for the naming rights to our publicly-financed ballpark, and Mesquite-Grilling Nemo has to do at least $65 million in its first weekend. Otherwise, you're a free agent." It's devious and sneaky, exactly the type of deal to be expected from Jeffrey Loria.

Moving Lee for Choi may hurt for a year, but it's the kind of cost-cutting talent exchange the Marlins have to execute to stay competitive. Lee will be missed as much defensively as offensively, but Choi, finally out from under Dusty, should put up very respectable numbers for a couple seasons before starting to earn anywhere near the money that Lee will next year. Moving Redman is a purer salary deal; Neu may develop into a decent situation bullpen guy but is more likely to be bullpen filler, a job Murphy may take over in two years. Keeping Harris around to pinch-hit for the minimum won't kill anybody.

MONTREAL EXPOS Return to Top

Traded LHP Scott Stewart to the Indians for OF Ryan Church and SS Maicer Izturis. [1/5]

Signed SS Orlando Cabrera to a one-year, $6 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/6]

Signed 3B Tony Batista to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [12/26]

Non-tendered RHP Orlando Hernandez. [12/19]

Traded C Michael Barrett to the A's for a PTBNL, later reported to be LHP Brett Price. [12/15]

Signed OF Carl Everett to a one-year, $3 million contract with a $4 million player option for 2005, and a $5 million option for 2006. [12/15]

For the second off-season in a row, Omar Minaya kept busy. The similarities between his first two hot stove seasons end there.

After getting solid value for Javier Vazquez in Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate, Minaya went to work patching the lineup's other holes. Still suffering from night sweats at the memory of Endy Chavez and Ron Calloway hopelessly flailing away at the plate, he nabbed Carl Everett with one of those veteran OF deals that looks amazingly similar to the contracts signed by Reggie Sanders, Jose Cruz Jr., and others. Everett should be a solid upgrade at a corner OF spot, pushing Brad Wilkerson to CF.

The Expos have an opportunity to field a very productive outfield if they recognize each player's weaknesses and address them. Everett's a good bet to miss at least 20 games a year due to injury. Given he's hit just .224/.281/.355 over the last three years against lefties (with an excellent .290/.367/.509 line vs. RH), they need to convince him to stop right-handed entirely. Failing that, they should either grab a functional lefty-masher (Joe Vitiello? Wil Cordero?) off the scrap heap to platoon with Everett and back up the fragile Nick Johnson at first, or just call up Val Pascucci, a lefty-smushing hitter who'll provide power, patience and a mediocre batting average against southpaws.

Rather than letting Rivera and Terrmel Sledge battle to the death for the other starting spot, another platoon there would enable the Expos to take full advantage of Rivera's lefty-crushing ability; the sitting platoon member would add juice to the bench. The Expos could then retain Chavez as the fifth outfielder, coming in to play center in the late innings and providing speed off the pine-and back to it after turning right at first base. It's a Strat player's dream come true, and Frank Robinson can take real-life advantage of the situation too, if he plays his cards right.

Meanwhile, Tony Batista arrives on the heels of his worst big league season. The 26 homers and 99 RBI in 2003 may look shiny, but his 631 at-bats played a big role in compiling those counting stats, and those numbers don't mitigate the low number of singles, doubles, and triples he managed last year, or his atrocious walk rate. If this was just an off year and Batista can bounce back to his career average of .253/.302/.459, that would mark a major upgrade over the yawning chasm the Expos have had at third since Tim Wallach's prime. Which is pretty tragic.

Cabrera's signing provides a good opportunity for a mea culpa. In BP2003 as well as at various times on the BP Web site, we chastised the Expos for not trading Cabrera after his 2001 season, when 162 games played and a long stint in the cleanup spot conspired to produce a superficially pretty batting line. But after a lousy 2002 season ruined by a bad back that ate into his offense and his Gold Glove defense, Cabrera enjoyed the best year of his career in '03. Though his offense still depends heavily on his putting balls in play, Cabrera's shown the ability to do just that, and his efficient basestealing, combined with doubles power tailor-made for the Big O, make him a big asset at a weak NL shortstop position. We underestimated Cabrera, and the Expos did well to keep him.

Finally, tip o' the cap to Minaya for making some strong moves at the margins. He was able to land B-level pitching prospects Brett Price and Wilton Chavez for Michael Barrett and Jose Macias, when it seemed he'd have no choice but to non-tender them. Getting a decent outfield prospect in Ryan Church for arbitration-eligible injury risk Scott Stewart shaves another few hundred thousand off the projected payroll. If Minaya can sign or trade for a league-average innings-eater and pick up a decent reliever and Gregg Zaun-type with the $4 million or so he has left to spend, he'll have maneuvered through a treacherous off-season in fine form, especially compared to the Colon-for-trash disaster of last year.

