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December 7, 2005

Transaction Analysis

December 2-6

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Signed RHP Hector Carrasco to a two-year contract with a club option for 2008; signed DH-R Tim Salmon to a minor league deal with a spring training NRI. [12/2]

Carrasco, for more than six million dollars? Guaranteed? Well, yes, obviously, baseball doesn't have $6 million unguaranteed contracts, but if you wanted an incentive for pitchers to avoid retirement until their fiftieth birthday, this is one of the best possible sources of inspiration. As good as Carrasco's '05 was, keep in mind that his last useful season before this was his rookie season, 1994, and it wasn't like he lost the intervening decade to injury. Although he's got slightly better control these days (seven of his 38 walks allowed were IBBs), I just don't see him thriving in a world where he'll have to face DHs and nevertheless hope to keep opposing hitters' averages on balls in play under .200 again. This will wind up being an expensive mistake, but not a disaster.

As for bringing Salmon back, I appreciate the gesture as something of a courtesy, since it gives him a shot to get into shape with his only organization, see if he still has something, stick with the Angels if someone gets hurt or off of the bench as a spare bat, or retire without ever wearing somebody else's uniform. At 37, those are his choices. But if the Angels make the mistake of letting him steal at-bats from Casey Kotchman as anything more than the short half of a platoon, they won't be doing themselves any favors. (In saying that, I think we all know that a mascot as charming as Darin Erstad will continue to be given every opportunity to soak up 400-450 outs for his $8.5 million.)

Finally, there may be those of you still wondering why we list the team as Anaheim, and not los Angeles de Los Angeles y los Western Hemisphere. ("We really think branding this team with an identity that's tied to the more hip hemisphere will extend our merchandising in ways nobody's even thought of. For instance, check out these Peruvian-style Angels bowlers! Great for the kids, and a cinch to make people think of the Angels when they think of Peru... To answer your question, yes, Commissioner Selig assured us that we're within thirty-five miles of the hemisphere, so this is totally on the up-and-up.") As guilty as the Angels might be of marketing stupidity in the court of public opinion and in the annals of history, until their lawsuit is resolved, for myself, I'm comfortable leaving them where they are, and not where they assert their markets to be. But that's just me speaking for myself, and I wouldn't claim that my feelings on the subject represent editorial policy.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Traded LHP Steve Kline to the Giants for RHP LaTroy Hawkins and cash. [12/6]

Wait, not just cash, but the better pitcher too? Gosh, that would be lovely. Hawkins' elbow is supposed to be sound, and while Cubs fans might snigger at the suggestion, in a bullpen shorn of its closer, Hawkins is a handy talent to have around. Maybe they spend a bit much on Todd Jones to take a shot at racking up joystats as the pitcher who pitches the ninth, on the off chance that he doesn't lose his spandex "capital C" closer suit for the third time in his career. If not Jones, perhaps Jorge Julio. Maybe the bullpen is where Kurt Ainsworth gets his career back on track, or Chris Ray earns the job in camp. But the Orioles can definitely look forward to a bullpen that shouldn't have to rely on James Baldwin. In any role, if healthy, Hawkins should give this team 80 or 90 good innings, and that's more than could have been said for Kline. The question is whether the Orioles are adequately stocked as far as situational lefties, since I'm not wild about Tim Byrdak. John Parrish will be out for all of '06 with Tommy John surgery, so it's up to Flanagan and company to go digging around in the minor league free agent pool. Don't be surprised if the Orioles select a lefty arm in the Rule 5 draft.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Released RHP Sean Douglass, who has signed with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese Leagues. [12/5]

Signed RHP Paul Byrd to a two-year, $14.25 million contract, with a club option for 2008. [12/4]

I know that this deal has been compared to Esteban Loaiza's, since the money's the same per annum, but with the important advantage that Byrd's third year isn't guaranteed. But as up-and-down as Loaiza's performance has been, it had the advantage of having a notable high point and a good amount of recent durability, while Byrd's career has seen him seriously break down twice in the past five years, and he's already 35. I guess the comparison can be made, in that $7 million per for a mid-rotation starter is sort of the price that's been set by the market since the Kris Benson contract, but I guess I see Byrd as not being an especially better pickup than Loaiza, let alone a good risk in the first place. I can understand an argument that for the Indians he was almost certainly a necessary risk, at least insofar as they felt they had to have someone to replace Kevin Millwood, but he's not a certain quantity by any stretch.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Signed LHP Bobby Seay to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/30]

