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March 11, 2005

Transaction Analysis

Offseason - The Centrals

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Signed RHP Dustin Hermanson to a two-year, $5.5 million contract. [12/8]

Signed RF-R Jermaine Dye, to a two-year, $10.15 million contract, with an option for 2007. [12/9]

Acquired OF-L Scott Podsednik, RHP Luis Vizcaino and a PTBNL from the Brewers for OF-R Carlos Lee; released RHP Dan Wright. [12/13]

Designated LHP Ryan Meaux for assignment. [12/14]

Re-signed SS-R Juan Uribe to a three-year, $9.75 million contract with an option for 2008. [12/16]

Designated RHP Eduardo Villacis for assignment; claimed RHP Bobby Jenks off of waivers from the Angels; re-signed OF-L Timo Perez to a one-year, $1 million contract. [12/17]

Non-tendered LHP Ryan Meaux, RHP Eduardo Villacis and C-B Ben Davis; re-signed RHP Eduardo Villacis to a minor league contract. [12/21]

Signed RHP Orlando Hernandez to a two-year, $8 million contract. [12/22]

Signed C-L A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year, $2.25 million contract; designated C-R Jamie Burke for assignment. [1/6]

Acquired 1B-L Travis Hinton from the Brewers as the PTBNL in the Lee trade. [1/10]

Outrighted C-R Jamie Burke to Charlotte; resigned OF-R Aaron Rowand to a two year contract, with an option for 2007. [1/14]

Signed RHP Luis Vizcaino to a one-year, $1.3 million contract. [1/18]

Signed 2B-R Pablo Ozuna, C-R Chris Widger, C-B Raul Casanova, 1B-R Jorge Toca, and OF-R Tony Alvarez to minor league contracts with spring NRIs. [1/19]

Signed 2B-R Tadahito Iguchi to a two-year, $4.95 million contract. [1/27]

Designated RHP Jason Grilli for assignment. [1/28]

Acquired outfielder Jerry Owens from the Padres for OF-R Alex Escobar. [2/13]

The Sox feel they've retooled to build a contender, having gotten frustrated with the old way of doing things. Some of this means improvement, but an unfortunately large amount of it boils down to change for change's sake. In particular, there are the decisions to overhaul the outfield and the rotation. The first has fallen short in execution, while whether they achieved significant improvements with the second remains an open question.

The Lee deal seems particularly ignoble. As we discussed in this year's edition of BP, Lee was turned into a posterchild for what the Sox had become: a team that slugs a bit, but does little else. That caricature was held in contrast to what manager Ozzie Guillen wants to do with this team offensively, which involves basepath aggression and one-run strategies. So what better tweak than to add a speedy leadoff guy? It isn't every day that an echo of Alex Cole's brief celebrity from 1991 can be heard, but some ideas die hard. The problems-that Podsednik isn't young, and isn't a great on-base threat-seem to have been overlooked. However, the trade did ditch a pending arbitration case with Lee, one that was bound to cost the Sox a goodly chunk of change.

The decision to run off Magglio Ordonez was more understandable on a practical level, if not in its method: Ordonez's knee injury is a major concern going forward, and the Sox seemed to have no interest in assuming that risk. Unfortunately, it was politicized with some in-print sniping at Scott Boras, Ordonez's agent. Still, it made sense financially, especially in light of the money spent on Ordonez by the Tigers.

Does an exchange of Lee and Ordonez for Podsednik and Dye work, though? Podsednik may not claim center from Aaron Rowand; as a hitter plugged into left field, the nicest thing you can say is that he makes a great part-time center fielder. More problematic is their big-ticket pickup. On some level, Dye is still living off of the reputation he gained in 2000, as a 26 year-old budding superstar. The next season, he took a step back, but two good months in Oakland made it seem as if he merely needed to escape from the doldrums of Kansas City. His injury in 2002 seems to have erased the memory of what was turning into a merely adequate season, and his performance in 2004 (.265/.329/.464) seems to have made it clear that he's not going to grow up to be the player people thought that .321/.390/.561 line portended back in 2000. That doesn't make him useless, but he's not going to be as much of an asset as a healthy Magglio Ordonez had been. Added to losing Lee, and the drop you can expect on the offensive side of the ledger could mean as much as four wins.

