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December 2, 2005
November 23-December 1
Acquired RHP Jermaine Van Buren from the Cubs for a PTBNL. [12/1]
It's probably more a commentary of my natural responses to some things that has me as intrigued with the Van Buren pickup as with the Beckett deal. But all in all, this is a pretty tasty swag for having dealt little of actual value. Keep in mind, I never did get on the Hanley Ramirez bandwagon, since I sort of expect it's going to the same junkyard that the Rey Quinones bandwagon wound up in. This is more a case of dumping a general goody bag to get some fancy candy, with the Red Sox taking on the penalty of employing and paying Lowell as the price for adding needed help to their rotation and to their pen. I think it's also realistic of them to have dumped this particular package of prospects, because as much as I might like Sanchez, it wasn't like Boston's the best place to be a young, developing pitcher to break in. Better to trust that Mota and Beckett can come to a town where they can either thrive, or be burned for communing with the pinstriped devil.
Item by item, let's start off with the most straightforward upgrade. The additions of Mota and Van Buren provides relief help that Boston can clearly use. As cute as it might be to have a matching set of situational sidearmers, there's no penalty for using plain ol' non-freakshow quality pitchers that you don't have to protect from their platoon disadvantages. Adding Mota and Van Buren to a pen that will have at least Mike Timlin but also potentially Craig Hansen and/or a resurrected Keith Foulke should definitely save the Sox from having to troll in Harville waters again.
Lowell's 32, and his deflation seems so complete, so thorough, that I don't care how expensive he may be, he's going to be hard-pressed to keep his job ahead of Kevin Youkilis. He's done some damage against lefties the last couple of years, so Lowell might at least make a plausible platoon partner at first base, with Roberto Petagine or whoever. At best, I consider it a melding of the roles of Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller.
Which leaves the question of whether or not Beckett can shore up a rotation already notable for its age and fragility. Does adding Beckett's tender digits bode well for a team already struggling with whether or not Curt Schilling or Matt Clement can return to being themselves? High risk and reward 'maybe' pitchers aren't really what you want to have to count on, and as obvious as Beckett's talent is, I can't help but wonder if this is more about hoping he's a Yankee-killer because of the '03 World Series. Still, he is only going to be 26, and if he's never made thirty starts, he's also never been worn down with overwork. In Boston's favor, they did successfully manage Pedro Martinez through his highly-tailored usage patterns, so I'm willing to believe that there's some organizational memory in play. As a result, I'm actually sort of optimistic that if anybody's going to get Beckett to thirty starts or 190 IP, it may be Boston. That plus Mota definitely makes up for having to pay Lowell's monstrously large salary in '06 and '07 ($9 million per). I know, that's what Dan Duquette said about picking up Mike Lansing in 2000, but Beckett and Mota are going to do a hell of a lot more for Boston than Rolando Arrojo ever could.
Re-signed 1B-R Paul Konerko to a five-year, $60 million contract. [11/30]
Count me among the ranks of the duly impressed. Kenny Williams just did what Terry Ryan never has, which is demonstrate a commitment to excellence instead of a satiety with mediocrity. This was a lineup that needed a premium lefty bat, so Williams got one. Admittedly, it comes with an expired warranty and a bum back, but the Sox will be paying less than half of the contract's value through '08 (assuming they buy out 2009), and Thome will be retiring to the more focused demands of a full-time DH. But again, I guess I'm more impressed with what this move represents in terms of an aggressive desire to improve than with any serious hope that Thome will go back to the hitter who could carry a team by his lonesome. Placing Thome into the lineup, perhaps between Konerko and Jermaine Dye, might generate a lot of offensive innings crippled up by GIDPs and driving Ozzie nuts, but it will also put more runs on the board, with plenty of the little man tactics at the top and bottom of the order for Guillen to use in maintaining his street cred as a little ball manager. And if the Sox do an even better job of simply mashing while relying on a deep pitching staff, that's as timeless a formula for diamond success as the game can boast.