Outrighted 2B-R Ryan Raburn to Toledo. [12/5]

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Acquired 2B-B Luis Castillo from the Marlins for RHPs Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler. [12/2]

I've been a particularly harsh critic of Terry Ryan for a while now, so let me congratulate him not only on fixing last year's worst problem so thoroughly, but also for doing it so cheaply in terms of the talent he gave up to make this deal work. For an organization like the Twins, pitchers like Bowyer and Tyler were very fungible, while Castillo is the OBP source this club hasn't had at the top of the order since Chuck Knoblauch left town. I have no idea whether Castillo will get back to running with his former aplomb, but if he's getting on base at anything close to his .370 career rate, he's going to do wonders for the reputations of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau as RBI guys.

The interesting academic question is what he'll do hitting on turf full-time. Back in the early '80s, people thought that turf was great for speedy hitters, but Bill James argued at the time (on the '83 Phillies, if memory serves), convincingly making the opposite point, that it was the slower guys who needed the ball to zip through the infield who really adapted best to plastic environments. In Castillo's specific case, it seems to me that turf will just make sure that the bleeders and worm-killers that he generates in such profusion are that much more likely to hop true and quick to the opposing infielders. His average in recent years on turf isn't good news: .275 over the last four years, versus .302 playing on horse chow. But even if he endures that sort of drop, when you consider how little the Twins had to give up to get him, and that the alternative is Nick Punto, it's still very much worth it. Add in Castillo's defensive value, and it's this winter's best trade in what has already been a pretty exciting swap season.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a three-year contract. [12/2]

There are some relievers, like Ron Davis or George Frazier, who live with a pinstriped infamy normally better-recognized for its application to other sorts of players, people like Steve Kemp or Dave Collins or Ed Whitson. Maybe even Jaret Wright, although he's still due plenty of opportunities to make his particular hole a little deeper. But unlike those others, relievers can do something exciting, though, something that can involve a high-leverage moment, douse it in gasoline, and air mail each and every fan a personal despair-o-gram. Fairly or no, Farnsworth has been one of those pitchers, having labored long and hard in creating a reputation for himself as the man who could do anything when it came to crushing hope among the perennially hopeful fans in Wrigley. He has always had the talent to be a dominant reliever, and indeed, he has dominated on the diamond, in and out of a Cubs uni. Strictly in terms of that ability, he's a good pickup, even allowing for the expense. But it's the concern that, in Farnsworth's case, maybe there is something to the whispers that he's overly temperamental. He's always been an outwardly emotional player, and he earned a rep early on of not coping with a bad outing all that well. If it was anywhere but New York, I'd probably shrug it off. Heck, lots of reliever have had bad times in Wrigley, only to go on to great careers pitching somewhere else: Willie Hernandez, Bill Caudill, Heathcliff Slocumb all come to mind. I was happy to see him thrive in Detroit and Atlanta, but I guess I can't help but worry and wonder if Farnsworth is cut out for the Big Apple. More generally, the money's nuts, but I suppose there's no point in being shrill about it. The Yankees don't go out of their way to rely on guys like Aaron Small or Tanyon Sturtze, they just unfortunately wind up that way, after first spending the money on players that the guys at WFAN or on the beat have heard of.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Acquired RHP Chad Gaudin from Toronto for a PTBNL; designated C-L John Baker for assignment. [12/5]

Another bit of cousin-swapping in what's long been a bit of the game's brand of incest. It's a good pickup for Billy Beane, in that Gaudin's almost certainly better than perhaps anyone available in the second round of this year's Rule 5 draft (the A's still have a slot open). The rotation's already packed with five starters since the acquisition of Esteban Loaiza, so Gaudin gives the team another plausible contestant for the sixth slot of the rotation (or 'first man out of Sacramento,' if you prefer), joining Kirk Saarloos, Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz. Assuming the A's don't deal Barry Zito, one or two of this gang of four handy rotation reserves might join Joe Kennedy and Justin Duchscherer in long relief roles, but any one or two of them might also be used in part of a package to land a good bat to help fill in the DH at-bats that are currently unclaimed.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Outrighted 2B-L Fernando Cortez to Durham. [12/5]

