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December 3, 2015

Transaction Analysis

Getting Into De Fratus

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-R Chris Young to a two-year deal worth $13 million. [11/30]

Coming off an inspired season in New York, Young nets a multi-year deal from the Yankees' top rivals. Just how will the Red Sox deploy him? You'd hope, for his sake and theirs, as a platoon bat. Joe Girardi had Young face lefties in a career-high 49 percent of his plate appearances, and the results confirmed what anyone with access to Baseball-Reference already suspected: he's best when he isn't exposed to righties. The Red Sox presumably intend to have Young split an outfield post with Jackie Bradley Jr., whose reverse splits figure to correct in time. Trades and poor performances could change the specifics of that plan, obviously, but it's hard to see Boston handing Young an everyday job right away, if at all.

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-L Nori Aoki to a one-year deal with a club option; Signed RHP Justin De Fratus to a big-league deal. [12/2]

Jerry Dipoto adds an outfielder to the M's collection for the third time this winter, having already lassoed Franklin Gutierrez and Leonys Martin.

Aoki was a late addition to the free-agent pool, as the Giants waited until the day before the market opened to decline his club option. Nevertheless, he's a sensible pick for the Mariners, who wanted another everyday outfielder. While Aoki lacks the power production normally associated with a corner-outfield spot, his contact and on-base abilities make him a good fit near the top of an order. He's not the most efficient basestealer or defender around, and there's a chance he suffers some age-related attrition during his age-34 season. But barring a total collapse, he looks like another solid get for Dipoto.

De Fratus opted for free agency in October after the Phillies outrighted him to the minors. Whereas his 2014 instilled hope that he'd improved his control, his 2015 put things back into their natural order. The Mariners have traded a few veteran relievers already this offseason, so you can figure out why they're bringing in an experienced arm with recent (albeit limited) big-league success. Don't be surprised if De Fratus cracks the Opening Day bullpen, nor if he's used primarily against right-handed batters.

ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Jim Johnson to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. [11/30]; Signed INF-R Gordon Beckham to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million. [12/2]

If at first you succeed, try again. Johnson signs with the Braves for the second consecutive winter, this time for slightly more money than he received last go around. His poor run with the Dodgers obscured it, but he enjoyed a quality stint with the Braves: he threw strikes with his mid-90s sinker, generated grounders, and looked like a tolerable late-inning arm. Everything went downhill following the trade (he allowed eight more runs out west than he had in Atlanta despite throwing 30 fewer innings), yet the stakes here are so low that it almost doesn't matter. Johnson could well get moved at the deadline again if he returns to form under Roger McDowell's watch. Otherwise? Oh well. It was worth a shot.

Consider it a testament to Beckham's good hair that he continues to land big-league job after big-league job, even when his performance suggests his employment is unmerited. His latest gig comes with his home-state Braves, who figure to use him in a platoon at second base alongside Jace Peterson. The catch here is that, while Beckham is better against southpaws than Peterson is, he's nothing too special so far as right-handed mashers go. (His multi-year True Average, for reference, is .249.) Obviously the Braves have little incentive to invest significant money in a short-side platoon player, so perhaps the goal in mind was simply to improve over Pedro Ciriaco. If so, consider this a mission accomplished.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed RHP Michael Mariot off waivers from the Royals. [11/30]; Claimed OF-R Peter Bourjos off waivers from the Cardinals. [12/2]

Think Matt Klentak values having choices? Mariot fits the same mold as many of the Phillies' other recent bullpen adds: his profile is nothing special—a short right-hander with a low-to-mid-90s fastball whose Triple-A brilliance hasn't yet carried to the Show—but he's set to make the league minimum and he has an option remaining. Collect enough of these, you figure, and one or two will land on the good side of the fence that separates up-and-down arms from legit middle relievers. The Phillies aren't going to fly or cry based on their 'pen in 2016, so sure, whatever. At least folks can make hotel jokes.

It's not a wonderful time to be Bourjos. He's closing in on free agency and his 30th birthday alike, yet he just suffered through the worst offensive season of his big-league career—that's saying something, considering the subject at hand. Still, the Phillies' decision to add him is understandable. Bourjos remains a high-quality fielder who could well split time in left field with Cody Asche—if not in a straight left-right platoon, then at least as the designated late-inning defensive sub. Factor in his cost (he'll make $2 million this season) and he'll suffice as an extra outfielder on a rebuilding team.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C-S Brayan Pena to a two-year deal worth $5 million. [11/30]

There are numerous aspects of this deal that might strike you as surprising: that the Cardinals would guarantee $5 million to a backup catcher when they have Yadier Molina; that Pena would require multiple years, only to then accept a job with limited playing-time prospects; and so on. But it makes sense when you get right down to it.

Molina's bat has slipped the past two seasons, and you wonder if the catalyst is his accumulating mileage. It would be an understandable cause: Molina has been a big-league backstop since 2004, catching more than 100 games in each of the last 11 seasons. At some point—and it may have passed—Molina starting 130 to 140 games per was no longer going to be a feasible arrangement. The problem with implementing more rest days for Molina was the lack of alternatives. Given the choice between a beaten down Molina and a healthy Tony Cruz, Mike Matheny (and most others) would pick Molina.

Pena gives Matheny and—perhaps just as importantly—Molina an excuse for more scheduled days off. He's spent the last two seasons with the Reds, where he's proved to be a tolerable hitter over a larger sample size than his previous body of work demanded. Always regarded as a fine catch-and-throw backstop, Pena employs a patient, contact-heavy approach that has resulted in a .260 multi-year True Average against right-handed pitchers (Molina's, for comparison, is .258). Obviously Pena isn't as good at defense as Molina—whose responsibilities extend beyond receiving, throwing, and game-calling—but he's a step up from Cruz, whose best attribute is . . . um, his familiarity with the pitching staff.

Assuming the plan is to rest Molina more often, then the curious aspect is how the Cardinals will go about it. Will they make Pena someone's personal catcher, as well as the designated day-after-night-game starter? Or will they get a little more creative by bundling his starts? There are a lot of options on the table. Ultimately, though, St. Louis' route will be determined by Molina's buy-in. Remember, from the Cardinals' perspective, this isn't $5 million spent on a backup catcher so much as it is $5 million spent to ensure a $75-million investment remains in tip-top shape through the end of his commitment.

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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