Beyond the upgrade on Carl Everett, it reflects a certain confidence that they can turn to some combination of Brian Anderson, Chris Young, Jerry Owens, and perhaps finally even Joe Borchard to more than make up for the departure of Rowand, with Scott Podsednik's ability to play center potentially coming into play if Young isn't ready or the Sox would rather leave Anderson in left. Dye's contract runs out after '06, so it isn't like the Sox need all of the kids to be ready at once, just one, and then another a year later.
With the Tigers looking like the bubble team (and waiting to be pricked), and the Royals now traditionally DOA, you have give credit to Williams. Not for simply winning, but for not accepting winning as enough, and for his now-demonstrated sense to take winning in the immediate future seriously, instead of settling for becoming a target for Mark Shapiro's Indians. The AL Central is about to become the division it was supposed to be before the '94 work stoppage gummed things up, with the Cleveland-Chicago rivalry likely to become the genuine best on the diamond while the Yankees and Red Sox degenerate into an overhyped old-timers' game.
The shame of all of this is that it means a White Sox team without Frank Thomas, something beyond my ken, since Thomas has been the Sock to follow for almost all of my adult life, and I'm past counting my age in spring chicken years. Thomas is into that John Jaha portion of his career, basically limited to the AL, and there are only so many DH jobs to go around. An incentive-laden deal with Oakland might make all sorts of sense, but the Yankees wouldn't be a bad match. After that, you're into wondering about the Orioles. The Twins or Tigers could use him, but both seem like strange hookups, especially since I don't think either the goody-goodies up in Minnesota or Jim Leyland would be all that excited about bringing in the Big Hurt. So New York, Baltimore, Oakland, or something dependent on another team making a deal, or something undignified and irrelevant. Here's hoping he gets a shot where it matters.
Signed RHP Tim Crabtree to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. [11/25]
Signed C-R Kelly Stinnett to a one-year contract. [11/30]
Talk about hitting the gold mine. Not only will the Yankees finally have a major league player instead of a season ticket holder manning their backup catcher's slot, Stinnett might just have enough creaky-jointed veteran credibility to appeal to the occassionally epicurean sensibilities of some of the Yankees' veteran hurlers. Unfortunately, he's not Mr. Wizard with the glove, and at 35, he's really not an adequate replacement if something happened to Jorge Posada. Not that it would matter; if Posada were tossed into the crack of Mt. Doom, I suspect Yankee Stadium would pitch over into the East River and the Boss would disappear in a wailing flame of despair. What this team could really use would be a latter-day incarnation of Jim Leyritz, someone to play first or catch as needed, since you don't want Jason Giambi wearing a glove, and you'd rather not have to send Brian Cashman out for elaborate tap-dancing in front of the Black Gate if anything happens to Posada. Mike Piazza, perhaps?
Signed RHP Esteban Loaiza to a three-year, $21 million contract with a club option for 2009. [11/28]
Signing Loaiza to Benson money might seem like a pretty big risk, but couched in those terms, I know I'd rather have Loaiza than, say, Russ Ortiz, if last winter's market can be used as any indication. The problem with Loaiza is that the answer to the question 'who is he?' is sort of ambiguous. Is he the career mediocrity who gave the Pirates, Rangers, and Blue Jays workmanlike turn-taking? Is he the ace starter the White Sox had on their hands in 2003, when he developed his cutter? Or is he the Whitson-like pineapple surprise who exploded upon becoming a Yankee? Or the simply solid starter that the Nationals had on their hands last year?
I'm inclined to believe that it's that last iteration that Oakland will have on their hands: Loaiza's performance in 2005 wasn't too dissimilar from his performance with the White Sox before he went to the Yankees, and his strikeout and walk rates were closer to those of his breakout in 2003. Just about the only thing that's shelved him recently have been pinstriped panic attacks, so I'm inclined to believe that Oakland will have a durable third starter on their hands. That makes him a good bridge between Rich Harden and Barry Zito up front, and Joe Blanton and Dan Haren behind, but it also frees Billy Beane to entertain an offer for Zito that might be tempting enough to turn his head, should one be offered. It also spares the A's the heartbreak likely to come if they'd entrusted a rotation slot to Kirk Saarloos, and lets them leave Justin Duchscherer in the pen. I'm not too busted up about not leaving a spot open for Juan Cruz or Dan Meyer; both have plenty yet to prove, with Cruz perhaps being better off in a long relief role, and Meyer returning to Sacramento to improve on his performance there last summer.