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Designated RHP Chad Gaudin for assignment. [12/2]

Traded Gaudin to Oakland for a PTBNL. [12/5]

Announced the extension of the contract of General Manager J.P. Ricciardi through 2010; signed RHP A.J. Burnett to a five-year, $55 million contract. [12/6]

A tenth of a billion dollars for two pitchers? Two... okay pitchers? And it isn't like this is Weimar hyperinflation-driven economic madness either. This is a rational adult and a respected industry professional making what he sees as two rational choices which he honestly thinks will propel the Jays closer to the Red Sox and Yankees. I see it as overpaying for two useful pitchers to compensate for the "please come" issues Canadian teams seem to have to overcome, and overpaying to "send a message." Certainly, getting A.J. and B.J. (if not C.J. Nitkowski) is buzz-worthy. The real problem is that neither the money, for all of its bling, nor these two players, for all of their talent, change the basic balance of power in the AL East. The Jays are still reliant upon the Red Sox and Yankees coming down back into 85-90 win territory in order to mount a real challenge. Burnett is like Josh Beckett, only less so: more famous than accomplished, and if talented, not quite as dominating when you actually review his record. Having a first healthy season at age 28 is nice, but I guess I'm just not sold on his being worth it, not when this is an organization that's very close to seeing a cadre of homegrown talent graduate to the majors. However many headline wars you win in December, if you're still fielding a mediocre lineup and a mediocre pitching staff in April, you're still mediocre, and however much you spent only matters to the employees and the tax man.

If there's an element to all of this that I like, it's that as baseball players go, the Jays signed two players known for their personality. I don't know if Burnett gets enough credit for it publicly, but he might be every bit as freaky-deaky as Barry Zito. Canada doesn't have it's own Jacko, does it now? Well, if it isn't worth importing the original, and if the McKenzie Brothers are still in retirement, I suppose Burnett might do.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed 1B/OF-L John Mabry to a one-year contract. [11/29]

Picking at the margins for the crumbs of the free agent market, ideally you want to make sure you get crumbs, as in coffee cakes or silly comics, and not crums, as in Henry Blanco or Jose Macias, but the Cubs seem to keep getting the distinction between "desirable" and "not a bit" mixed up. Mabry's long enough in the tooth to be familiar with the responsibilities of a pinch-hitter, a more dangerous Lenny Harris, and unlike Lenny, actually able to fill in at any of the infield or outfield corners. The danger is that he might also be old enough to be taken entirely too seriously by Dusty Baker as a solution for one or the other of the Cubs' open outfield slots. If he gets regular playing time, he's a problem, but he's a decent bet at giving you a .400 SLG off of the bench, and there are worse reserves on this roster to complain about.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Signed RHP Jimmy Journell and LHP Tommy Phelps to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/1]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Acquired RHPs Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler from the Twins for 2B-B Luis Castillo. [12/2]

Traded C/1B-R Paul Lo Duca to the Mets for RHP Gabriel Hernandez and a PTBNL. [12/4]

If there's any question about the unseemly haste of the Marlins' reenactment of their late '90s Huizenganation, I think the "one package-size for all items" policy pretty well gives it away. Live arms for veterans might seem plausible enough, but this isn't a system gifted with a lot of position player prospects. There's really no sense to it when you get a better prospect for an old and expensive Lo Duca than either of the guys you get for Castillo. A deal with the Twins was an opportunity to add something of real value, and instead, the Fish got a pair of your basic, cookie-cutter hard-throwing guys, one of whom has actually had a successful season at A-ball or above. That one, Bowyer, is probably nothing more than an adequate major league reliever. The other body, Tyler, didn't do all that well in the Florida State League, allowing 18 home runs in 118.1 IP, and if he throws almost as hard as Bowyer, results do matter. Two live arms who might just be two live arms in the bullpen is a pretty poor swag for a particularly tasty leadoff asset in what is supposed to be a seller's market.

