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November 18, 2005

Transaction Analysis

November 9-17

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Released UT-B Zach Sorensen. [11/16]

DETROIT TIGERS
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Returned 2B/SS-R John McDonald to the Blue Jays for cash. [11/10]

Re-signed 1B-R Mike Hessman to a minor-league contract, and signed OF-L Alexis Gomez and INF-R Kevin Hooper to minor league contracts. [11/14]

Not one, but two weird moves? I'm glad to see the Tigers sparing themselves a bit of 40-man roster space that doesn't need to be used on a no-hit infield reserve on the wrong side of 30, so that's pretty cool. Plus, it generates a cool Dickie Noles sort of vibe for McDonald. Like Noles in '87, on some level, McDonald basically got dealt for himself, although that's not exactly it. Calling it a loan wouldn't be quite right either, because the money probably didn't even out. It's just an indication that the Tigers and Jays have been willing to do each other favors, and that's worth noting going forward.

The other oddity is the bold decision to keep the core of the Triple-A champs together. I guess I wasn't aware that keeping Jamie Farr and his posse Mudhen-happy was an organizational priority, but heck, if it's what the people want, and it's in Toledo, who are we to argue? Here's hoping that, whatever nonsense Jim Leyland is spouting about his newfound fascination with a temp like Nook Logan, Curtis Granderson won't have to waste most of another season hanging with Hessman & Co.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Exercised their option on RHP Tanyon Sturtze for 2006. [11/15]

Signed OF-L Hideki Matsui to a four-year, $52 million contract. [11/16]

I guess this means the Yankees aren't courting Larry Lucchino and company with a plea to come over to the dark side, or at least send Manny Ramirez. For those of your kids keeping score at home, scratch $14.5 million from the Yankees' discretionary funds, or more properly, add something like $6.6 million or so to last season's expense of having Matsui and Sturtze around. So, no, I don't really see this as a matter of their coming out ahead, more one of their baseline salary inflations simply to avoid having to explain why they let a moderately useful reliever go, or spend any time asking themselves the more difficult question of who their bopper in left field is. Although Matsui ranks among the most productive left fielders of 2005, he's a clear cut below guys like Ramirez or Miguel Cabrera, and 2005 was a season in which Barry Bonds was as barely there as Paris Hilton's discretion. Matsui isn't a bad player, but at $13 million, he's a pricey bit of self-indulgent certainty.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Signed OF-R Rocco Baldelli to a three-year contract with team options for 2009-11. [11/10]

Named Joe Maddon manager; reinstated OF-L Josh Hamilton from the restricted list. [11/15]

The Baldelli deal is creative, certainly, but is it worthwhile? It's an intricate series of escalating risks, with Baldelli reaping an extra $4 million if he can accumulate 600 plate appearances in 2006, $4 million more if the Rays don't pick up his option in 2009, and $2 million beyond that if they don't exercise his conjoined option for 2010 and 2011. At the least, he'll get $9 million over the next three years if he's injury-prone and becomes unwanted; at the most, he could end up making $32 million through 2011. (All info is courtesy of this site, a nifty and up-to-date source for contract info and service time.)

Given the club's stated desire to find a face to put on the franchise, and Baldelli's reputation for personability, it would seem they have a favorite son for the role. Skeptic that I am, I guess I'm just stopping short of drinking the Kool-Aid. It's the Devil Rays, after all. However, Baldelli is going to be just 24 next season. I guess I just have my doubts about whether he's really going to be capable of playing an adequate center field over the life of the contract, or if he's going to add the significant power he'd have to dial up if he's going to be an offensive asset in an outfield corner. But my initial skepticism aside, before missing this past season, PECOTA likened him to Andre Dawson, Tommy Davis and Ellis Burks, a pretty interesting trio. All three had injury issues, but Dawson and Burks did add power while losing the ability to play center; Davis may well have lost much of the spike you would have expected to injury, Chavez Ravine and the high mounds of the 1960s. As comparisons go, that's pretty encouraging, so I guess I'm going to give this a grudging thumbs up. I'm just going to want to see a bigger step forward than the incremental gains in power he had between 2003 and 2004 before I finally say "Oh yeah!"

What I think is worth a wee bit of chagrin is the speculation that now the D-Rays will actually try to trade Aubrey Huff. This isn't merely a case of dealing a guy a year too late, it's a situation where we're pretty well aware of Chuck LaMar's absurd expectations for what he might get for Huff at last year's deadline, having already failed to peddle the former slugger during the previous winter. Sadly, the recent past will cast a shadow, as the Rays will get something less than if they'd wised up and dispatched LaMar sooner. You can blame some of that on the ownership vacuum the Rays operated in for much of the year, but I'm mean-spirited enough that, if I were one to have made the mistake of rooting for the Rays, I'd want the new owners to get some sort of compensation out of Vince Naimoli's pocket for having handicapped this franchise in yet another way.

