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December 14, 2005

Transaction Analysis

December 7-13

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Designated OF-B Jeff DaVanon for assignment. [12/7]

Acquired LHP J.C. Romero from the Twins for 2B-B Alexi Casilla; designated C-R Josh Paul for assignment. [12/9]

Although superficially looking like a not especially busy winter for Bill Stoneman, the time spent in Dallas or calling Terry Ryan was well-spent. Casilla had all sorts of hard going ahead of him in an Angels' system already boasting middle infield prospects like Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Alberto Callaspo. The real question is whether it made more sense to trade for Romero than it might have to sign up someone like Mike Myers. Romero was being shunted into a situational role with the Twins, but if he can return to being the more rubber-armed reliever of years past, the trade makes sense. If he's just here to get lefties, he's not a bad pickup, but he's not significantly better (or any cheaper) than what was on the market. Worth it, if only to see whether the Angels get that something more than just a situational lefty.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed C-R Ramon Hernandez to a four-year contract, with a club option for 2010. [12/8]

As much as having Hernandez is a good thing right now, this is a deal that just doesn't make sense for Baltimore. If it's about preferring Hernandez as a catcher to Javy Lopez, that's a sensible decision in itself. I'm just not sold that it makes sense to make Lopez a DH as part of a win-now plan, not when dealing him to somebody who needs a catcher might not do even more to help you improve your roster to pursue that goal. There's the additional question of how much value Hernandez will retain into the second half of his deal. Even if he's as valuable as he was in '03 or '05 in the first year or two of the four years, does anyone think he'll be that good at 32, or 33?

BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired INF-R Mark Loretta from the Padres for C-R Doug Mirabelli. [12/7]

Acquired 3B-R Andy Marte from the Braves in exchange SS-R Edgar Renteria and cash; selected RHP Jamie Vermilyea in the Rule 5 draft. [12/8]

Any more deals like these, and everybody's going to go with a Committee for Public Safety instead of a finding the one man on horseback. In both of these trades, the Red Sox added the better player in exchange for an overvalued veteran, and in both cases, the Red Sox took advantage of perceived position scarcity, and both times, they took advantage of the other team's overriding need to do something to replace a departing veteran. So the Red Sox give the Braves their Furcal replacement, while taking the opportunity to get out from under some of the expense that the expensive mistake that Renteria represented, and they give the Padres a decent fill-in to paper over Ramon Hernandez's depature, but also a player that Boston didn't need with Jason Varitek locked up for the next three years.

Which brings us to what the Sox have now, which ain't shabby. As noted, the catching situation isn't any different, but what's the middle infield got now? Loretta might fill in at short, if he can, but the Sox could always rely on Alex Cora or Alejandro Machado at the bottom of the order, and none of them would kill you at the position. Even then, organizational depth isn't an issue, because even with Hanley Ramirez and Kenny Perez dealt, Dustin Pedroia might be ready to play either second or short. If there's a loser in this, it might be Kevin Youkilis, but give me a choice between the Greek God of Walks and Marte, one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, and the choice isn't only clear, it's easy. There's still the question of what role Mike Lowell might fill, but between Youkilis, Marte, Lowell, and Roberto Petagine, the infield corners are covered, with a potential righty-hitting backup for David Ortiz at DH to spare.

To look at it another way, Boston's up $2 million just by replacing Renteria with Loretta, up another million by replacing Mirabelli with a very-ready Kelly Shoppach. They won't lose any runs to these moves, not at the plate, and not in the field. Skip personalities, that's good baseball and good business. It might help them find another alternative to their shortstop situation, or more importantly afford another outfielder, but as a combination of cost-cutting and improvement, it's pretty hard to top what the team GM has already achieved here.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired UT-L Rob Mackowiak from the Pirates for LHP Damaso Marte. [12/13]

A nifty little move, in that Mackowiak gives the Sox a lefty bat they can choose to employ in left if neither Brian Anderson or Joe Borchard are ready, at third if Joe Crede's postseason doesn't lead to any real regular season progress, or as a short-term patch at DH if Jim Thome's back acts up. And while Marte's had his moments, Neal Cotts had clearly become the club's big dog among southpaws, and Arnie Munoz could be a cost-effective and talented understudy for 2006 in the second lefty role. Another nifty bit of roster improvement by Kenny Williams, if on an obviously smaller scale than the Thome trade.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Re-signed RHP Bob Wickman to a one-year contract. [12/7]

Signed INF-R Lou Merloni to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/9]

Having failed in his quest to get Trevor Hoffman for multiple years, I think Shapiro's decision to sign Wickman to a single season was a significantly better risk, and certainly one less likely to have any unnecessary ramifications beyond this next season. The Indians are very well-stocked with power arms on the cusp of making it, any one of whom could end up being a relief star. Better that the Indians don't burden the bottom line for years into the future to add a famous closer on the cusp of becoming a formerly famous closer. Wickman's not that far from being the machine of his youth, and he was more effective than Hoffman was in '05.