So who plays second, now that the Wormkiller has gone to one of the last wormless infields? Alfredo Amezaga? What, Bret Barberie wasn't available? Maybe Josh Wilson will move across the diamond, but if I was a guy like Fernando Vina or Mark Bellhorn, I'd be going out of my way to be accommodating, just to get a crack at 400 or more PAs. Take a good look at the Marlins' 40-man, and even with the recent run of purported prospect accumulation deals, there's still a lot of slack on this roster. At least the question of who catches is somewhat easier, in that it should be Mike Jacobs who gets the first, second, and third looks. They may let Josh Willingham take the job, but Willingham might end up being the team's starting left fielder, depending to no small extent on whether or not Miguel Cabrera is willing to stay at third. Lords above and below preserve them from more Matt Treanor, certainly.

From all of this, I'm inferring that the Fish aren't in the business of running a baseball team so much as they're busily breaking down into a storehouse, cheap enough to operate until the team is sold, contracted, or disappears through some spiteful fiat.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Re-signed RHP Russ Springer to a one-year contract. [12/2]

Death, taxes, and the persistence of retreads can be numbered among life's certainties. Springer was nice enough filler last year, but I wouldn't put money on it persisting.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed SS-B Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $39 million contract. [12/4]

Named Grady Little their manager, giving him a two-year contract, with a club option for 2008. [12/6]

There isn't much for me to add to what's already been said about the decision to sign Furcal. Spending top dollar in a relatively short deal for him makes sense. I guess I wonder about the ripple effects: Jeff Kent to first base, which does what to the Dodgers when it comes to dealing Hee Seop Choi? And what if Furcal just plods along, around his career average? As much as has been made of his '05, he hit .284/.348/.429, against career rates of .284/.348/.409. His walk rates are stable, his power's predictably improving with age, but as progress goes, he's not spiking as much as he simply offers some consistency. After 2005, this is obviously a team that could use that. To his credit, where Furcal's made improvements has been in his running game, posting career-high stolen base numbers, and in the field, where he's become a premium defensive shortstop.

Those things are worth keeping in mind, of course, but to go back to Choi, I guess the mitigating circumstance is that adding him to the lineup isn't relative to improving upon Cesar Izturis's bat in the lineup. Because the plan appears to be to move Izturis to second and slide Kent over to first, it seems instead that the swap will wind up being Furcal for Choi (and Olmedo Saenz) in the everyday lineup. If you decide to give the Dodgers maximum credit, and pretend that Izturis is going to repeat his 2004 at the plate in '06, that might mean that the Dodgers net two wins, but that's a pretty big assumption. I like the move in isolation, but a few other things need to happen before I really see this as a decisively improved team.

As for naming Grady Little, short of putting the Pastaman back in uniform, this is perhaps the ultimate "message" hiring, with Little becoming the martyr redeemed from those mean ol' pointy-headed numbers geeks. But to be fair to Little, this should be what he did not get in Boston, which is a chance to run a team his way, whichever way that may be, and without the clumsy interactions with a front office that asked for a little mold-breaking creative thought. Perhaps, with a bullpen that has Eric Gagne, and with a lineup that involve a lot less damage control than last season's edition of the Dodgers, maybe this might be the sort of club Little can get a handle on. And if, instead, he screws up again, well heck, at least he got a shot on something closer to his own terms, right?

NEW YORK METS
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Acquired C/1B-R Paul Lo Duca from the Marlins for RHP Gabriel Hernandez and a PTBNL. [12//4]

Never underestimate a general addiction to feel-good malarkey that gets generated about a nice Italian boy going home to New York, but let's face it, Lo Duca is not the player that Omar Minaya thinks he's getting. A catcher with declining defensive numbers, and whose big offensive positive is that he slugged .419 on the road last year? And the guy's going to be 34? With those particulars, this looks more like a bad idea on a "let's go get Brad Ausmus" scale. Now, saying all this, I admit, Lo Duca's a victim of his past: he hit well in Chavez Ravine, but if you look at his career, his 2001 sticks out like Brady Anderson's 1996. It's no longer a case of his home runs becoming doubles, it's a matter of him being old and a declining asset. That said, for a year, he makes a decent enough fill-in at catcher, but paying $13.5 million over the next two years for that makes him more of a problem than a real solution. The Mets would have been better off taking their chances on Mike Jacobs in a job-share with Ramon Castro, and simply tossed the Fish Hernandez in the Delgado deal if they were so hot and bothered to move him.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Signed RHP Tom Gordon to a three-year contract. [12/3]