As for Joe Maddon, I've got nothing. Sure, he was an Angels lackey for a long stretch, and their bench coach for the last decade, and that's an acceptable flavor for a manager these days. His press conference makes him appear to be a frenetically positive thinker that might just be some sort of frightening blend of Chuck Tanner, Henri Bergson and Tony Robbins. I guess it can't hurt to find a man so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to be here, considering the last two managers were hard cases who went from bitter to more deeply embittered for their time on Tampa's shores. Maybe I'd rather see a John Boles comeback or see Chris Chambliss get his break, but neither seem likely to ever happen, so let's give the Rays another break, and give them credit for not going to recycling bin one more time for a manager.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed OF-B Adrian Brown and RHP Rick Bauer to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [11/9]

Signed LHPs Kevin Walker and Jesse Carlson to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [11/14]

Acquired RHP Jon Leicester from the Cubs for a PTBNL. [11/15]

Sweet pickup, we'll just have to see how much the Rangers actually have to give up for getting a live righty arm who can dial up high-90s heat. On the face of it, though, they've gotten a relatively finished product, big-league ready right now, so they might not screw him up in their system the way they have with a few too many promising young pitchers.

As for my feelings about Bauer and Walker, either might make for adequate filler, and given the way the Rangers whip people back and forth twixt the bottom of the big league staff and the sundry pleasures of Oklahoma, that might be exactly the full extent of their occasional opportunities.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Re-acquired 2B/SS-R John McDonald from the Tigers for cash. [11/10]

Re-signed RHP Josh Towers to a two-year, $5.2 million contract. [11/14]

I like the Towers move in a modest sort of way, modest being the right word, in terms of expense as well as ambition. Beyond his past rep as an extreme control artist, he was a solid enough innings guy this year. I wouldn't bet on his ability to hold a job in the rotation any longer than two years, and I think the Jays would be particularly well-served to try and deal him as early in this season as possible, but as a starter they can count on in case Chad Gaudin and Francisco Rosario aren't ready any time soon, it's a reasonable enough move to get by with for the time being.

Whatever trivia cachet might come with having brought McDonald back with figurative envelopes of cash going back and forth, and as much as he might have some virtue as a utility infielder who can play short where Frank Menechino really can't, I guess I just don't see the need to have committed a 40-man roster slot to McDonald at this stage of the winter. We'll see if it ends up costing the Jays someone via Rule 5, but given the number of interesting pitchers in the organization, I sort of expect they're going to lose somebody.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Traded RHP Jon Leicester to the Rangers for a PTBNL. [11/15]

Signed LHP Scott Eyre to a two-year, $11 million contract. [11/17]

Wow. Now, I know and you know that Eyre was a top-20 reliever in Expected Wins Added, but really, what does this kind of money for a situational lefty achieve? Besides possibly cutting into Pepto use in the dugout, but even then, that sweet pink relief is just going to be repurposed by the beancounters who will have to fret that much more about how to maximize the Cubs' legalized scalping profits. More basically, though, it's as if the decision to give up on Mike Remlinger served no didactic purpose whatsoever. Skip avian flu, there's a creeping case of Wade-ry in the Windy City, as Jim Hendry feverishly tries to give his manager a pitcher he's comfortable using, at whatever absurd price, just to avoid further confrontations on whether or not the organization might want to trust any of the homegrown kids Dusty hasn't heard of. Just as it didn't work with Remlinger in '03-'05, I guess I'm just not wild about how this is going to turn out.

As for the decision to avoid getting to know the kids, because it's easier to board them in Texas and send postcards, dumping Leicester is an obvious bit of 40-man roster tweaking. However, beyond elaborate compensation gestures to cover up Dusty's feelings of bullpen inadequacy, I'm more than a little mortified that the Cubs have essentially disposed of a player because they felt a desperate, overriding need to avoid a gentleman's agreement with Neifi Perez. They could have let Perez know they'd be happy to sign him after the Rule 5 draft, but instead, they just had to have him, because god only knows what you'd do if you didn't have Neifi locked up instead of helping you win games by playing for somebody else.

There are other 40-man mistakes: Henry Blanco, of course, but that's the penalty of signing Blanco to a two-year contract. But why keep Jose Macias for the privilege of offering him arbitration? Even then, though, there are other suspects. Russ Rohlicek? Richard Lewis? Ryan Theriot? This isn't a system short of talent, so finding a few old, middling, not-so-prospect-y-anymore guys like that trio are a bit of a surprise. Not that all three can't play, but all three also aren't really guys where you're risking a lot of upside if you leave them unprotected during the Rule 5 draft.