I also like the decision to bring Merloni back. A utility infielder with enough occasional sock against lefties to make a plausible spot starter against them at first base or any other infield position has value, especially for the positional flexibility he gives you. If he isn't fully healthy this spring, well, that's why you give a guy like this a minor league contract, right?

DETROIT TIGERS
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Signed RHP Todd Jones to a two-year, $11 million contract; selected RHP Chris Booker from the Nationals in the Rule 5 draft, and traded him to the Phillies for cash. [12/8]

Signed LHP Kenny Rogers to a two-year, $16 million contract; sent RHP Kenny Baugh to the Padres in exchange for RHP Ricky Steik. [12/12]

The Tigers very obviously see themselves as being that much closer to being relevant, since Rogers and Jones aren't cheap. But signing Rogers after his best season since '98, and Jones after his first genuinely good season since '99? That's a formula for heartbreak, even if they're going to enjoy the advantages of pitching in Comerica's wide expanse. As mistakes go, they're kith and kin to last winter's madness involving Troy Percival and Magglio Ordonez. If the goal is to find out if the team can ever make another good free agent pickup since Ivan Rodriguez, at this rate, I'm willing to bet they run out of money before they do.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Acquired LHP Mark Redman from the Pirates for RHP Jonah Bayliss and a PTBNL; unconditionally released RHP D.J. Carrasco to explore opportunities to play in Japan. [12/7]

Signed RHP Elmer Dessens to a two-year, $3.4 million contract; signed UT-R Joe McEwing to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; obtained 2B/3B-R Esteban German from the Rangers for Rule 5 pick LHP Fabio Castro. [12/8]

A mixed bag, certainly, but I suppose we have to give Allard Baird some credit for continuing to shoulder in and eat at the grown-ups' table. Redman and Dessens may not be great pitchers, but they are major league-caliber pitchers, and either might become interesting enough to be dealt at the deadline. Redman's going to the front of the rotation (somebody has to), but I'm particularly pleased to see that the plan for Dessens is to keep him in the bullpen. He's far more likely to keep the club in ballgames by bridging the gap between their younger starters and the bullpen than he would be starting every fifth day and putting up a quality start every other week or so.

But then there are the less explicable things, like going out of your way to go get German in a system already overstocked with second basemen. If the idea is that German is somehow better than Donald Murphy or Ruben Gotay or even Andres Blanco, there's the very likely possibility that this is a ballclub capable of taking spring stats as a confirmation of such a notion. I guess there is the hope that, if this team was quick to pull the plug on Calvin Pickering, they may likewise have a shortage of patience with German, but that still means Baird has to make a choice, and there's no indication that he's capable of doing so. The Royals would have been much better off using their Rule 5 pick for themselves, instead of to make an assist for the Rangers' benefit.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Acquired 2B-B Alexi Casilla from the Angels for LHP J.C. Romero. [12/9]

The Twins get a lot of credit for their depth, but that's been mightily overstated when it comes to the hitting talent left in the system, and their need for middle infield talent is especially dire when their only really promising infielder beyond Jason Bartlett on any of their full-season affiliates was '04 1st rounder Trevor Plouffe, and he didn't have a very good first full season down in the Midwest League. (Happily, Plouffe was only 19, so he can be forgiven a rough year.) So, with a farm system stocked with pitching and spots on the 40-man at a premium, dealing an increasingly expensive Romero and getting a decent-looking speed and OBP-minded second base prospect like Casilla was a good exchange.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired 2B-L Kevin Howard and OF-L Benjamin Himes from the Reds for UT-L Tony Womack and cash; signed OF-L Chris Prieto to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/8]

Signed LHP Mike Myers to a two-year, $2.4 million contract. [12/9]

Just like that, Womack's no longer a problem? We didn't get to enjoy this mistake in pinstripes nearly enough, but to Cashman's credit, he didn't just get a bucket of balls, he got something of value in the deal. Himes is really just fodder by the look of it, but Howard bopped a bit in Double-A (.296/.346/.428), and then really bopped in the AFL. Howard's throwing motion irks some scouts, but he's got college experience at third and short, and the Yankees are still short a utility infielder. If the Yankees were a normal sort of ballclub, it wouldn't take a Robinson Cano flop to create an opportunity for Howard, but this being the Yankees, he may have to get closer to 30 before he gets taken seriously, like Andy Phillips had to do. Who knows, maybe he can play center; it's gotta be better than locking in Bubba Crosby, right?