If you're an A's fan, you're hoping that this really works out, or that Billy Beane can flip Loaiza faster than you can say "Terrence Long." Or "Mark Redman.." "Arthur Rhodes," anyone? Happily, if Meyer or Cruz do finally turn the corner, there is the depth in the organization to afford Beane the opportunity to come up with another creative solution to another self-inflicted quandary.
Signed LHP B.J. Ryan to a five-year, $47 million contract. [11/28]
Much as I like Ryan as the sort of lefty who can slag just about any hitter, on either side of the plate, this deal strikes me as simply nuts. I realize it's part of a noisily-advertised win-now program, and that the other shoe dropping as a result of this deal is that it gives the Jays the opportunity to bounce Miguel Batista back into the rotation, rather than spend money on a top-shelf starter. But that also means one less opportunity for the team's crowd of almost-ready or extremely tasty young hurlers to join that rotation. Sure, I don't think that Josh Towers will be able to hold off a Dustin McGowan or a David Bush forever, but that's just the fifth starter's job. Signing Towers to a two-year contract might not make it any easier to deal him, but it wasn't for huge money, and starting pitching's always in demand. I suppose things could get interesting if the Jays non-tendered Ted Lilly, but I don't see that happening. The Jays might go into late March with pitching to peddle to help boost their bid for contention, never a bad place to be. There, the question is whether Ryan's salary handicaps their ability to acquire something particularly worthwhile.
Subtract money from the equation (as if), and Ryan is obviously worthwhile. He's been relatively rubber-armed the last four years, and with a good amount of situational lefty work mixed in with that, means even more warming up than actual time spent on the mound. I don't think he's simply peaked in terms of his performance on the mound the last two years as much as I think he has demonstrated that he's just better-suited for throwing 70 or 80 innings than he is for 50-60 in 60-70 games. Liberated by Lee Mazzilli, I'd definitely agree to the suggestion that he's blossomed, and that he'll be very valuable in the first two or three years of the deal. Sort of like a movie producer being pitched on J-Lo's latest vehicle, it's the back end and the expense that I'm worried about.
Signed RHP Bob Howry to a three-year, $12 million contract. [11/29]
Traded RHP Jermaine Van Buren to the Red Sox for a PTBNL. [12/1]
I guess when you get past 50 and you're a white American male, you're given to compensation gestures, but really, this is ridiculous. Assuming Ed Wade ever learned anything from his travails, he'd no doubt caution Jim Hendry on the wisdom of having spent so much on a bullpen trio of Howry, Ryan Dempster, and Scott Eyre, but the fact that two of them are White Sox castoffs and all of them are retreads with checkered histories has me more convinced that Hendry didn't learn anything from the exercise of adding Matt Karchner for some nobody named Jon Garland. Hendry wasn't the GM in '98, so that isn't his rap (it's Ed Lynch's), but he was the Director of Player Development, and a witness to that particularly ill-fated move. And yet, nothing seems to have been learned, not from that, not from Mike Remlinger, not from Mel Rojas, not from Joe Borowski, not from nothin' or nobody. Farce, comedy, any of those general observations about history and patterns and repeating themes, they all don't matter, not when you're dealing a lemming-like will to power, or at least the nearest cliff.
I have to wonder if the Fish are becoming the stand-in franchise that the post-Loria Expos were, a storehouse for other people's prospects. Loria can afford to Huizenganate the franchise, after all: like Huizenga, he's got a ring, and like Huizenga, he can huff and puff all he likes, but the porkbarrell piggies of state and local government aren't going to build him a new playpen, let alone invite him over for dinner. So what's to happen? I think Joe Sheehan's spot-on, that this is a marked franchise where contraction will be achieved as part of MLB's all-fronts offensive against the union over the new CBA. Like the on-again, off-again plans to shake up the minors and the unsurprising decision to leave that for later, management is piling up every possible negotiating chit. Threatening to dump a couple of franchises serves as a double-edged bit of extortion, taking the players down a peg while also making it easier to create alternative markets for the Nationals or Twins or Athletics or whoever wants to threaten to move three or five or ten years in the future.