Did the Sox get them back with the money saved and then applied towards the pitching staff? They remain convinced that in Freddy Garcia, they've got an ace, paying him an ace's salary. Nothing about his performance last season, or over his career, really reinforces that conviction. El Duque would be a nice upgrade on Danny Wright if he pitches for a month or a full season, but how many people think he can achieve the latter? He hasn't made a full season's worth of starts since 1999. Hermanson makes for a nice enough utility pitcher, but at that money, more is expected.

However, there are two spots where the Sox clearly helped themselves, at second base and behind the plate. Picking up Iguchi might give the Sox a player roughly akin to Orlando Hudson, as James Click pointed out last month. That in turn makes Willie Harris a supersub; the Sox are looking at him at shortstop this spring, and if he can handle second, center, and shortstop, he becomes an extremely useful bench weapon. Finally, humiliating A.J. Pierzynski on "character" before signing him was an unnecessary bit of drama, but it speaks volumes about how much he wanted a shot at an everyday job to accept that and sign anyway. Regardless, he's an improvement on what the Sox had to use last year, even counting Miguel Olivo before his being dealt.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Acquired a PTBNL from the Blue Jays for INF-R John McDonald. [12/2]

Acquired LHP Arthur Rhodes from the Pirates for OF-L Matt Lawton. [12/11]

Agreed to terms with INF-R Jose Hernandez on a one-year, $1.8 million contract. [12/13]

Designated 1B-R Josh Phelps for assignment; acquired RHP Thomas Mastny from the Blue Jays to complete the McDonald trade. [12/14]

Signed RHP Denny Stark, LHP Chad Zerbe, UT-R Mike Kinkade, and INF-R Jose Morban to minor league contracts. [12/17]

Agreed to terms with 2B-R Ronnie Belliard on a one-year contract. [12/20]

Non-tendered DH-R Josh Phelps. [12/21]

Signed 2B-L Warren Morris to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/6]

Signed RHP Kevin Millwood to a one-year, $7 million contract. [1/8]

Signed DH-R Juan Gonzalez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/11]

Re-signed C-R Dusty Wathan to a minor league contract. [1/13]

Signed RHP David Riske to a one-year, $1.425 million contract; signed 2B-L Alex Cora to a two-year contract. [1/18]

Designated Draft Choice-R Corey Smith for assignment. [1/19]

Signed 3B-R Casey Blake to a two-year contract with a club option for 2007. [1/21]

Signed RHP Jake Westbrook to a two-year contract with a club option for 2007. [1/24]

Signed OF-R Darnell McDonald to a minor league contract. [1/26]

Signed RHP Paul Shuey to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/28]

Acquired 3B-L Jake Gautreau from the Padres for "3B"-R Corey Smith. [2/2]

Signed OF-L Darren Bragg to a minor league contract. [2/17]

Purchased the contract of DH-R Juan Gonzalez; placed LHP Jason Stanford on the 60-day DL (Tommy John surgery). [2/21]

We're all picking the Indians to be the American League's surprise team, but keep in mind that they have to navigate a few significant choices about who to play now that they've added so many options to the menu. Alex Cora and Jose Hernandez can be a useful enough platoon, but that's if you think Cora will continue to hit. Having them both and Ronnie Belliard means that whoever loses the Jhonny Peralta vs. Brandon Phillips fight for the job at short won't be moved across the bag, which might have been the best solution if they're both ready. Why pile up three other guys? As it is, third is crowded too, so that isn't an option.

Juan Gonzalez could be a nice low-cost snag, but he could also be a colossal waste of time who chews up at-bats better given to Grady Sizemore or Ryan Ludwick. With Travis Hafner likely to continue getting most of the DH at-bats, that may put Gonzo on the field more often than the user's manual recommends. Will Casey Blake stick as an outfielder? Will he move back to third if Aaron Boone sucks after a year away from the game? What happens when Jody Gerut comes off of the DL? Does Coco Crisp really have to play? Will somebody get dealt? Will it be the right guy? Is anybody from among the guys you'd deal good enough to bring much back in return? On that score, giving up an outfield regular for Arthur Rhodes presages the peril of piling up more hitters than you know what to do with. It may not be Rincon for Giles, but it seems like a swap where the Indians didn't really help themselves all that much.