Bigger headlines get to go to Myers, and if he isn't going to be what Mike Stanton once was, he will at least erase that grease stain of the mind where Yankees fans have stored their brief memories of Felix Heredia and Buddy Groom.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Sent OF-L Dustin Majewski to the Blue Jays as the PTBNL in the Gaudin deal. [12/8]

Signed RHP Jason Karnuth, 1B/3B-R Scott McClain, and OF-L Doug Clark to minor league contracts; outrighted OF-L Jason Perry to Sacramento. [12/9]

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Re-signed LHP Jamie Moyer to a one-year contract; traded C-R Yorvit Torrealba to the Rockies for a PTBNL. [12/7]

Acquired RHP Marcos Carvajal as the PTBNL from the Rockies in the Torrealba trade; designated RHP Jeff Harris for assignment. [12/8]

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Acquired 3B-L Sean Burroughs from the Padres for RHP Dewon Brazelton. [12/7]

As an exchange of problem prospects goes, it doesn't get much better than this, and I could very much see this move ending up as mutually beneficial. I'd rather take my chances on Burroughs getting his hitting ironed out in the low pressure and air-conditioning of Tropicana, perhaps regaining whatever power stroke he once boasted, and finally looking like the top prospect everyone had him out to be. Having Jorge Cantu in front of him might not help, and the $64,000 question in Tampa Bay is where B.J. Upton will wind up position-wise, but Upton might become an outfielder, and Cantu could always move back to second if the Rays feel up to seeing if can improve there. But Burroughs is only 25, and he's a good glove at the hot corner. If there's a type of guy Tampa should be taking chances on, it's the guys like Burroughs, not Travis Lee.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed RHP John Wasdin to a one-year, $600,000 contract. [12/7]

Acquired Rule 5 pick LHP Fabio Castro from the Royals for 2B/3B-R Esteban German. [12/8]

Signed RHPs Jayson Durocher and Jose Silva to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/9]

Acquired RHP Vicente Padilla from the Phillies for a PTBNL. [12/12]

Acquired OF/1B-L Brad Wilkerson, OF-L Terrmel Sledge, and RHP Armando Galarraga from the Nationals for 2B-R Alfonso Soriano. [12/13]

If there are things to note amidst all of this activity, it is the decision to deal Soriano, and taking a chance on Padilla. The Soriano deal should turn out extremely well for the Rangers. They knew exactly what they had in him, and with his paydays about to get a nice boost through arbitration inflation, and Ian Kinsler ready for big league employment, why bother with a second baseman so bad with the glove that his best destination would be DH? So rather than keep the lingering symbol of A-Rod's Texas sojourn and the regret of it, the Rangers ditched the problem, made room for Kinsler, added at least one and possibly two starting outfielders, and in Galarraga, pocketed a pitching prospect every bit as good as any of their own. That's not a deal, that's a rout, like noting that the U.S. paid Mexico for the West and California after the war; a bit of generosity after a robbery must make it easier to deal with the guilt of the crime. I don't think Texas feels any more guilty than President Polk did, nor should they.

Always noted for his work ethic, Wilkerson is very much a Showalter sort of player. He might step into center, but the Rangers may settle for Gary Matthews should Laynce Nix not get any better. That would put Wilkerson in right, where he'll be a major upgrade on Richard Hidalgo. That should leave left field to Kevin Mench, but Mench might also be dealt to make room for some combination of Sledge or Jason Botts. And should David Dellucci break down again, the Rangers will definitely be as short-handed as they were last season.

I'm not as gung-ho about Padilla, but that's because, between the injuries and the performance, this isn't the workhorse of 2002 or 2003 that the Rangers have added. This is a team always in search of a quality starting pitcher, but I wonder if Padilla isn't just their latest romance with John Burkett's pedigree. A lot depends on the PTBNL, but I suppose the Rangers are better off than they would have been waiting out Pedro Astacio to find out if he'd snap back. Maybe.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired 1B-L Lyle Overbay and a PTBNL from the Brewers for RHP Dave Bush, OF-L Gabe Gross, and a PTNBL; signed OF-R Reed Johnson to a one-year, $1.425 million contract. [12/7]

Received RHP Ty Taubenheim from the Brewers, and sent LHP Zach Jackson to Milwaukee as the PTBNLs in the Overbay trade; acquired OF-L Dustin Majewski from the A's as the PTBNL in the Gaudin trade. [12/8]

As much as Overbay might be the latest loud note in a Blue Jay offseason devoted to making noise, it's another move that isn't adding up to a significantly better ballclub. Consider their collection of first base and DH types:


Player          2006 Age   2005 EqA
Lyle Overbay       29        .284
Eric Hinske        28        .271
Shea Hillenbrand   30        .279
Corey Koskie       33        .266