NEW YORK METS Return to Top

Signed C-R Vance Wilson to a one-year contract [12/9]

Signed SS-B Kazou Matsui to a three-year contract [12/10]

Signed LHP John Franco to a one-year contract [12/18]

Signed CF-R Mike Cameron to a three-year contract with team option [12/18]]

Signed 2B-R Joe McEwing to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. Signed OF-R Timo Perez to a one-year contract. [12/20]

Signed RHP Braden Looper to a two-year contract with club option [1/6]

Kazuo's contract runs three years, $19.5 million. While he's lauded as a huge speed-and-power threat, he hasn't stolen much in a while. The odd part of this move is that it forces Jose Reyes to second, where he's not as valuable. This does make at least a little sense in the short-term: With only Luis Castillo available as a top-line upgrade on the free agent market, flexing around what you can buy is useful. At the same time, though, the Mets probably will not make a run at the title this year, and if Jose Reyes was going to develop into a Gold Glove shortstop who can hit well, it's worth leaving him the chance to do so. If most of Matsui's power comes over with him, unlike what we've seen with previous Japanese imports, he'll be worth the contract. But is he worth the contract and moving Reyes? There's the question we should be asking.

Mike Cameron's an interesting signing, too. It was apparent that some smart team would see Cameron for what he is and what he can do: hit pretty well for a center fielder and play league-best defense at his position, all while his last club focused on his shortcomings: the strikeouts and inability to hit at home. Cameron immediately improves the team's outfield defense, which has been exploitably porous for years, and his offense may pick up now that he's freed from a stadium that seemed to have a separate park effect just for him-although Shea's no picnic either.

The length of the contract is a risk and at $19.5 million for three years, it also isn't cheap. Cameron's into his 30s and his offensive profile (modest average, good walks, high strikeouts, power when he makes contact) isn't one that historically ages well, but his speed does counteract some of those concerns. It's a good move that doesn't block anyone significant while helping out the young pitchers they're looking to develop. The new Matsui-Reyes-Cameron up-the-middle defense could be dramatically better and save the team 20 or more runs from last year.

Braden Looper's signing is a little like buying drkoop.com equity at $28 a share. The Mets' system has dozens of right-handed relief candidates, and Looper becomes all but indistinguishable from the best of them if you can look past the "closer" label. Pitching in Florida, he had a 3.68 ERA, with 56 K and 29 BB in 80 innings. That's only slightly better than what an average reliever would have put up in that park, and an average reliever would have come with a more reasonable price tag. And at 29, it's not as if Looper's a young phenom.

If I was Jim Duquette, though, trying to protect my backside and with enough money to buy the really expensive jeans with Kevlar-reinforced seat, I'd be tempted to make these kinds of moves too, to give the rabid New York media mob something to chew on instead of the always-available story of speculating when I'd be fired.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Agreed to terms with 3B-R Aaron Boone on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/2/03]

Agreed to terms with IF-B Enrique Wilson on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/3/03]

Acquired RHP Javier Vazquez from the Montreal Expos for 1B-L Nick Johnson, RF-R Juan Rivera and LHP Randy Choate. [12/4/03] Signed Vazquez to a four-year contract. [1/5/04]

Re-signed LHP Felix Heredia to a two-year contract with a team option for 2006. [12/6/03]

Re-signed OF-B Ruben Sierra to a one-year contract. [12/9/03]

Acquired RHP Kevin Brown from the Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Jeff Weaver, RHP Yhency Brazoban, RHP Brandon Weeden and cash considerations. [12/13/03]

Re-signed C-R John Flaherty to a one-year contract. [12/16/03]

Signed RF-R Gary Sheffield to a three-year contract. [12/18/03]

Signed UT-R Miguel Cairo to a one-year contract. [12/20/03]

Signed RHP Paul Quantrill to a two-year contract. [12/23/03]

Signed RHP Tom Gordon to a two-year contract. [12/24/03]

Signed CF-L Kenny Lofton to a two-year contract. [12/24/03]

Boone's extension was a foregone conclusion on the day he was acquired. With Drew Henson not remotely ready, and few viable options on the free-agent or trade markets, a one-year commitment to Boone was the least of many evils. He's durable and provides good defense in an infield that needs the help, and will probably be the best #9 hitter in baseball. Six million bucks is a lot, but as you'll find, you can't compare Yankee money to other teams' money.