DETROIT TIGERS Return to Top

Re-signed C/UT-R Brandon Inge to a one-year contract; re-signed OF-L Alex Sanchez to a one-year, $1.35 million contract; non-tendered 3B-L Eric Munson. [12/20]

Signed RHP Andrew Good to a minor league contract. [12/21]

Acquired C-R Vance Wilson from the Mets for SS-B Anderson Hernandez; designated OF-L Alexis Gomez for assignment. [1/5]

Re-signed 1B-L Carlos Pena to a one-year, $2.575 million contract. [1/6]

Outrighted OF-L Alexis Gomez to Toledo. [1/14]

Signed LHPs Mike Bynum and Doug Creek, RHPs Sean Douglass and Nelson Cruz, C-R Mike Rivera, INF-R Kevin Hooper, C-L Sandy Martinez, 1B-R Mike Hessman, and DH-R Dean Palmer to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/19]

Signed OF-R Magglio Ordonez to a five-year, $75 million contract with team options for 2010 and 2011; signed RHP Mike James to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [2/7]

Acquired RHP Kyle Farnsworth from the Cubs for RHP Roberto Novoa, 3B-L Scott Moore and OF-R Bo Flowers. [2/9]

Signed RHP Jason Grilli to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [2/10]

Well, razzafrass, here I thought the Tigers had realized they weren't going to win the division this year, and then they do the sorts of things that make it clear they haven't realized anything of the sort. Not that they've changed the outcome. Adding a hobbled Magglio Ordonez for oodles of cash isn't the same thing as taking up a bum-kneed Andre Dawson on his plea to sign him for any amount. Both guys might be fun to watch, they might be gamers, they might both be right-handed sluggers, but Ordonez's knee injury is a huge risk, and in more primitive times, Dawson's was much less so, for much less, without even bringing up the Big O's turf. The Tigers did not add a franchise fortune-changing bat, they added a question mark.

And what's with the Inge-inspired irrational ixuberance? I think cutting Munson was a bit hasty, considering the Tigers won't really have a third baseman if the alternate universe Inge swaps back with the original article.

If there's a bit of good news, it's picking up Kyle Farnsworth. Let's hope he doesn't funk his way out of Motown the way that he did in Chicago, because he still has the stuff to give a big league bullpen 80 good innings. Of course, that just calls to mind the amount of money blown on the Percival who won't bring them a trophy, a grail, or even a large, Grail-shaped beacon.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Re-signed RHP Kevin Appier to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/7]

Acquired OF/C-R Eli Marrero and cash from the Braves for RHP Jorge Vasquez; acquired RHP Leo Nunez from the Pirates for C-R Benito Santiago and cash. [12/16]

Signed RHP Jose Lima to a one-year contract. [12/25]

Signed INF-B Luis Ugueto to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [12/26]

Signed RHP Ryan Jensen and OF-R Emil Brown to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/5]

Signed UT-B Denny Hocking to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/18]

Signed OF-R Brian L. Hunter to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/9]

Signed 2B-R Carlos Febles to a two-year minor league contract. [2/24]

Signed OF-R Matt Diaz to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/25]

Not that any of these moves should generate wild enthusiasm for anyone outside of the Plains states, but this wasn't a bad bit of winter work. No, the Royals didn't makeover the roster, but they did add some people worth having around. Jose Lima gives them a plausible starting pitcher, with the added benefit that he seems to like playing in Kansas City. Kevin Appier's a franchise fave; even as an A's fan who liked what he gave Oakland, I can't imagine Ape any other way than in Royals blue. Since the eventual Royal shot at a World Series won't depend a lot on what happens this year, it's nice to see him get another chance. And Ryan Jensen might inspire some, should his experiment with the knuckleball continue; if not, he's as nondescript as a few too many Omaha Royals.

The more significant moves are the two trades. Getting rid of Benito Santiago is never the sort of thing that really harms you; he's a placeholder for lack of a better option, and getting a live arm from the Pirates for him now that the job will belong to John Buck makes sense. Even if Buck struggles, last summer's pickup of Justin Huber gives them a viable alternative, so why keep Santiago?

The other nice adds were getting Marrero and Diaz to shore up an ugly outfield situation. Diaz is the sleeper; he might be the best full-time option the Royals have for either corner, and nabbing him off of waivers might be this winter's best 'free talent' pickup. Previously getting Marrero is another happy reinforcement. Although he doesn't seem likely to star, and it looks like he won't be considered as a full-time catcher ever again, Marrero will give Tony Pena a great right-handed platoon bopper to mix into an outfield that should see Abraham Nunez, Matt Stairs, and Terrence Long fighting for at-bats. With David DeJesus plugged at center, if Diaz wins a share of one corner, and the Royals plug a Stairs-Marrero job-sharing arrangement in the other, that's better than watching T-Dog soak up time (and perhaps also some local faith in Allard Baird).