I'm throwing Koskie in there because he's in the picture due to age, and the question over where Hinske goes if he isn't playing first. My point is this: Overbay isn't young, he isn't a great hitter at the position, and I'd suggest that all he might add in terms of offensive value is a win, maybe two if Hinske continues to struggle while Overbay loses no ground. I'm more than a little skeptical, and I'm not sure Bush was someone I would have been in a hurry to deal to get that, and not if it meant throwing in as promising a young hurler as Jackson. (Gross they could afford to throw in, since he's already 26, and the Jays have other worthwhile outfielders in their system.) I guess the Jays can now more easily deal from depth to get a bat that might make a real difference in the standings; certainly the flexibility that Hillenbrand and Hinske might offer by their having played third before might help. But there's no indication that the Jays realize that they need to trade up. Instead, they seem satisfied with being noisily expensive, and that isn't going to get them as far ahead as seem to think.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Acquired C-B Johnny Estrada from the Braves for RHPs Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal. [12/7]

Signed RHP Kevin Jarvis to a minor league contract. [12/9]

Signed INF-R Damion Easley to a one-year contract. [12/12]

If ever there's a question of when the D'backs are building for, it always seems like the answer is 'yesterday.' Not that Estrada shouldn't be a huge improvement over Chris Snyder and Koyie Hill, or that Cormier and Villareal aren't replaceable. But with injuries a concern, on top of his turning 30 next summer, the one thing the Snakes can reasonably hope for is that, like almost everybody else, he'll hit well enough in the BOB to make you feel okay about their catching situation. I really don't see him as being any better than a two-year patch, and if that's the case, is this a team that can win in those two years? Maybe, sorta, kinda, but I have my doubts. However, the Easley pickup should look great: he's got demonstrated power, he's coming to a park where anyone who can get the ball in the air does well, and he's a viable enough alternative if they simply stick him at second, move Craig Counsell to short, and tell Alex Cintron to kiss his tomorrows as anything more than a utility infielder goodbye. Cintron can probably get some solace from Easley on that score, since the veteran knows what that's like.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired RHPs Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal from the Diamondbacks for C-B Johnny Estrada; acquired RHP Wes Obermueller from the Brewers for RHP Danny Kolb. [12/7]

Acquired SS-R Edgar Renteria and cash from the Red Sox for 3B-R Andy Marte. [12/8]

Signed C-R Todd Pratt to a one-year contract. [12/9]

Two of these things I like, because they're bound up together in the decision to give most of the catching job to Brian McCann next year. Pratt certainly makes a nifty platoon partner and veteran backstop, and ditching Estrada while he might yet command something in return seems pretty okay by me. Of course, there is the question of whether it really made sense. In exchange for a year of Kevin Millwood, the subsequent rights to him (arbitration, renegotiation, draft picks, etc.), and no longer having the responsibility for paying him, you get one useful season of Estrada, another not so useful season of Estrada, two grab-bag relievers, and cash spent to... well, to not really adequately replace Kevin Millwood. That's the sort of thing that does sort of make you wonder about whether or not there's a master plan, doesn't it? Now, assuming that the Braves don't bring in Dallas Green as a special pitching consultant, I suspect Cormier and Villareal will both be better off in Atlanta than they were in Arizona, so on that level, the Braves will get value for Estrada. But still, this didn't exactly work out all that well. Not when it was all part of getting Mike Hampton, who's entirely on the Braves payroll for the next three years, or, $43 million that basically goes right out the window.

It's that sort of calculus that encourages the Braves to deal for talent at lower than market rates, so that they don't have to spend top dollar on the free agent market. Hence the departure of Rafael Furcal, and double-hence the decision to go out and get Renteria. The deal struck with Boston basically allows the Braves to pay Renteria $5 million per year for the next three, plus let the Red Sox pick up the $3 million tab when the Braves decline to exercise the $11 million option for 2009. Admittedly, that looks pretty smart, right? Nobody was going to get Renteria for $15 million and three years on the free market, right? That's less than half what the Dodgers are paying Furcal for the next three years, after all.

Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. Renteria didn't bounce back from a bad '04 season in Boston, he built on it, getting worse afield and demonstrating that he is not the borderline MVP candidate that the Cardinals relied on for years. Now, maybe returning to the National League and maybe playing in the more relaxed atmosphere in Atlanta will make a difference; it's possible. There is the old rumor that he's a year younger than previously acknowledged (and that the Marlins signed him illegally), so he might not be 30 yet. It's also possible that he's out of his peak seasons, and he's now just really expensive without being that much more useful than an Alex Gonzalez to be named later. I'm not sure I'd take that $15 million risk to find out, and I'm sure I'm not excited about dumping the system's best prospect on Boston for the privilege. There is no area in Renteria's game that he doesn't have to improve in; if he does, it's a feather in Schuerholz's cap, but if it doesn't, it looks like another bit of roster entropy for a team on the way down.

