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November 10, 2005

Transaction Analysis

November 4-8, 2005

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Signed manager Mike Scioscia to a contract extension through 2009, with a club option for 2010. [11/4]

Think about that: the manager is locked in for the next four years, and with an extra year just in case. Now that's job security. More basically, it's a necessary reaction to a world where Scioscia's original organization isn't just moaning some sort of siren song, it's downright hot to trot when it comes to acquiring some quick respectability. That's on top of operating in a sports entertainment environment where there's blood in the water and every media minnow might harbor delusions of grandeur when it comes to potentially influencing a weak-willed Dodgers owner. So with those considerations in mind, I'd credit Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman for moving quickly to make sure that their guy, the one manager that probably makes every Dodgers fan go fanboy on some level, is very, very, very much off the market.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed C-R Chris Widger to a one-year, $650,000 contract; exercised their $3.5 million option to terminate the contract of DH-R Frank Thomas. [11/4]

So by telling Thomas thanks but no thanks as far as his $10 million option for '06 is concerned, what's important is that the Sox are saving themselves more than $6 million. Having already expressed an interest in bringing the Big Hurt back at a lower price, this all makes sense. Money goes into the coffers to help raise the club's bid in the Konerko sweepstakes, while potentially also adding cash to help finance a solid lefty-hitting fourth outfielder who might fill in at DH now and again if Joe Borchard still isn't ready or if Brian Anderson needs an entire spice rack's worth of seasoning in Charlotte.

That's a lot of change for a backup catcher, but Widger has his uses as the occasional lefty-masher, and the White Sox organization really should give Chris Stewart time in Triple-A next year, instead of pushing him up any further than that. Stewart hit .286/.341/.460 at Double-A, which looks like a breakthrough for the 23 year-old backstop, but it was the first time Stewart hit well, and as a 12th round pick from the '01 draft, he hasn't been talked up much in the past. For Stewart, '06 will be a year where he'll have to build, because the real catcher of the future for Bridgeport is supposed to be Francisco Hernandez. However, Hernandez is still only 19 and not yet into full-season pro ball, so Stewart, and by extension, Widger, shouldn't have much competition from within the organization in '06.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Exercised their $4 million option on 2B-R Ron Belliard for 2006. [11/4]

Re-signed LHP Scott Sauerbeck to a one-year contract with a club option for 2007. [11/6]

I like the decision to keep Belliard, even if he will be 31 next season. He did a great job of ironing out his platoon splits, hitting right-handers much better this year than he has in some past seasons, and defensively, he's still more than adequate. However, having locked him in, I still think that the Tribe has to return to the question about whether or not it makes sense to keep both Aaron Boone and Casey Blake, or if they're comfortable footing the bill to retain two expensive, older players who aren't major offensive assets anywhere beyond third base. Consider these factors:


Player          Blake   Boone
Birthday       8/23/73  3/9/73
2006 Salary    $3.75M   $3.75M (+$1M in incentives)
2005 EqA        .269    .253
'04/'05 FR@3B    92      101

To help out here, '04/'05 FR@3B is the two players' Rate at third base in their respective seasons as the Indians' regular at the position. So, having restructured Boone's deal, it's really a matter of picking your poison. Offense or defense, with the player who offers you a bit of defense costing you a little extra? I'm not a big believer that Boone's bat is back, despite how quickly some liked to bring up his nifty June or useful July. I guess I'm more stuck on the fact that the season overall was terrible, and the reason for that was because he was terrible most of the year, before and after his temporary renaissance at the plate. His Isolated Power from July 1 on was only .126, nothing special. He walks, infrequently. So basically, he has to hit for average to offer you much, and that's the least reliable skill, relative to power or patience, without even beginning to worry about his age. I'm still convinced that he'd make a great third baseman for somebody else, but the Indians seem convinced that he's a project who will turn around. I'm skeptical, but from Mark Shapiro on down, they do have a good track record.