MINNESOTA TWINS Return to Top

Re-signed RHP Brad Radke to a two-year, $18 million contract. [12/8]

Re-signed LHP Terry Mulholland to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/16]

Signed 3B-L Eric Munson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/16]

Signed LHP C.J. Nitkowski, RHP Trey Hodges, and UT-L Andy Fox to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/25]

Signed OF-L Armando Rios to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/28]

Re-signed RHP Carlos Silva to a two-year contract with a mutual option for 2007. [2/8]

Signed LHP Johan Santana to a four-year contact, $40 million contract. [2/14]

Consider me addled if you don't already, but I really like the move worth noting, which was snagging Eric Munson for spare change. Whether you're using Clay Davenport's Fielding Runs or something like Dave Pinto's Probabilistic Model for Range, it isn't hard to conclude that perhaps Munson's defensive shortcomings are a bit overstated. What that leaves you is a left-handed hitter with power who can handle the hot corner well enough to be part of a one or two-year fix at the position. As his PECOTA card hints, he's a worthwhile bet to bounce back from last season's struggles, and if having him encourages the Twins to think about playing Michael Cuddyer at second and get Luis Rivas out of the lineup, so much the better for them.

CHICAGO CUBS Return to Top

Re-signed 2B-L Todd Walker to a one-year contract; re-signed SS-R Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year, $8 million contract. [12/7]

Re-signed UT-B Jose Macias to a one-year contract. [12/20]

Re-signed OF-L Todd Hollandsworth to a one-year contract. [12/27]

Acquired LHP Stephen Randolph from the Diamondbacks for a PTBNL. [1/10]

Signed RHP Chad Fox to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/14]

Signed CF-L Corey Patterson to a one-year, $2.8 million contract; signed RHP Scott Williamson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a one-year, $1.975 million contract; signed C-R Michael Barrett to a three-year, $12 million contract. [1/18]

Signed OF-Rs Angel Echevarria and Calvin Murray, OF-L Peter Bergeron, INF-Rs Cody Ransom and Danny Klassen, and LHPs Eddie Oropesa and Jimmy Anderson to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/20]

Acquired 2B/OF-R Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B-L Mike Fontenot, and RHP Dave Crouthers from the Orioles for RF-R Sammy Sosa. [2/2]

Signed PH-L Dave Hansen to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; signed 3B-R Aramis Ramirez to a one-year, $8.95 million contract; signed RHP Carlos Zambrano to a one-year, $3.76 million contract. [2/4]

Signed OF-L Tom Goodwin to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/8]

Acquired RHP Roberto Novoa, 3B-L Scott Moore and OF-R Bo Flowers from the Tigers for RHP Kyle Farnsworth. [2/9]

There isn't a lot to add to what's been said about the decision to move Sammy. I can't begrudge them the choice, knowing as we do that he and Dusty Baker were effectively at daggers drawn, however Baker chooses to subsequently explain it away. They've got Baker signed to a few more years, and as Joe Sheehan has pointed out, Sammy's bat is no longer all that special. And I'm not entirely sure that it's all that bad to have a choice between seeing what a platoon of Todd Hollandsworth and Jason Dubois or Dave Kelton can do, or giving up on that and making a deal in June or July with whoever has an outfielder to spare and dashed hopes of contention. Finding an outfielder who can hit may be the second-easiest thing to do at the deadline, behind picking up a reliever, and should they dip into their tremendous depth in live-armed flamethrowers down on the farm, they might get a bat that can help them overtake the Cardinals and win the division.

What I'm less excited about is what the Cubs got back in return, although from their perspective, that was admittedly less important than the achievement of moving him at all. Hairston seems to be made out of rock candy, brittle and soluble, your basic constantly dissolving or disappearing roster menace. He could be handy as Todd Walker's defensive replacement and platoon mate against tougher lefties, and he could also help as an outfield reserve or pinch-hitter. However, that requires health. Fontenot's a prospect of sorts: in Baltimore, he was someone to watch from within the organization, but there are few systems in which the pickings are as slim as they are in Bal'mer. With the Cubs, Fontenot may be oversloughed by Richard Lewis (the extra player picked up in last spring's exchange of Juan Cruz for Andy Pratt). Both were born in June 1980, and both have reached Triple-A; while Fontenot was the more advanced college prospect, Lewis was considered pretty toolsy before he broke his leg last fall. Either way, the Cubs have simply added options should something bad happen to Todd Walker, or should they elect to let him walk after 2005. That doesn't address the outfield, but it wasn't supposed to.