Of course, there is the benefit of catering to veteran selfishness, as the Braves decide to let Chipper Jones play where he wants instead of where might be best for the team, and where happens to be Marte's position, third base. However, not everything is about our more base emotions. Rather than give themselves the satisfaction of cutting Kolb loose, the Braves made the cold choice, sending him back to whence he came. Obermueller's been a longshot all along, and gets sympathy for it, but if anyone thinks he offers the Braves more than Will Cunnane, they're kidding themselves. Still, looking on what Kolb gave the Braves last year, getting Cunnane would be a relative improvement.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired CF-L Juan Pierre from the Marlins for RHPs Sergio Mitre and Ricky Nolasco and LHP Renyel Pinto; designated UT-B Jose Macias for assignment. [12/7]

Acquired 1B-L Aaron Rifkin in the Rule 5 draft, then traded him to the Rockies for a PTBNL. [12/8]

Count me in the ranks of those who have to wonder if Pierre's worth the price paid. Maybe it's just me, but the Cubs didn't pay for the spotty centerfielder whose OBP tumbled to .326 last year, for that much talent given up, they pretty much have to get the guy who had his OBPs above .360 in '03 and '04. Now, Pierre isn't going to do that by drawing more walks; his OBP dropped because his batting average fell, and I suppose if he's going to get back to hitting .300, his OBPs will be back at least into the .350s, which would almost make this all worthwhile. But it's still a heavy price to pay for the organization-wide mistake made with Corey Patterson (Patterson himself included), and it's a risk that has to work, because the Cubs aren't quite so liberally stocked with great arms as they once were. Having failed to sign Rafael Furcal, Jim Hendry's club looks a bit flat- instead of fleet-footed, and Pierre is more likely an adequate solution than one they can win with. If the Cubs are serious about contending, Hendry will have to do something about shortstop, and will have to find a bat for right field to round out the lineup.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Released LHP Randy Keisler; signed 1B/OF-L Jacob Cruz to a minor league contract. [12/7]

Acquired UT-L Tony Womack and cash from the Yankees in exchange for 2B-L Kevin Howard and OF-L Ben Himes; acquired LHP Dave Williams from the Pirates for 1B-L Sean Casey and cash. [12/8]

Signed 1B/3B-R Earl Snyder and INF-B Derek Wathan to minor league contracts. [12/12]

The Reds must have some sort of secret charter, demanding of them a maintenance of some delicately-maintained equilibrium of suckitude, because as overdue as it is to part ways with Casey and keep the four better hitters in the outfield who have had to wait for this day, there's absolutely no virtue in getting Womack. I guess I don't understand the "logic" of making room for Womack on the 40-man roster, but not for a prospect with promise, which Howard clearly is. What does Womack do? Help you win speed events in the Battle of the Network Stars? Get donuts? Get donuts quickly? Make you forget all about the similarly useless Wilton Guerrero? I guess I live under a rock, if I've failed to notice a Guerrero fan club in the Rhineland.

But there is the good news, which is that getting rid of Casey finally makes space for Adam Dunn at first base, and finally gives Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns clean opportunities to play in the outfield corners. It's probably easier for the Reds to find a decent-hitting reserve for first base than a primo fourth outfielder (witness the Snyder signing), but Chris Denorfia isn't too shabby.

Beyond that, they didn't just get rid of Casey, they got something they could use. Although there's the obvious danger that a pitcher as homer-prone as Williams was last year might go Milton on us in Cincinnati's ugly bandbox, he is an underrated and effective starting pitcher, and should be adequate enough as the fourth or fifth man for the Reds' rotation. That may not sound like much, but Casey's one of the most overrated players in the game, and the Reds not only save money, they reap the opportunities afforded to Pena and Kearns.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Acquired C-R Yorvit Torrealba from the Mariners for a PTBNL; designated C-R Miguel Ojeda for assignment. [12/7]

Signed RHP Jose Mesa to a one-year contract for 2006, with a club option for 2007; acquired LHP Ray King from the Cardinals for 2B-B Aaron Miles and OF-L Larry Bigbie; acquired Rule 5 pick 1B-L Aaron Rifkin from the Cubs for a PTBNL; sent RHP Marcos Carvajal to the Mariners as the PTBNL in the Torrealba trade. [12/8]

If anyone thinks that a list of pickups involving King and Mesa in the pen, and Torrealba behind the plate, are ways to improve a real-life baseball team, they're either drinking the Kool-Aid in Denver, or they're not yet to the age of consent. Either way, it's not a point of recommendation for what's been done here. Blame weight or age, but King's not the asset he once was; when Tony LaRussa's done with a situational lefty, you can probably take that to mean that he's wrung the last bit of life out of the guy, like Rick Honeycutt, Tony Fossas, and perhaps Steve Kline. Mesa's just an outright mistake, a reliever whose slender value at the trade deadline was never effectively exploited by Dave Littlefield in Pittsburgh, and who now has even less chance of looking interesting to a needy contender, now that he won't be closing, and will instead have to live the greater frequency of what happens to a mistake pitch in Coors. Somehow, I don't see a guy whose ERA will be in the sixes with only a few Holds to brag about will bring much in trade, let alone do the Rockies any good.