If there's a silver lining, it's the possibility that they'll get something worthwhile from the Rangers for having given them a talented pitcher.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Claimed RHP Mike Burns off of waivers from the Astros. [11/16]

There's something very right about having Mr. Burns pitch for Carl Lindner, except of course that we may not have Mr. Banana around for much longer. If nothing else, Burns is used to pitching in a breadbox, so he should be familiar with the bloody barbarity of trying pitch in a ballpark red with runs.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Released UT-R Charles Gipson. [11/15]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Re-signed OF-Rs Tydus Meadows and Jon Weber to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [11/10]

NEW YORK METS
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Signed LHP Matt Perisho to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/9]

Declined the 2006 options on LHPs Felix Heredia and Kazuhisa Ishii, making them free agents. [11/15]

So, Ishii was one of Peterson's projects, and flopped. According to at least one source, Peterson also seems insistent that Aaron Heilman isn't someone he wants around, perhaps reserving a spot for the promising pitcher on the Kazmir Shuttle to parts elsewhere. Meanwhile, Peterson is being given credit for the turnarounds of Jae Seo, who spent much of the year in Norfolk not working with him, and... well, that's about the limit of this year's success stories, unless you want to give Peterson credit for Roberto Hernandez. Against that, you have the fascination with Ishii, Danny Graves and Victor Zambrano, plus Braden Looper imploding. Peterson is active and intelligent; my concern is that he's a bit too much of both, and too convincing when it comes to winning people over to his way of thinking on some people.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed OF-R Jason Bay to a four-year contract through 2009. [11/17]

While I noted above how Matsui looks amongst all regular left fielders last season, the name I didn't bring up was the guy at the head of the list, Jason Bay. This is obviously a nice bit of wiping out any worry through Bay's arbitration years, but since Bay also happened to turn 27 in September, it's also a good way to lock Bay up through what should be three prime seasons, with the deal finishing up just after his 31st birthday. As small-market asset management goes, it doesn't get any more canny than this, so kudos to Dave Littlefield and crew for tackling this quickly and completely.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed INF-B Geoff Blum to a one-year contract. [11/16]

Purchased the contract of C-L George Kottaras and RHP Jared Wells from Mobile (Double-A); outrighted 1B/OF-R Jon Knott to Portland. [11/17]

Okay, it's easy to snigger, since Blum is really just the guy with that fun bit of fame for his World Series home run, but as a switch-hitter who can play an adequate third or second on a team stuck with Vinny Castilla, I suppose there are worse choices to fill a utility infield role. What I'm a little less comfortable about is what this might mean for Sean Burroughs, but I think a change of scenery for Burroughs was already in order. Who knows, maybe Burroughs can claim a semi/sort-of platoon role, perhaps reclaiming Wayne Krenchicki status, if still falling short of Rance Mulliniks or Denny Walling. To give Burroughs some hope, Mulliniks didn't really break through until he turned 27, while Walling spent most of his years before his 30th birthday as the Astros' top pinch-hitter while waiting for Art Howe, Enos Cabell, Ray Knight and Phil Garner to decay out of his way. Both Mulliniks and Walling survived early failures in auditions for full-time jobs (Walling in '80, Mulliniks in '83), so again, I'm willing to invest some small hope that Burroughs can get things turned around.

If there's a surprise here, it's that Knott was floated on waivers. I'd take a flyer on him in the Rule 5 draft, especially if you're short of power at first or an outfield corner. He's already 27, with two seasons in the PCL under his belt, so he's as prepped as he needs to be to step into a David McCarty sort of role.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Purchased the contracts of LHP Jesus Reina and C-R Eliezer Alfonzo from Fresno, LHP Jon Coatlungus, OF-L Nate Schierholtz, and 1B-L Travis Ishikawa from San Jose (A-ball), and RHP Kelyn Acosta from Augusta (A-ball). [11/17]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Declined their $15 million option on OF-L Larry Walker, making him a free agent; exercised their $4 million option on RHP Jeff Suppan for 2006. [11/9]

Signed LHPs Rich Rundles, Randy Leek, and Sam Walton, RHPs John Webb, Brad Voyles, and Andy Cavazos; INF-Rs Juan Diaz and Milko Jaramillo, OF-L Brian Martin, C-B Brent Cordell, and C-R Brian Esposito to minor league contracts; purchased the contract of C-R Michel Hernandez from Memphis. [11/14]

The Walker decision is just a formality, as Walker gets a $1 million buyout to help ease him into a Canadian sunset. As for Suppan, it's a worthwhile investment. If not quite the exclamation point on Dave Duncan's virtues as a retreader par excellence among contemporary pitching coaches that Woody Williams was or Chris Carpenter is, Suppan is still the sort of veteran starter worth having, and he outpitched free agent boondoggle-to-be Matt Morris by leaps and bounds last season. We'll just have to see if the Birds decide to give Anthony Reyes first crack at Morris' open slot in the rotation. I like Reyes a lot, but signing a Quadruple-A journeyman type to be the notional fifth starter for him to beat out in camp wouldn't be a bad idea.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Released OF-R Kenny Kelly. [11/15]

Nothing lost or gained here. When they claimed Kelly on waivers, it only provided a reasonable excuse to designate Wil Cordero for assignment. Ideally, the Nats will outgrow needing these sorts of guys, but there's always Carlos Baerga to remind us of the initial desperation to find somebody with his own whoopee cushion for quality pine-riding.

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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