As for running the filleted Fish, cannibalism as performance art was Dave Dombrowski's closing gig with the Marlins; considering he had a gun to his head, he didn't do so badly. In these deals, I guess I'm singularly unimpressed with the swag acquired for this equally hurried teardown. Jacobs is nice, but not enough to be that much more than a Rico Brogna type at first, adequate filler until Jason Stokes is ready to go. I've already expressed my doubts about Hanley Ramirez, but to repeat, as niftily recent that the vintage of his birth certificate might be, as a hitter, he's basically got one good month in Portland to brag about, and beyond all that, he's just rough tools. Can he be more? Certainly, but are the Fish the franchise that can finish this particular diamond? I guess the question betrays my deepening skepticism. Shortstop isn't even an especially shallow position in the organization, even with Alex Gonzalez's departure as a free agent, not when Josh Wilson may be ready, and not with Robert Andino hanging around.
Still, despite all of that, this is probably the place where Sanchez and Petit can blossom, and there aren't too many other pitching prospects I'd rather have if I had to tear down and start over. Both have the broad power assortments you want, reasonably good command, and the boggy air of Joe Robbie's Support Hose Field is as good a place as any to learn and develop at the major league level. My more cynical side can't help but wonder if this isn't just an elaborate way for the Sox and Mets to let Sanchez and Petit get seasoned somewhere better than the International League, up until the point that arbitration prices them both out of the Lorians' self-spiting bottom line. Other little benefits of the deal include the likelihood that Miguel Cabrera will stay at third, making room for both Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermida in the outfield. Psomas might get more credit for prospectdom than he deserves; a good Division I college player is supposed to be able to mash in the Sally League, and Psomas did. Whether his power sticks in Double-A is a little more dubious, but again, with Cabrera at the hot corner, there's no rush.
Re-signed C-R Chad Moeller to a one-year, $750,000 contract. [11/23]
Signed LHP Jason Kershner to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/1]
Wowie! Just what every kid wants to find under the tree at the holidays, a big, old-and-unimproved, exactly-the-same-as-last-year backup catcher. That's keen! The Brewers are doing so many other good things that it would be overdoing it to belabor this small, unfortunate choice much, but having Moeller and Damian Miller as the catching tandem simply means that Ned Yost has an extra position to pinch-hit for besides his pitchers.
Purchased CF-L Tike Redman from the Pirates. [11/26]
Signed LHP Billy Wagner to a four-year contract. [11/29]
So what if Omar Minaya had to give up more than the Red Sox did in their deal with the Lorians to get his particular fish? It still makes for a heck of a story, and it wasn't like Psomas had a future in David Wright's world. It's a little unhappy to have had to give up Jacobs, if only because the Mets could still use him behind the plate. But in plugging Delgado into the first base hole that's been a franchise problem spot for years, a massive problem has been solved. The upgrade might be worth five wins in the standings, enough to move the Mets from a nice maybe/also squad to a strong challenger for both the wild card and a division title amongst the lowering ambitions of their NL East rivals. A pity it comes a year late, but Delgado seems like a solid bet to age well.
What I'm less enthusiastic about is the Wagner deal. As much as he may be on the short list for the title of being the game's premier closer, I'm more than a little chary about how much of that is in the past, as opposed to how likely it might be to be part of the landscape into the future. Keep in mind, I accept that replacing Braden Looper was a must, and that a life in which you don't have to take flyers out on Danny Graves is a good thing. But with Wagner, given the constant concern over his elbow, does anyone really think he can throw 70-80 innings in each of the next four years? Anyone want to lay odds on the unlikelihood that this contract can be insured? I guess I would have rather seen the team give the job to Aaron Heilman, and save some of the money to add another reliever or two, plus address their obvious need to get a catcher to share time with Ramon Castro. (Yes, second base is "open," but I think the Mets can do just fine if they stick with some sort of competition between Jeff Keppinger and Anderson Hernandez.)