Speaking of that track record, while that seems to be an awful lot of long-term confidence placed in the notoriously flaky Sauerbeck, you have to credit Eric Wedge and his staff appropriately, because they did successfully retread him. Situational starlets have their uses, so they get their compensation.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Declined their $3 million option on 1B-L Tino Martinez, making him a free agent. [11/8]

Whatever his few remaining believers might think, El Tino was doublebaked in done-ness, so it's best to move on and see what the Yankees can do to help themselves as far as finding a part-time first baseman who can perhaps do some damage against lefties while keeping Jason Giambi's glove in mothballs. The problem is the cancerous expansion of the payroll: now that the calendar's rolling over, Giambi just got $7 million more expensive, Randy Johnson $4.5 million, Jaret Wright adds $2 million, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada get an extra million apiece, and you can count on Shawn Chacon to pick up a million or two through arbitration. That's without touching on how to handle Hideki Matsui's free agency, the team's lack of a center fielder, or who's going to replace Tom Gordon. The $26 or $27 million or so saved from buying out Martinez and Bernie Williams and happily waving goodbye to Kevin Brown is almost already allocated without adding the expenses those three situations will demand.

So yes, there is crying in baseball, but only at the self-pity party you might throw in the Bronx.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed SS-B Neifi Perez to a two-year contract. [11/7]

Not just more Neifi than you deserve, Chicago, but a guarantee that nothing short of a meteor strike hitting the side of the planet that Neifi's on can prevent his destiny as the Cub you love to hate. I guess there's some sort of risk management in play: Nomar Garciaparra might go away, and it's a bit quick to assume that Ronny Cedeno is really ready already. So who's at short? Well, first, we have to get through the play-acting pass at Rafael Furcal to keep the home folks happy. And then there's the potentially sensible idea, like trying out this Nomar thing one more time and for one more year, just to see if it will finally work. But you don't have to be a Calvinist to think that some outcomes are predetermined, and that when all of 2006 has been revealed and becomes history, the Cubs shortstop will be our very own fifth horseman of the apocalypse, the one who can bring desolation and waste to any lineup, the inNeiffably Neifi Perez.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Signed LHP Steve Colyer to a minor league contract. [11/6]

Signed INF-L Jason Smith to a minor league contract. [11/7]

Smith has certainly come to the right place, so give the man's agent a heap of credit, because there are big league jobs to be had on this team. Aaron Miles is never going to be a useful major league regular, and all the hubbub aside, Clint Barmes doesn't really look to be all that spectacular. Luis Gonzalez gets a little bit of hype, but that's because he's the patch who gets plugged into the oft-open holes in this lineup, and everybody roots for the ever-ready flexible types. Put him at one position, however, and he's no longer a moving target, which means people might zero in on his indifferent woodwork at the plate.

Smith's strengths are best summed up by the fact that he hits lefty and can handle second, short, or third. Not that Smith is really all that good, mind you, but when you're talking midget wrestling, you still have that very human instinct to pick a dark horse or two.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Re-signed OF-B Jose Cruz Jr. to a one-year contract with a club option for 2007. [11/5]

Over three million guaranteed simoleans for a guy who... well, played like crap for four months, then showed up in time to do good stuff as a Dodger in the two months after they'd become little more than a wasting afterthought. So which player did they get? The guy who didn't hit in Arizona's drafty closet of a ballpark, or the guy who hit .301/.391/.532 for the boys in blue, when the possibility of a winter harvest that might only yield an incentive-laden split contract was staring him in the face? Happily, it's only a one-year deal, but the guy's going to be 32 in April, and it isn't like he's been aging particularly gracefully. The key thing is that he's basically a step above a fourth outfielder, but not quite a regular, whatever he's being paid. That's not an entirely terrible guy to have around on a team whose best two outfielders are the often-absent Milton Bradley and J.D. Drew. As it stands now, he'll squabble with Ricky Ledee for the playing time that exists in either outfield corner, at least until something happens to Drew, or Bradley erupts, breaks, or erupts and breaks.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Named Robin Yount bench coach. [11/4]