Equally interesting, however, are the decisions on what to do about the bullpen. Too much has been made over LaTroy Hawkins' purported inability to close, but if the Cubs leave the glory stat for Ryan Dempster or an occasionally healthy Fox, and let Hawkins toss 90-100 innings in games that haven't been won already, they may end up helping themselves. Subsequently running off Kyle Farnsworth seems to be inspired by the same sensibilities that informed the decision to dump Sosa, but I actually like the value coming over in the exchange. Beyond the cost savings of letting Farnsworth's drama get moved to Detroit, Jim Hendry may have added an equally useful reliever in Novoa.

CINCINNATI REDS Return to Top

Acquired RHP Ramon Ortiz from the Angels for RHP Dustin Moseley. [12/14]

Signed RHP Ben Weber, to a one-year, $600,000 contract; signed RHP David Weathers, to a one-year contract with an option for 2006. [12/15]

Signed RHP Jared Fernandez to a minor league contract. [12/17]

Signed LHP Kent Mercker to a two-year contract; signed 3B-R Travis Chapman to a minor league contract. [12/20]

Signed 3B-R Joe Randa to a one-year contract; re-signed 2B-B D'Angelo Jimenez to a one-year, $2.87 million contract. [12/21]

Signed LHP Eric Milton to a three-year, $25.5 million contract; re-signed OF-L Jacob Cruz to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/27]

Re-signed OF-L Adam Dunn to a one-year, $4.6 million contract; re-signed OF-R Austin Kearns to a one-year, $930,000 contract. [1/17]

Signed SS-R Rich Aurilia to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/24]

It was expensive, but the one thing you can say is that the Reds added pitching depth. That's a huge switch from where they had been, operating as little more than a field lab for whatever pitching coach Don Gullett could do with whoever happened to be lying around.

So, the good? A rotation that starts off with Paul Wilson, Eric Milton, and Ramon Ortiz is at least mostly made up of non-experiments. The price paid for Milton was ridiculously steep, but having been one of the people who got far too enthusiastic about Milton earlier on in his career, I guess there's some satisfaction in that I can settle for the egg on my face, without having to also pay more than $25 million for it. Moseley's a decent enough arm, but despite being rushed up to the upper rungs of the system, he's not really guaranteed to give the Reds anything more than they might expect out of Ortiz in 2005, and the Reds clearly craved certainty where their starting pitching was concerned. Since the organization seems to have decided that they're rebuilt, and not just rebuilding, it might make some sense. To them, of course. That does give them a lot of choices in the last two slots, with Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen being my preferences. Regardless of who wins, they all beat getting back on the Jimmy Haynes Sling-n-Whirl Fireworks Ride every fifth night.

The bad? Well, I'm not a big believer in Rich Aurilia having all that much left in the tank. Admittedly, when the alternative is taking the training wheels off of the ill-starred Felipe Lopez, you get willing to ponder all sorts of choices. For camp, that's really it for the Reds at short, Aurilia or Lopez, with utilityman Luis Lopez perhaps sneaking into a reserve role if he doesn't do anything annoying and the Reds wind up with an open competition for the last spot on the roster. Later on, their choices will get more varied, if not exactly better: Rainer Olmedo will be back from his winter elbow injury, and while Anderson Machado's out for much of the year after tearing up his knee in Venezuela, if nobody really wins the job in the meantime, Machado could get a look late in the season.

And finally, if not exactly ugly, we've left good personality for last. Picking up Joe Randa at least gives the Reds the necessary excuse to kill off the really bad idea of trying to make Austin Kearns a third baseman. As moves go, it might be modest and unexciting, but if it keeps you out of trouble on a Saturday night, that's a sort of virtue, right? Unfortunately, if the left side of your infield is Aurilia and Randa, it really is a sort of 'no harm done' segment in your lineup, meaning that you're that much more reliant on Sean Casey not regressing or the outfielders staying healthy if you're going to put up any crooked numbers.