From the Yankees' standpoint, the Montreal trade was simply Johnson for Vazquez. Neither Rivera nor Choate had any future in the Bronx. Given that, and the perfectly reasonable deal that Vazquez agreed to just last week ($45 million over four years), the trade looks pretty good for the Bombers. They dealt a good young first baseman for one of the best starting pitchers in the game. Vazquez is clearly better than Andy Pettitte, who would have cost the Yankees nearly as much for three years as Vazquez will for four.

While the deal is a bitter pill to swallow for Yankee fans who have been awaiting Johnson's ascension to stardom, it does acknowledge a certain disappointment in how the young hitter has developed. Hand and wrist injuries have prevented him from playing full seasons, and his power wasn't coming along as hoped. He'll likely end up as a very good player, John Olerud without the 1993 and 1999 seasons, or Jim Thome with a bit less power and more glove. Finally, as long as Johnson had to split time with Jason Giambi, the Yankees were never going to get full value from him. A fair amount of his value is defensive, and having to placate the $90 million man was always going to get in the way of maximizing Johnson's value.

Felix Heredia wasn't wanted so much as he was acquired to keep someone else from grabbing him late last year. He ended up pitching well enough to push Chris Hammond and Gabe White into the background. It's been a long time since he's had back-to-back good seasons, so there's a good chance that, like Hammond, he'll be dumped by this time next year and the Yankees will have moved on to someone more famous.

Ruben Sierra, still Tony La Russa's favorite player, can still pull a fastball from the left side of the plate, and showed that skill with a couple of big postseason pinch-hits for the Yankees. If Torre is willing to risk a headache by using Sierra to hit for Aaron Boone late in close games, he can be a key cog for the Yankees. That would be highly unlike Torre, however.

The Kevin Brown deal was more like a free agent signing than a trade. The Yanks assumed the two years left on Brown's contract and some of the money still due to Weaver to replace Roger Clemens in the rotation. It seems like a no-brainer, given Brown's effectiveness when healthy and the apparent need to get Weaver out of the Bronx. Brazoban is a failed outfielder who hasn't been pitching much longer than the eight-year-old kid down the street has, and Weeden is just a guy.

The problem is that few pitchers put more balls on the ground than Brown does, and now, instead of having a strong middle infield with a very good shortstop behind him, he's got Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano, which is something like knowing that Belgium's got your back in a World War. The Dodgers allowed 1,966 ground balls and 895 singles last year, or a 1B/GB figure of .455. The comparable Yankees figures are 2,023, 1,009 and .498. So you could say that a ground ball is roughly 10% more likely to become a single against the Yankees. Brown got 374 ground balls last year and allowed 147 singles. Allowing 10% more hits on ground balls would mean 15 extra singles against Brown, or nearly 10 runs' worth. Do the same for Weaver and the result isn't nearly so dramatic, but he looks a bit better than he did last year.

The point? Some of the difference between Brown and Weaver is perception and context. The simple act of moving the two pitchers is going to make one's life easier and the other one's harder, and those differences are going to show up in their ERAs and any other statistics that are not adjusted for defense. Brown, because he throws so many ground balls, is going to be especially susceptible to the change, perhaps enough to kill someone by mid-June. Two predictions: Brown's and Weaver's unadjusted ERAs are within a run of each other in 2004, and Brown allows his highest full-season opponents' BA, and posts his highest ERA, since 1994.

Sheffield is aging as well as any hitter in the game, posting a career-high WARP figure at age 34, and having been worth at least seven wins in each of the last six seasons. He's a bit of a mini-Bonds, with his strikeout rate actually decreasing as he becomes better and better at hitting his pitch hard and far. He's still valuable on the bases and a reliable, if unspectacular, defender. In other words, he's a great player who required just a three-year commitment and a relatively paltry (for the Yankees) $13 million a year. What's not to like? Even a Sheffield in decline, if that decline comes, is likely to be an above-average player. The upgrade over the recent Yankee right fielders is staggering, worth about five or six wins. If the Yankees win the AL East again in '04, this signing may be what did the trick.

Inking Miguel Cairo to a deal didn't make much sense once the Yankees had agreed to terms with Wilson. Cairo and Wilson are almost the same player; Wilson is a bit more adept at shortstop, Cairo a better outfielder when he has to play there. Neither hits much, although Cairo has a rep as being a good pinch-hitter thanks to a .322 BA in the role in '02. He didn't do well in the role in '01 or '03, though, so it's a sample-size thing, not unlike a tolerable 15 seconds of Creed, should such a thing actually exist.