If you use the convoluted logic that he's less than half as expensive as Billy Wagner and if you gamble that they're roughly equally likely to get hurt at their ages and given their histories, I guess it makes sense. If, for the sake of argument, both are healthy over the next three seasons, the difference between them would be, what, maybe a game per season? At most, and that's without asking what the Phillies can do with the money not spent on Wagner to not only get that win back, but then some. Is it a risky deal? Sure, and one where I agree with Joe Sheehan that it's very unlikely that the Phillies will come off looking too good. But compared to the deals like Troy Percival last year or Wagner or Kyle Farnsworth this time around, or the deal that Todd Jones seems likely to get, I guess I can accept the context. The positive is that when Gordon breaks down in another year, the Phillies will have been able to afford giving Ryan Madson a multi-year deal. But that's sort of the problem of the moment: beyond Gordon and Madson, and situational lefty Aaron Fultz, this is a pen with jobs to be won. Maybe one goes to Geoff Geary, maybe another to Aquilino Lopez, but there are probably three jobs to be had, and not a lot of established claimants. We'll see what sort of group Pat Gillick puts together by spring training, but certainly, Gordon's affordability (relative to Wagner) makes it easier for him to add one or two somebodies.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed LHP C.J. Nitkowski to a minor league contract. [12/5]

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed 3B-R Justin Leone to a minor league contract. [11/29]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Acquired LHP Steve Kline from the Orioles for RHP LaTroy Hawkins and cash. [12/6]

So, would you take an offer of Kline for Jerome Williams and David Aardsma? I didn't think so, but that's effectively the result of the latest sprig of Brian Sabean's creative thinking. The Giants are hoping he's happier going back to the NL after a lot of public pouting over his decision to sign with the Orioles, and have been quick to talk up his second half: 3.8 runs per nine, four home runs as part of a hit per inning clip allowed in those 28.2 IP, nine walks, and eleven strikeouts. Yes, that really is what Sabean referred to as the good news. Financially, it looks like the deal is a wash, since Hawkins is due $3.5 million, Kline $3 million, hence the Orioles getting cash in what, in the fuzziest of reads, can be interpreted as an exchange of problems. But Kline was a flop as a situational reliever in '05 (.317/.364/.515 against lefties), he's the one who's 33, and he's the one whose up-side is ... well, not too dissimilar from that of a retread like Scott Eyre.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Signed RHP Dennis Tankersley to a minor league contract. [11/29]

Signed INF-R Deivi Cruz and C-R Gary Bennett to one-year contracts. [12/5]

I like two of these pickups, within limits. Cruz won't hit as well as Abraham Nunez did last year, but nobody expected Nunez to hit that well in the first place. In Cruz's case, it seems that he's become a decisively better ballplayer since that stretch from 2001-03 when he seemed bulky and stiff-backed. He seems a bit more nimble these days, recovering some of the glove that got him his first big break with the Tigers, and with enough pop for a middle infielder to make a nice enough backup at second or third.

I also like their having picked up Tankersley. No, he didn't do anything in Omaha last year, but how would you cope with becoming a Royal farmhand? I guess I still see the good fastball, and there's always the hope that he finally gets consistent with his slider on Dave Duncan's watch. They turned Cal Eldred into a relief asset, and finally gave the similarly wild and purportedly unreliable Al Reyes his best break. It's a nifty little move, with little risked, and potentially great reward. There was a time when Storm Davis was considered a head case nobody could get value out of, but Duncan did. Let's see what happens.

Is there something in their deal with Yadier Molina that requires the Cardinals to only go out and get reserve catchers who have absolutely no chance of outhitting the kid? Not that I don't think he'll improve, but there's no penalty for adding a good-hitting reserve, is there? Bennett's become something of a dispensable crank, the backup backstop who gets strangely touted for being a leader upon arrival, and who becomes easily release-able come every October. Since he's as punchless at the plate as they get, he's an odd choice to give a 40-man roster spot to, especially when the Cards have both Mike Mahoney and Michel Hernandez already cluttering the roster. Seems to me that somebody in this group is a lock to be designated for assignment between now and Opening Day.

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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