HOUSTON ASTROS Return to Top

Re-signed C-Rs Chris Tremie and Dax Norris, 3B-R Mike Coolbaugh, and OF-R Barry Wesson to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/1]

Signed RHP Travis Driskill to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/2]

Re-signed INF-B Jose Vizcaino to a one-year contract. [12/3]

Re-signed RHP Russ Springer to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; re-signed OF-L Orlando Palmeiro to a one-year, $800,000 contract. [12/7]

Announced that RHP Roger Clemens has accepted the team's offer of arbitration. [12/11]

Non-tendered RHP Wade Miller. [12/20]

Signed UT-R Charles Gipson, LHP Phil Norton, and 1B-L Carlos Rivera to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/5]

Signed RHP Turk Wendell to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/12]

Signed RHP Dave Burba to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [1/13]

Signed RHP Brandon Duckworth to a one-year, $500,000 contract. [1/17]

Re-signed RHP Roger Clemens to a one-year, $18 million contract. [1/21]

Signed LHP John Franco to a one-year, $700,000 contract. [1/22]

Signed RHP Pete Munro to a one-year, $700,000 contract; signed RHP Tim Redding on a one-year, $750,000 contract. [2/7]

Signed OF-R Trenidad Hubbard to a minor league contract with a spring NRI; signed RHP Roy Oswalt to a two-year, $16.9 million contract. [2/10]

I think we now know that the Astros' stationery has 'In Bradley We Trust' on it as a profession of faith in the value of leadership. Sadly, we're talking Ausmus, not Omar, so what about this disastrously awful winter should surprise anybody? When the big ideas in these parts involve keeping what little they can from last year's non-winner, and not landing any upgrades, you've got a franchise committed to playing its greatest hits, and even then, only a few of them. So talk to your dog, dial up the Wayback Machine, and hope that memories of previous editions of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and even Roger Clemens are enough to get you through the next six months, and if you're a season ticket holder, just remember, Jose Vizcaino has a mandate.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS Return to Top

Signed LHP Rigo Beltran to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; re-signed C-R Chad Moeller to a one-year, $700,000 contract. [12/1]

Re-signed UT-R Trent Durrington to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; outrighted OF-B Chris Magruder to Nashville. [12/6]

Signed RHP Kane Davis, C-Rs Kelley Gulledge and Jeff Winchester and 1B-R Tony Zuniga to minor league contracts. [12/8]

Acquired RHP Jose Capellan from the Braves for RHP Danny Kolb and a PTBNL. ]12/11]

Acquired LF-R Carlos Lee from the White Sox for OF-L Scott Podsednik, RHP Luis Vizcaino and a PTBNL; acquired RHP Alec Zumwalt from the Braves to complete the Kolb trade. [12/13]

Signed LHP Tommy Phelps to a minor league contract; acquired RHP Justin Lehr and OF-R Nelson Cruz from the Athletics for 2B/3B-R Keith Ginter; re-signed 3B-L Russell Branyan to a one-year, $800,000 contract. [12/15]

Signed 3B-R Kevin Orie to a minor league contract. [12/16]

Signed RHP Julio Santana to a minor league contract; non-tendered RHP Chris Saenz. [12/21]

Signed LHP Jerome Gamble to a minor league contract. [1/6]

Sent 1B-L Travis Hinton to the White Sox complete the Lee trade. [1/10]

Signed C-R Julio Mosquera to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/12]

Signed RHP Rick Helling to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/13]

Signed RHP Ricky Bottalico to a one-year, $800,000 contract; signed RHP/PH Brooks Kieschnick on a one-year contract. [1/19]

Signed OF-R Brady Clark to a one-year, $1.15 million contract. [1/27]

Signed 3B-R Jeff Cirillo to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; signed 2B-R Junior Spivey to a one-year, $2.1 million contract. [2/4]

Signed RHP Ben Sheets to a one-year, $6 million contract. [2/13]

Okay, as easy as it might be to snigger, considering that the Brewers did bring Jeff Cirillo back from the dead, Doug Melvin just had a really good winter. It wasn't because of his NRIs and low-end pickups. Guys like Rick Helling or Tommy Phelps might end up being pretty handy, and Ricky Bottalico might be useful, but if they crater, there wasn't a lot at stake.