Whatever the effects of the move from L.A. to New York are on Kevin Brown, you can expect them to be just as hard on Quantrill, who doesn't have a strong strikeout rate to fall back on and in most years has problems with left-handed batters. He's a decent pitcher who looked very good thanks to his context: a good defense and Dodger Stadium. Stripped of that, he'll revert to his pre-Dodger days if the Yankees are lucky, which would make him a serviceable set-up man. It's more likely that he'll be killed by the middle infield and the smaller park, and have a season suitable for Arlington. Like Heredia, Quantrill may find himself without a role by August, and on a new team by December.

Since becoming a full-time relief pitcher in 1998, Tom Gordon has struck out 10.7 men per nine innings. He's also missed all of one season, and significant parts of two others, to injury. Having him signed to a two-year deal probably means that the Yankees will get one year out of him; whether it's '04, '05, or some unpredictable melange of the two is anyone's guess. Quantrill and Gordon are reasonable attempts to address the Yankees' second-biggest problem, other than the defense, in '04: the lack of a reliable right-handed reliever in front of Mariano Rivera. Both pitchers are risky, albeit for different reasons, but if just one of them pans out, and the Yankees can get Steve Karsay back, they should have a much-improved bullpen.

You wouldn't think the Yankees could have moved Bernie Williams out of center field without improving their defense, but it looks like they did. Lofton has the same problems with diminishing range that Williams does, and is one of the few center fielders in the game whose arm isn't much of an upgrade. He's a marginally better defender than Williams, not enough so to justify moving the long-time Yankee to DH. Some of the offensive edge in adding Sheffield is lost by effectively adding Lofton to replace Nick Johnson. This signing will do one thing, however: force Joe Torre to get Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff spot. Say what you want about lineup effects, but batting your single worst option leadoff-the player with the greatest gap between his power and on-base contributions-is a detriment to run scoring. Lofton will lead off against right-handers (and probably form a platoon with Tony Clark, with Williams swinging between CF and DH) and could force Soriano all the way down to seventh or eighth in the lineup. Soriano could drive in 120 runs and hit into 35 double plays hitting eighth behind Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Acquired LHP Eric Milton from the Twins for RHP Carlos Silva, UT-B Nick Punto and a PTBNL. [12/4]

Re-signed C-R Todd Pratt to a one-year contract. [12/8]

Signed RHP Tim Worrell to a two-year contract. [12/10]

Announced the retirement of LHP Dan Plesac; exercised the 2005 option on the contract of manager Larry Bowa and added club options for 2006 and 2007. [12/12]

Signed RHP Roberto Hernandez to a one-year contract; signed OF-R Lou Collier to a minor league contract. [12/16]

Agreed to terms with OF-L Ricky Ledee on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration; tendered contracts to RHP Vicente Padilla, IF-R Placido Polanco and SS-B Jimmy Rollins; declined to tender contracts to LHP Valerio de los Santos and 3B-R Travis Chapman. [12/22]

Signed C/1B-R Shawn Wooten to a one-year contract. [12/24]

Life is good when you've got money to burn. Eric Milton's not the ace Phillies fans were hoping to land to replace Kevin Millwood, but when the Phils offered arbitration to Millwood anyway, it gave them one of the deepest rotations in baseball. Milton's making $9 million this year and has a bum knee, but there's no long-term commitment and the Phillies are in a position to spend liberally. They gave up nothing valuable for him and he's a good risk. He might have that breakout season we've been expecting for years, and if he doesn't, he'll still put up around 20 VORP if he stays healthy. That's a plus from your fourth starter.

Ed Wade's never-ending quest for the better bullpen continues into 2004, and he followed up the Billy Wagner trade with another good acquisition, signing Tim Worrell for two years at a good price. Worrell's better-and cheaper-than Terry Adams would have been if the Phillies had offered him arbitration, and the top three of Wagner, Worrell and Cormier is quite capable.

But as usual, Wade took the former closer thing too far, and Roberto Hernandez is now ready to be the 2004 edition of Jose Mesa. His 4.35 ERA last year, which wasn't very good anyway, masked a 5.93 peripheral ERA and a brutal 1.1 VORP. No, he's not making all that much money, and no, he won't be pitching the high-leverage innings that Wagner, Worrell and Cormier will, but he will cost the Phillies games.

It might work out, though, because in a weak NL East, they should be able to spare a few. The Phillies are better now than they were in 2003; Larry Bowa jokes about the pressure, but he should be happy he wasn't fired after almost losing control of the entire team last year. Management's show of confidence in him is inexplicable, and he's lucky that the Phillies might be so good that he won't be able to mess them up in 2004. If he does, Ed Wade will regret picking up that option for 2005.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS Return to Top

Signed SS Rey Sanchez to a one-year deal.

Signed C Brook Fordyce to a one-year deal.