On a much smaller scale, I do like the Redman pickup. As a fifth outfielder, he's handy enough, I just hope that getting him doesn't presage a godawful platoon in right of Redman and Xavier Nady. There aren't a lot of ways to make people pine for Doug Mientkiewicz-caliber performance in the lineup, but that might be one of them, since effectively, the Mets have swapped Delgado for Mike Cameron, potentially transplanting last year's first base lineup hole to the outfield. They can fix it easily enough, of course--I don't think anybody needs a motorcycle diary to come to the realization that the time is now to FREE VICTOR DIAZ!--but some solutions might be just too frickin' obvious.
Signed INF-B Abraham Nunez to a two-year contract. [11/29]
Signed RHP Julio Santana to a one-year contract. [11/30]
Signed C-R Sal Fasano to a one-year contract. [12/1]
I know my positive outlook on Pat Gillick's arrival might have struck some as odd, but again, I'm impressed with what has already been achieved. Getting Thome out of the way was supposed to be Job One, and that's exactly how it was dealt with. I'm not crazy about the expense--$22 million is not something you just shrug off--but the deal Wade signed Thome to was nuts at the time, given Thome's health history, and Gillick should be congratulated for putting the slugger in the DH league for almost 50% of what the Phillies owed him, plus getting a good center fielder out of the deal. Rowand's only just turned 28, so he should be more than solid enough as a two-year solution, or at least until the Phillies get a sense of whether or not Michael Bourn is going to pan out. Another virtue of acquiring an everyday CF like Rowand is that it's a needed add-on for a team that's going to need to invest roster space in a platoon partner for Ryan Howard at first base. A particularly cool solution might be to have Pat Burrell move in out of left field against lefty starters, with Jason Michaels starting in his place in the outfield.
Beyond that big move and how it changes the complexion of the lineup and player usage patterns, forcing a more flexible and adaptable in-game management style on Charlie Manuel, there's the bench that's being bought for him to consider as well. I'm not a big believer that Nunez is ever going to hit .285 or get on base at a .343 clip ever again, but a utility infielder who doesn't wilt under full-time use, one who can handle all three of second, short, and third, and do the little man things at the plate that sometimes come in handy (bunting and all that), that's a good utility infielder to have. Not that he's Placido Polanco, but having Nunez gives the Phillies a reserve infielder they can rely upon if anything happens to Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley that puts them on the DL and, unlike Polanco, won't be nursing a grudge about the role. As for replacing Todd Pratt with Fasano, again, that's a move I can endorse. Not that I think Fasano can really step in should anything happen to Mike Lieberthal, but he's a solid enough receiver, still has the pop that should have never been discarded so casually by the Royals or Rockies, and if he hits somewhere around his career rates (.222/.302/.407), he'll again be one of the better backup catchers in the game.
Sold CF-L Tike Redman to the Mets. [11/26]
Released OF-R Michael Restovich. [11/28]
Re-signed OF-L Brian Giles to a three-year contract with a club option for 2009.
I don't like it, not for the length, not for the money, and not for a guy who will be 35, 36, and 37 during the three seasons committed to. I guess I feel about Giles about the way I did about the original Jose Cruz: yes, he's been a great player, and yes, he's lost uncounted numbers to his home environment. Yes, he's a guy fans like to see, being scrappy and pasty and dirt-covered and all of that stuff. And yes, it's good news that he'll safely remain in right field now that Mike Cameron is in center. Just as happy is the likelihood that Ryan Klesko will move back to first base, leaving left field to some combination of Dave Roberts, Eric Young, and Ben Johnson, giving the Pads an outfield with the speed to cover Petco's expanses at all three positions. Basically, I understand and like the intention of the design, and the reconstruction of the lineup, particularly the adaptive re-use of Klesko and Roberts in less-demanding defensive positions. The problem is that it doesn't necessarily add up to an effective lineup: Klesko's already 34, and just blocking Paul McAnulty, and the Pads already have to live with what little they'll get from Vinny Castilla, not to mention the non-development of Khalil Greene as a hitter. Greene can still break out, but I guess I see a lineup with a lot of risk, some of it good, but in the end, it very much depends on Giles not getting old anytime soon, and I'm not comfortable with that.
Claimed RHP Jeff Miller off of waivers from the Pirates. [11/28]
Signed RHP Tim Worrell to a two-year contract. [12/1]