No, Milwaukee had a great winter because of Melvin's trades. All three deals were great for the team in terms of the value acquired, and all three involved surrendering players when their value was probably at its highest. Podsednik's value is, at best, a memory left over from his rookie season, although a kind word for the multi-year cost certainty he provides could be spoken. Kolb is a perfect example of Billy Beane's observation (via Michael Lewis) that it's more efficient to create a closer than to buy one. Now that Kolb's earned his firehat, he was ready to peddle before he got expensive. And Ginter? As handy as he might be, you can make vices of his virtues: he isn't a great second sacker, and for all of his sock, he might not really get on base well enough to be a regular anything other than a regular fill-in. In return, Melvin added a slugging left fielder, an excellent young starting pitcher, and an interesting outfield prospect and a live arm in a system short of both of those things. Add in the sort of understated elegance of moving the occasionally useful Vizcaino out, and bringing the potentially occasionally useful Lehr in, and the roster's even effectively balanced.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES Return to Top

Signed RHPs Brian Reith, Ron Chiavacci, and Chris Enochs, INF-R Jorge Velandia, and OF-L Jon Nunnally to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/1]

Released INF-B Abraham Nunez, OF-R Tony Alvarez and 1B-L Carlos Rivera. [12/2]

Signed C-Rs Carlos Maldonado and Rodolfo Pena to minor league contracts; signed RHPs Joe Roa and Mark Corey, 1B/3B-R Jose Leon, and 1B-L Damon Minor to a minor league contracts. [12/9]

Acquired OF-L Matt Lawton and cash from the Indians for LHP Arthur Rhodes and cash. [12/11]

Acquired C-R Benito Santiago and cash from the Royals for RHP Leo Nunez. [12/16]

Re-signed 1B-L Daryle Ward to a one-year, $975,000 contract. [12/21]

Signed RHP Brian Mallette and 1B-L Graham Koonce to minor league contacts with spring training NRIs. [1/5]

Signed C/UT-L Edwards Guzman and RHP Kevin Olsen to minor league contracts; signed SS-R Jack Wilson to a two-year, $8 million contract. [1/6]

Signed UT-B Cesar Crespo to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/9]

Signed RHP Todd Ritchie to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/10]

Re-signed RHP Brian Meadows to a one-year, $1.125 million contract. [1/12]

Signed RHP Josh Fogg to a one-year, $2.15 million contract; signed 1B/OF-R Craig Wilson to a one-year, $3 million contract. [1/18]

Signed RHP Albie Lopez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/21]

Signed UT-L Rob Mackowiak to a one-year, $1.5 million contract; signed OF-L Ben Grieve to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/24]

Signed RHP Rick White to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/27]

The two deals of note are this year's veteran rentals, outfielder Matt Lawton and catcher Benito Santiago. On some level, they're "name" players, and that's sure to inspire the easily inspired among the locals. Certainly, getting Lawton for Rhodes is a solid move in terms of getting a useful hitter for a useful reliever coming off of a bad year; by the end of July, it's almost certain to mean that Dave Littlefield can get a better prospect, since Lawton ought to command more than Rhodes. Adding Lawton also helps the lineup out by adding a nice lefty-hitting leadoff option, while making it that much more likely that Craig Wilson will spend most of his time playing first, helping the outfield defense, which in turn helps by keeping Daryle Ward in a reserve role, helping the lineup while giving Lloyd McClendon another good bench weapon to complement Mackowiak.

I'm a lot less enthusiastic about the decision to add Santiago. I guess he's notionally a stabilizing influence and a veteran caddy that will help… well, no, the Bucs don't really have a young, inexperienced rotation, so his veteran savvy might only help guys like Ian Snell or Zach Duke if they crack the staff. Otherwise, the kids will be in the pen, spending more time with the bullpen coach and the backup catcher. The real reason picking up Santiago seems strange is that if there's one thing this organization's farm system is cranking out besides young pitching, it's young catching. Sure, losing J.R. House for all of 2005 impacts things, but Littlefield was pondering moving him to another position, and nobody knew that House would shred his shoulder at the time that Santiago was acquired. Even then, you've got Humberto Cota, basically ready to go. Adding a veteran to share the job made sense, but why make a point of adding a particularly expensive one in Santiago, considering he might keep Cota on the pine a bit too often?