There has to be something nice to say, though, right? I suppose Torrealba might bust out, as far as these things go, but Ojeda could have done that. I guess there's the virtue of getting rid of Miles, but even that doesn't work out all that well, not when it might mean abandoning second base to Omar Quintanilla or, should he not be ready, Luis Gonzalez. Which is to say, they're not really getting better, but at least they're not playing Royce Clayton and Todd Greene. That's improvement, after a fashion.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Re-signed RHP Brian Moehler to a one-year contract; re-signed PH-L Lenny Harris to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; offered arbitration to RHP A.J. Burnett; acquired RHPs Sergio Mitre and Ricky Nolasco and LHP Renyel Pinto from the Cubs in exchange for CF-L Juan Pierre. [12/7]

Selected UT-R Dan Uggla in the Rule 5 draft. [12/8]

Received OF-R Dante Brinkley and RHP Gaby Hernandez from the Mets to complete the Lo Duca trade. [12/9]

Is offering Burnett arbitration after he leaves some form of courage, or just a case of doing the blitheringly obvious? Either way, at least they remembered to get picks for paperwork.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Re-signed OF-L Orlando Palmeiro to a two-year, $1.9 million contract. [12/8]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Re-signed 1B/"3B"&-R Olmedo Saenz to a two-year, $2 million contract. [12/7]

Signed C-R Sandy Alomar Jr. to a one-year contract. [12/10]

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Traded 1B-L Lyle Overbay to the Blue Jays for RHP Dave Bush, OF-L Gabe Gross, and a PTBNL; the PTBNL subsequently became LHP Zach Jackson. [12/8]

Credit the Brewers for adopting the bold public stance when it came to Overbay's value to them for next season, but while I'm a huge fan of this specific Bush, and while I think Gross makes a nice lefty-hitting alternative to the right-handed power that both Corey Hart and Nelson Cruz offer the team in its second-line outfield choices, I don't see either as the key player in the deal. The key to this deal really working is Jackson. Bush may well become a good third starter, after posting a nice 2.6 SNLVAR as a rookie, if something of a homer-prone rookie. But if he doesn't beat out Rick Helling in camp for the last slot in the rotation, the Brewers anticipate that he'll have plenty of value in the pen. Gross might make an outstanding fourth outfielder, and certainly one with more ability to help the club right now than the likes of Dave Krynzel.

It's great for the Brewers' need to continue improving that both he and Bush are major league-ready right now. But nevertheless, it's Jackson who could grow up to be a starter good enough to put at the front of a rotation. An '04 1st rounder out of Texas A&M, Jackson's that rare lefty starter with both low 90s heat and command of his offspeed and breaking stuff. In his first full season as a pro, he dominated the Florida State League, zipped through Double-A, and didn't embarass himself in eight starts at Syracuse. He could use a full season in the upper minors, and since he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man this year, the Brewers can afford him that time. Given that the blush was almost certainly about to come off of Overbay this next year, and that they had Prince Fielder ready to step in, this was an especially tasty move by Doug Melvin and company.

NEW YORK METS
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Signed UT-B Jose Valentin to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/8]

Signed 1B-R Julio Franco to a two-year contract; sent OF-R Dante Brinkley and RHP Gaby Hernandez to the Marlins to complete the Lo Duca trade. [12/9]

Give us your tired, you old, your arthritic, because if you're Latin gone gray, there's a home for you at Casa Omar. Valentin I can understand, because it's a low-stakes deal for a potential utility asset. But what is Franco for, on a team that just got Carlos Delgado? Taking up the long-abandoned Rusty Staub/Ed Kranepool roster slot as a designated pinch-hitter? Did he really just not want to play the field any more? Or is he sick of seeing the Braves come up short, and jumped to the ship that may pass his old team by? At 47, I suppose a guaranteed two-year contract wasn't going to be offered by anybody else, and I can't imagine Franco's worrying about the where as much as he is the outlandishly comfortable terms. I'm happy to see him get the payday, and perplexed as to why Minaya would do it.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Acquired LHP Gio Gonzalez from the White Sox as the PTBNL in the Thome trade; acquired Rule 5 pick RHP Chris Booker from the Tigers for cash. [12/8]

Traded RHP Vicente Padilla to the Rangers for a PTBNL. [12/12]