Signed OF Eduardo Perez to a two-year deal.

Signed OF Jose Cruz Jr. to a two-year deal.

Signed P Danys Baez to a two-year deal.

Signed 1B Robert Fick to a one-year deal.

Re-signed OF Aubrey Huff to a three-year deal.

Acquired 1B Tino Martinez from the Cardinals for P Evan Rust and a player to be named

Acquired P Mark Hendrickson from the Blue Jays in a three-way that sent P Joe Kennedy to the Rockies

Acquired 3B Geoff Blum from the Astros for P Brandon Backe

Are you the type of person that roots for the hamster, or do you prefer to admire the zen-like consistency of the wheel beneath its frenetically churning feet?

Most of the signings above serve as a constant reminder that having a farm system is about more than bringing up superstars. Why bring in guys like Rey Sanchez and Eduardo Perez when you could just as easily promote someone from Triple-A Durham? More importantly, if a team has a lesser chance of being competitive than Jessica Simpson on Jeopardy!, why spend the money? Let the guys from Durham come up and flail at major league curveballs until the real prospects are ready.

Signing Huff, and avoiding arbitration that was sure to award him the $2.5 million he'll earn next year, was the kind of move the Rays need to continue to make. Keeping around a decent hitter with excellent power for a short, slightly-below market contract is a smart move. The deal takes him through his age 30 season, meaning Tampa will get his most productive seasons before giving the rest of the league the chance to overpay if the market has completed its correction.

Cruz adds another solid bat, giving the Rays a better glove in right and the chance to rotate players like Huff through the DH slot. Once again, the contract is for a mere two years, meaning that if Cruz doesn't work out, the Rays will still have money ready to build a contender when the young talent arrives. Baez is a respectable closer at that expense, but it's still a little like purchasing fuzzy dice and a nitrous unit for your totaled Buick.

The Tino Martinez deal is a low-risk proposition since the Cards are practically paying his entire salary, but it's also low-reward. No one's going to look back on the 2004 season as the year that Tino Martinez resurrected his career. D-Rays fans just have to hope the allure of fourth place in 2004 isn't too great for LaMar & Co. to resist.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS Return to Top

Added RHPs Jason Arnold, D.J. Hanson, Jesse Harper, Dustin McGowan, OF-L Gabe Gross, OF-L John-Ford Griffin, UT-B Jorge Sequea to the 40-man roster. [11/19]

Signed LHP Bruce Chen to a minor league contract. [11/26]

Signed RHP Kerry Ligtenberg to a two-year contract. [12/8]

Signed RHP Miguel Batista to a three-year contract. [12/12]

Acquired RHP Justin Speier from Rockies and traded LHP Mark Hendrickson to Devil Rays in three-way trade. [12/14]

Selected RHP Talley Haines from the Devil Rays in the Rule 5 draft; designated RHP Cliff Politte for assignment. [12/15]

Re-signed SS-R Chris Woodward to a one-year contract; non-tendered LHP Trever Miller and RHP Cliff Politte. [12/20]

Signed LHP Valerio de los Santos to a one-year contract; signed RHP Jayson Durocher and OF-R Chad Hermansen to minor league contracts. [12/27]

Signed SS Chris Gomez and RHP Terry Adams to one-year contracts; lost Tom Wilson to Padres on waiver claim; designated RHP Pete Walker for assignment. [1/7]

J.P. Ricciardi had already addressed the Jays' major weakness-the rotation-in October by signing Pat Hentgen and trading for Ted Lilly. The Miguel Batista signing adds a #2 starter who put together three very solid years in Arizona. In particular, last season Batista's strikeout rate improved significantly and his ERA was 3.00 or lower for most of the year. With a rotation of Roy Halladay, Batista, Lilly, Hentgen, and Josh Towers, the Jays should rebound nicely from last year's Cory Lidle implosion and failed Mark Hendrickson experiment.

The bullpen has also had a major overhaul. Terry Adams had a great 2003 season in relief in Philadelphia and adds important depth as a potential starter; far better Terry Adams than Pete Walker. Kerry Ligtenberg made the transition from Atlanta to the AL and was Baltimore's best reliever last year, even at too high a price. Finally, despite getting the reliever, considering the players involved, the Jays almost certainly came out on top in the Justin Speier/post-shredder Joe Kennedy/Mark Hendrickson trade, but in a deal involving Chuck LaMar, that's about as predictable as gravity.

Chris Woodward's slugging dropped in 2003 and the Jays were prudent to sign him for a one-year to see if he can rebound. Chris Gomez should be an adequate backup, was cheap, and has shown some pop with the bat in the past.

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