The rest of the newly-minted Pirates are your usual vagabonds. Sure, Joe Roa might make a good sixth reliever, if that isn't an oxymoron. Yes, we all remember how over-touted Graham Koonce was. Todd Ritchie or Albie Lopez make for plausibly interesting retreads, but they'll have to pitch well and demonstrate sound arms before you need to really wonder what they might do. Of the collection of players who might otherwise make for a hell of a team in Indianapolis this summer, the names I'm interested in are Ben Grieve and Cesar Crespo. Grieve, because his sad slide from stardom serves as a worthwhile reminder that scouts have their own accurate predictions, and that old comparison to Johnny Grubb has to make you hope that there's a Grubb '78 or perhaps an '84 to make him extra-handy as a spare part. Perhaps we have to consider the equation as one of Icarus:Von Hayes::Alcibiades:Grieve, even if that gets the whole myth and reality thing a bit jumbled up. As for Crespo, despite a miserable stint as a BoSox reserve last summer, he's still an intriguing option if you like speed on the bases and patience at the plate. He won't win any kudos as a second baseman, but he's only just about to turn 26, and I still harbor some hope that he might yet be the new Luis Alicea.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS Return to Top

Re-signed OF-L John Mabry, and RHPs Cal Eldred and Matt Morris to one year contracts. [12/8]

Re-signed RHP Al Reyes to a one-year, $600,000 contract; signed C-R Einar Diaz to a one-year, $600,000 contract. [12/15]

Acquired LHP Mark Mulder from the Athletics for RHPs Danny Haren and Kiko Calero, and C-L Daric Barton. [12/18]

Non-tendered OF-R So Taguchi; re-signed RHP Mike Lincoln to a one-year, $360,000 contract. [12/21]

Signed SS-R David Eckstein to a three-year, $10.25 million contract. [12/22]

Signed INF-B Abraham Nunez to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [12/26]

Signed 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek to a one-year, $1 million contract. [1/5]

Signed PH-B Wilton Guerrero, OF-Rs Brandon Berger and Raul Gonzalez, RHPs Bob File, Chris Gissell, and Toby Borland, and 3B-R Mike Bell to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/12]

Signed RHP Jason Marquis to a one-year, $3 million contract. [1/17]

Signed LHP Rick Ankiel to a one-year, $400,000 contract. [1/18]

Signed OF-R John Barnes to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/19]

Signed RHP Kevin Jarvis and LHPs Bill Pulsipher and Hector Mercado to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/16]

Signed RHP Jason Isringhausen to a two-year contract extension with a club option for 2008. [2/26]

I already discussed this a bit in this year's book, but I don't see adding Mulder as being as much of a risk as people worried about his second half seem to believe. Swap him in for Woody Williams, and you've got a better one-two punch at the front of the rotation than last year's fragile Williams-Chris Carpenter combo. Ideally, you'd like Matt Morris to bounce back and give the Cards their own Big Three, but he's never regained the place he was at in 1998, before he broke down. That's still a good starter over 162 games if he can hold up, but it was the need to get someone better than that hope that contributed to the need for Mulder. With Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan in the 4-5 slots, it looks like everyone expects the division to be the Cardinals' to lose.

The really interesting question is how much the Cardinals will gain or lose for having ditched last year's middle infield. Losing Renteria clearly hurts, but as good as he is, the Cardinals weren't losing a great player, but a merely very good one. And losing Tony Womack is no loss at all; they weren't likely to get his surprisingly adequate 2004 this year, they were in danger of getting Tony Womack.

But who have they got in their places? Unfortunately, it's not a couple of Ken Phelps All-Stars or players who might surprise the general public; that's Scott Seabol, and since he plays third and first, all he can look forward to is a reserve role. No, up the middle it's Eckstein and Grudzielanek. Perhaps unfairly, that's expected to make for an awful defensive combination, but Clay Davenport's metrics suggest that Eckstein's not as bad as his reputation. Happily, they're both at least semi-useful at the plate, but only just. For all of his reputation as a potential leadoff pest, Eckstein's generally averaged around 15 plate appearances for every walk; allowing for getting on the hard way, when you count HBPs, he got down to one for every ten in 2003, but was back up to one non-hit time on base per 11.6 PA. Basically, as an on-base threat, he's acceptable, but not great, and that just about sums up his offensive value. As an improvement on Womack's stick, it works, but then it says something about the Cardinals' need that they bid quickly and high to get him. Unfortunately, if you consider the offensive exchanges in terms of swapping out for Eckstein for Womack, that still leaves you with replacing Renteria with Grudzielanek, and that doesn't work all that well. Ideally, a full season of Larry Walker would more than make up the difference, but who can say 'full season' and 'Larry Walker' in the same sentence and keep a straight face?

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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