Gonzalez comes over in addition to lefty Dan Haigwood, neither of whom are inconsequential throw-ins on the Thome deal. Indeed, in a rotation that, with the dumping of Padilla, might have opportunities galore in 2007, getting a pair of power arms makes all sorts of sense. The pair of them may stand behind Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd, Robinson Tejeda and Eude Brito, but not necessarily for very long. Pat Gillick's enthusiastic about both of them, and if this year's veteran rotation core of Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, and Cory Lidle doesn't do the job in '06, the Phillies actually now have the talent to on hand to homegrow a new and improved rotation of their own. As is his wont, Gillick's decisive when he first arrives, and the Phillies certainly needed shaking up. So far, a good winter indeed.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired RHP Jonah Bayliss from the Royals for LHP Mark Redman and a PTBNL. [12/7]

Acquired 1B-L Sean Casey and cash from the Reds for LHP Dave Williams; released 3B-R Ty Wigginton; acquired RHP Chad Blackwell from the Royals, completing the Redman trade; acquired RHP Clayton Hamilton from the Padres as the PTBNL in the Bobby Hill trade; selected RHP Victor Santos in the Rule 5 draft. [12/8]

Signed RHP Roberto Hernandez to a one-year contract. [12/10]

Acquired LHP Damaso Marte from the White Sox for UT-L Rob Mackowiak. [12/13]

Hernandez and Marte make for better bullpen stalwarts than taking another spin with Jose Mesa, but the mistake of having gone out to get Casey makes it plain that this isn't a team taking its rebuilding responsibilities very seriously. At best, Casey's a mediocre first baseman, an expensive one at that. His virtues? He can hit for average, but he's always had questions about his conditioning, he's not an asset afield, he's not patient at the plate, and he doesn't hit for power despite hitting in a very hitter-friendly ballpark. What does he possibly give the Pirates that will make a significant difference on what Craig Wilson can do or what Brad Eldred might do? Nothing worth the $7.5 million the Pirates will have to pay for the privilege, that's for sure. If there's a happy note, it's Littlefield's courage in finally sinking the cost of having mistaken Wigginton for a prospect once upon a time. The Benson trade might be a disaster, but it's yesterday's disaster. If anyone's still mourning that deal, I suspect it's the groundskeepers.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired C-R Doug Mirabelli from the Red Sox for INF-R Mark Loretta; re-signed RHP Trevor Hoffman to a two-year, $13.5 million contract with a vesting option for 2008; acquired RHP Dewon Brazelton from the Devil Rays for 3B-L Sean Burroughs. [12/7]

Selected RHP Seth Etherton in the Rule 5 draft; acquired RHP Steven Andrade from the Devil Rays for cash as a rider on the Burroughs-Brazelton deal. [12/8]

Announced that RHP Chris Oxspring has signed with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese leagues; claimed C-L Pete Laforest off of waivers from the Devil Rays; signed DH-L Jack Cust to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/9]

Re-signed OF-L Dave Roberts to a one-year contract; acquired RHP Kenny Baugh from the Tigers for RHP Ricky Steik. [12/12]

There's a lot here that just doesn't work. Ditch Loretta to add an okay catcher who just turned 35? Hoffman, for that much? What does he cost without a hometown discount? Some unkind suggestions have been attached to Loretta as to why he was so available, but dealing him creates more doubts than it alleviates. Is Mirabelli really an adequate replacement for Ramon Hernandez? Is he really going to be significantly better than either Miguel Olivo or David Ross? I'm even more concerned about the Padres' risky position in the middle infield: if Josh Barfield doesn't win the job, do you really want to go with some combo of Geoff Blum and Bobby Hill covering second? Or is Eric Young going to come back into the infield? This doesn't make for a great interior defense, and the lineup's already going to have to carry what's left of Vinny Castilla.

What I like are the little moves. I'm not a huge Brazelton fan, but I think the combination of getting away from his failures with Tampa Bay, getting into an organization that isn't starting over, and having the opportunity to pitch in Pac Bell are all factors that might get him a career. I can certainly see how it's worth taking that chance while ditching the disappointing Burroughs. I also like the decision to claim Laforest. He may yet turn out to be a useful backup catcher; again, freed from the stigma of trying to make it up with LaMar's Legion of Doom, he could finally stick.

