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March 2, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Bourn on a Hill

by Matthew Trueblood and Patrick Dubuque


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-L Michael Bourn to a minor-league contract. [2/22]

The Orioles are going for it. That’s not so much a takeaway from this move, of course, but it’s a crucial fact that underpins the decision to make it. Bourn is little more than a standard issue non-roster invitee. He has a fair chance to make the roster, even with Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander seemingly clinging to the last spot on Baltimore's bench right now and even with Baltimore’s extreme penchant for gobbling up and finding ways to keep guys through the Rule 5 draft (Ryan Flaherty, Joey Rickard, Jason Garcia, T.J. McFarland).

That’s because, while his bat has turned to rubber and some of the bounce has gone out of his step, Bourn remains a useful backup outfielder: capable of playing all three positions, fast enough to steal a high-leverage base here and there, and reliable as a fill-in, bottom-of-the-order outfielder whenever injuries crop up. The window is closing for the Orioles. Bourn isn’t going to shove it back open. He’s just hopping back on board to help push, pull, and heave this bloated roster through that window before it’s too late. —Matthew Trueblood

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Jorge De La Rosa to a minor-league contract. [2/19]

Thematically, old men wander to the desert to retire, unmoored, pulled into the direction of the heat. One could look at it that way. Or one could cast it as redemption, the archetypal old man returning to his origins, now thick at the waist and arm-sore, wise and broken. One could call it random, if one were dull.

Regardless of his backstory, the twice-baked air of Arizona provides a fine potential setting for the age-36 De La Rosa, winningest pitcher in Rockies franchise history. Because while some men are designed for greatness, others specialize in mitigating defeat. Despite his age, the pitcher’s splitter-centered arsenal is well-suited for hostile territory; he has pitched better at Coors than elsewhere in his career, and his BABIP there would be the envy of any pitcher.

Make no mistake: 2016 is almost certainly the final chapter. His velocity is down, and his strike rate is eroding. Never one for control, decline has forced our hero to avoid the zone more than ever, but it was a spike in home run rate that sent him into the lowlands and toward his denouement. For a mere $2.25 million if he makes the roster, the Diamondbacks won’t have to pay much to find out if the old man has one last gunfight in him. —Patrick Dubuque

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-L Chris Coghlan to a minor-league contract. [2/2]

It’s embarrassing that we’re just getting to this deal now, but fitting that it happened on Groundhog’s Day. It’s fitting, I say, because we’ve heard this story before: Coghlan, coming off a rough season but still firmly believing in his own abilities as a hitter, signs a minor-league deal with a rebuilding team and goes to spring training understanding that he really might have to play in the minors a while before he gets his shot. The last time it happened, the year was 2014 and the team was the Cubs. Coghlan came up in early May, and for the bulk of the next two seasons he was a reliable and valuable platoon bat for the ascendant North Siders.

He racked up 5.4 WARP in fewer than 1,000 plate appearances during that time. He also, quietly, became a glue guy in the clubhouse. He took a proactive tact with young players and made it a point to know everyone in the clubhouse better than most of his teammates did. Chicago still viewed him as expendable, which became apparent first in September of 2015 and then (more glaringly) last February, when they traded him to Oakland to make room for the surprising return of Dexter Fowler.

Coghlan had a miserable half-season in Oakland, looking lost and perhaps wounded, and it’s hard to blame him. Like Rick Renteria before him and Miguel Montero after him, Coghlan became an unfortunate victim of the Cubs’ otherwise feel-good run toward a title. But there’s a happy ending to that story. Injuries (to Kyle Schwarber, Tommy La Stella, Fowler, and Jorge Soler) created an opening for a reunion, and Coghlan got to go back to Chicago and finish what he had helped to start.

There’s a picture that landed on the covers of a few commemorative magazines and 2017 previews, of a moment just after the Cubs finished off their World Series victory. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are in a limbs-akimbo embrace, and Addison Russell and Javier Baez are just coming down from a flying hug of their own. Mike Montgomery, who threw the pitch on which the final out was recorded, stands awkwardly in the middle ground, unsure to which pair of brothers he belongs. On those magazine covers, that’s the whole photo.

The original picture showed one more player: Coghlan, his hat propped up on his forehead a bit, gathering himself to leap into a headlong bear hug. That’s him, in a nutshell. The Phillies might not have room for Coghlan, at least in their lineup, with Odubel Herrera, Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, and Roman Quinn candidates for more playing time in the outfield. If there’s a similar picture of a euphoric, rebuild-capping celebration for Philadelphia in a few years, Coghlan won’t be as close to being in it. Still, he’s a good hitter, has worked hard to make himself a competent left fielder, and can have a positive influence in the clubhouse if he gets a chance. He’s the right kind of player to bring in on a deal like this, when you’re in the situation the Phillies are in right now. —Matthew Trueblood

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Signed IF-R Aaron Hill to a minor-league contract. [2/17]

It’s not by coincidence that the Giants won three World Series in five years. It’s partially luck that got them there, of course, but it’s also the result of a lot of determined staying of the course, punctuated by occasional, extremely aggressive shakeups, all with the goal of getting a team that’s a bit better than its regular-season record or reputation rolling into October at full speed.

That didn’t work out in 2016, but they sure tried it again. By swapping pitching prospect Adalberto Mejia to Minnesota for Eduardo Nunez and then sending Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay in the Matt Moore deal, Bobby Evans and company made it clear that they wanted to win one more Even Year Bullshit trophy. It was an interesting gambit, and if the bullpen had been anything short of disastrous by the end of the season it might have worked.

Since it didn’t, the loss of Duffy stings a bit. No one can feel especially confident that Nunez will repeat his 2016 production (that was, to use a term that has fallen slightly out of favor over time, a career-year). Christian Arroyo is well regarded, especially within the Giants organization, but he isn’t quite ready to step into a full-time role. Joe Panik has lingering injury concerns. Enter Hill, whose days of pairing big power with solid defense up the middle are well behind him, but who now offers serviceable security at second or third base. He could patch a hole for a while if Nunez, Panik, or Brandon Crawford gets hurt but Arroyo is not yet ready to step into the breach. It’s a smart little signing, the kind that helped Even Year Bullshit happen. —Matthew Trueblood

Matthew Trueblood is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here
Patrick Dubuque is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Patrick's other articles. You can contact Patrick by clicking here

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