Extended the contract of general manager Doug Melvin through 2009. [11/5]

As far as keeping Melvin, I'm happy to see that he's rooted in place for a long enough stretch to give him all due credit or criticism for what's about to happen. Melvin already deserves a ton of credit for how he's made the Brewers a respectable organization again, something they'd lost in the decade after the late Harry Dalton's fall from power. Brewers player development is no longer a joke, but instead resembles the Cardinals for something that looks like an all-or-nothing farm system, cranking out blue chippers or organizational soldiers, and very little in between. (That's not a bad way to be; let's face it, how many minor league championships do you really, really care about?) He seems to have a great working relationship with manager Ned Yost, who in turn seems to be one of the least-heralded good managers around these days. The challenge that Melvin faces is a subject I've probably gotten downright dull to listen to on, which is how he integrates the kids like Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, and Nelson Cruz onto a team that associates its newfound respectability with guys like Lyle Overbay, Geoff Jenkins, and Carlos Lee. It won't be easy, and if he does anything to bring in the kids, there may be squawking from those just happy to be back into eighty wins territory. Believe me, I know how this feels, I remember the '87 A's, and wondering how Oakland was going to get any better. I spent that Hot Stove League hoping that Sandy Alderson would get Dan Pasqua for Alfredo Griffin; happily, I set my expectations way too low (and probably liked Pasqua way too much), and Alderson procured Bob Welch. I don't know how Melvin is going to do anything like that, but the hope here has to be a focus on continued improvement, not on standing pat. Melvin now has the security to know that he can act without panicking management into a rash firing.

As for Yount's return to Beertown, let's face it, having the man wear copper and teal was just unnatural. I have no idea if the Brewer's best-ever player will make a good bench coach or not, and considering his reputation for being slightly less chatty than Calvin Coolidge, asking him probably wouldn't help, but nostalgic as I am for my youth, part of which involved a goodly amount of time in County Stadium watching Mr. Yount, I am simply glad to see him back in Milwaukee.

NEW YORK METS
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Declined their $2 million club option on LHP Dae-Sung Koo, making him a free agent. [11/5]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Hired Pat Gillick to be general manager. [11/2]

... thereby putting off for a couple of years that choice they'll eventually have to make between assistant GMs Mike Arbuckle and Ruben Amaro Jr. It's pretty much what we should have expected, given that the Phillies essentially seem to operate out of two competing ethics: fear and loyalty. But for an organization known for its cronyism, a baseball lifer like 'Stand Pat' makes for a pretty good fit. Old enough to relate, old enough not to stick around forever, and not encumbered with too many of those noisome newfangled notions that have so many people's panties in a bunch over in the press box.

More importantly, the Phillies' organization has a pretty interesting collection of prospects to use in barter. Gillick's latter days with Seattle are rightly criticized for his repeated failures to capitalize in-season on the opportunities generated by the team he'd built over the winter. However, to give credit where credit is due, it's worth giving the man his props for having done everything he could to win in Toronto in the early '90s, a period in which the Jays not only made some aggressive moves in the free agent market, but also a few great in-season deals. If Gillick can remember any of that, while also relying on his highly-regarded scouting acumen to help identify which kids are keepers, and which are bait, then it's possible that hiring Gillick to head things up until they're ready to pick between Arbuckle and Amaro could be a good thing. If, on the other hand, he remains as passive and foggy-minded as he seemed to be at times in Seattle, then the holding pattern has no up-side, things really will not have changed from how things were done (and not done) on Ed Wade's watch, and the Phillies will be exactly where they've been for years, the wallflower who almost wasn't.

First order of business? Sorting how much contract he has to eat to make Jim Thome and his trick back somebody else's problem.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Exercised their option on RHP Akinori Otsuka; declined their option on 2B/OF Eric Young, making him a free agent. [11/8]

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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