Then there's the minor league journeyman grab bag. Going out of your way for Etherton seems a bit of a stretch, but if he can make it anywhere, it might be in San Diego. I'm more impressed with the decision to nab Andrade, because beyond being one of those veterans you always want to see break through, he could be a major asset as a middle reliever on a club that has its problems in the rotation. A strike-thrower par excellence, he's a great add.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Signed OF-L Mark Sweeney to a two-year, $1.8 million contract. [12/8]

Signed RHP Matt Morris to a three-year, $27 million contract, with a club option for 2009. [12/12]

The Giants seem to make at least one huge mistake every winter, but I don't think anyone realized they'd make a mistake this big. In signing Morris for more than Benson money, they think they're getting a better pitcher than Kris Benson. They're not, but like a lot of people, they hear Morris' name and think of his 2001 or 2002 seasons, and don't look too closely at his more recent performances. In '05, Morris was the fifth-best starter in the Cardinals' rotation, and that wasn't because the front four were Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson, and Greg Maddux in their primes. His Support-Neutral Value Above Replacement wasn't any better than Jason Schmidt's in a year when Schmidt was a major disappointment, and neither pitched as well as Benson. As happy as he may be to pitch in the China Basin ballpark, he's been a pretty crummy starter the last two years, and a huge beneficiary of the sort of run support that only a Cardinals pitcher can enjoy. Now, maybe the Giants with Barry Bonds back can give him runs, but the Giants with Bonds back to being Bonds can do that for anybody, whether he's making $9 million per, or the minimum. If you want to pick a pitching deal from this winter certain to go sour, this one's my easy favorite.

But hey, they did sign one of the best pinch-hitters in the game. That'll make all the difference.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Traded LHP Ray King to the Rockies for 2B-B Aaron Miles and OF-L Larry Bigbie. [12/8]

Signed LHP Ricardo Rincon to a two-year contract. [12/13]

Credit Walt Jocketty for doing something you don't always see him do: making a talent trade that dumps a veteran. While I think any suggestion that Miles can adequately fill Mark Grudzielanek's shoes would be ridiculously overstated, for the moment, he's in a competition with Hector Luna and Deivi Cruz for the keystone job. Don't hold your breath waiting for him to win; I think everyone can expect that another shoe is going to drop. Bigbie's an interesting addition, and there are a number of people in the industry who still think he can turn the corner. If the Cards leave one outfield corner to a competition between Bigbie and John Rodriguez, they may only have to make one medium-range pickup to take care of the holes left by Larry Walker's retirement and Reggie Sanders' free agency. (Matt Lawton would make an especially good pickup.) The real key is getting this sort of relatively cheap depth while letting Jocketty and Tony La Russa do what they really wanted to do, which is upgrade their bullpen. King faltered badly in the second half last season, while Rincon remains an effective situational lefty. While the Cards didn't make a big move, they've added depth and an upgrade, and can ponder the rest as we get deeper into winter.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Acquired 2B-R Alfonso Soriano from the Rangers for OF/1B-L Brad Wilkerson, OF-L Terrmel Sledge, and RHP Armando Galarraga; signed PH-L Rob Fick and LHP Joey Eischen to one-year contracts; signed C-Rs Alberto Castillo, Brandon Harper, Mike DiFelice, and Wiki Gonzalez to one-year contracts. [12/13]

It was so very almost a smart move. Go out and get a top slugger for left field, someone you can put in the heart of the order, give the team what Vinny Castilla could not, and perhaps also take a little bit of heat out of the cliques clash in the clubhouse, basically by siding with the Latins over the Bible-beaters. (Who wouldn't make that choice?) But as is too often the case with Jim Bowden, it's the difference between theory and execution that winds up being a nasty reminder that some people never learn. Bowden hasn't learned from Ruben Sierra, didn't learn anything from going out and getting Dante Bichette, or Castilla, and now, as proof positive that he really just doesn't get park effects, he adds Soriano. Worse yet, he does so by dumping one of his system's better young pitchers, not to mention one of his best hitters. After that, what the heck, why not toss in Sledge?

But don't worry Nats fans, there's more: Soriano has to get his ginormous payday through arbitration. And, to cap it all off, Soriano's been acquired to play left, a position he's said he won't play, and which nobody should pretend he can, not well at any rate. As Derek Jeter demonstrated playfully in warmups, Soriano has the vertical leap of a tree stump, and if the very similar Juan Samuel's conversion to the outfield after being traded to the Mets is any sign of things to come, this has disaster written all over it. Golly, this was clever. And it helped make roster space for Joey Eischen? Just peachy.

That all this comes on top of Jim Bowden's mismanagement in trying to add Chris Booker. It was absolutely a good idea to sign him to a minor league contract, but doing so immediately before the Rule 5 draft, and then losing the flamethrower through it, when he could have kept Booker if he'd only waited an extra couple of days? That's more hamfisted than Porky Pig in a singles bar. At least Fick serves a purpose, giving the club a pinch-hitter with a lot more menace than Carlos Baerga, if only slightly more likely to play a position well. And there's the ingenious plot to corner the market on crummy backup catchers that seems to be in full swing, that'll... well, make whoever might resuscitate Pat Borders think twice.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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