February 14, 2006
American League, December 15, 2005-February 13, 2006
Released OF-B Jeff DaVanon. [12/15]
Generally, some sensible bookkeeping, with particular credit to be given for the decision to lock up Figgins through 30 and Rivera until after he'll be 29. The "bold" stroke was the decision to dump Finley on the Giants, with money effectively being a wash: each old man costs $7 million to employ, but Finley will cost an extra million to buy out the option for 2007. If there's a score to the deal, it's that million bucks that Bill Stoneman has saved, because both players look finished, and Alfonzo isn't really all that likely to be an improvement on Robb Quinlan at third, let alone Figgins or Dallas McPherson, who are ahead of them both. By far the better product of the move is its more indirect result, which is that moving Finley created an excuse to get Darin Erstad off of first base and into center field, with the ripple effect being that Casey Kotchman may finally get to take over at first base. Over the course of the season, the net gain in runs produced by Kotchman over Finley might mean an extra two wins in the standings, all the more handy when the Angels' margin over Oakland seems to be slipping.
Signed 1B-R Jeff Conine to a one-year contract with a club option for 2007. [1/4]
Claimed LHP Brian Burres off of waivers from the Giants. [1/6]
Designated 1B-L Walter Young for assignment. [1/13]
The big stuff here really boils down to three things: the enduring concern over Oriole DHs and their failure to live up to their job descriptions, the enduring concern over the team's failure to develop a quality center fielder since Steve Finley, and the search for a notional veteran ace to prop up at the front of the rotation. How well did they tackle these three problems?
While I sort of liked the decision to haul in Ramon Hernandez and potentially let Javy Lopez get in a good amount of his at-bats DHing, I have no idea why the Orioles think adding both Conine and Millar helps. You shouldn't want either of them thundering around in the outfield corner that Jay Gibbons isn't already hiding in, and neither offer you enough bat to leave you well set at first or DH. It's the weak sort of DH and first base setup that might encourage me to think that Kieschnick might be on the right team after all, since he'd offer the O's a lefty-hitting alternative to that lot for either job, while also serving as the twelfth pitcher. (Forgive me, I know that I don't get easily disabused of some notions.) I guess the best way to look at it is that both Conine and Millar are the easily beaten-out temps who should eventually lose their playing time to Val Majewski and Nick Markakis.
The Patterson pickup makes all sorts of sense for a non-contender. Sure, that could have been the Cubs, but Dusty's spleen is the volcano to be named later on the Pacific Rim, and while we haven't seen this year's first eruption yet, last season's torrents of Baker bile pretty much drowned any chance that Patterson's career could be resuscitated with his parent club. However, I would not suggest that Patterson's an easy fix. In a general sense, Patterson wasn't rushed in the sense that someone like Jose Guillen or Jon Nunnally was rushed, reaching the majors without real experience above A-ball. The real question is whether Patterson can be fixed, or if his impatience has made him permanently powerless. It's a worthwhile risk to take, especially for a team that only has Luis Matos marking time and not really progressing, but nobody should expect an automatic turnaround. If there was reason to believe that Sam Perlozzo could take a cue from his pitching coach and fix a position player, I'd be much more optimistic.
Which brings me to the last major move, the pickup of Benson. The price was definitely right: Julio's a reliever with command issues who could command eight figures if he was fixed, while being more likely to remain semi-broken, and much as I might like "Remember" Maine, he projects as a guy whose upside is fourth starter, and whose downside is a plaque in the International League Hall of Good Repute. There is also the cost of paying Benson for the next two years, which isn't something most would sniff at ($15.5 million, $22.5 if they pick up his option for 2008). But isn't Benson the sort where you'd like to see what Leo Mazzone will do with him? Admittedly, Rick Peterson's a pitching coach with a tremendous reputation, and he didn't turn Benson into a world-beater with the Mets. But Mazzone's supposed to be the best in the biz, and Benson's elbow troubles seem a thing of the past. I don't think we should hold the money Omar Minaya signed him to or the squalid end to his Pittsburgh career against Benson; Lloyd McClendon's list of stupid things said is pretty long, after all. I'm more optimistic about what the Orioles will get out of Benson than I am with Patterson, and it's probably also worth noting that Benson's cost is probably less than what it would take to get a premium free agent pitcher to come to Baltimore these days.
Signed C-R John Flaherty to a one-year contract. [12/23]
Signed INF-R Tony Graffanino to a one-year contract. [1/11]
Signed RHP Julian Tavarez to a two-year contract with a vesting option for 2008. [1/12]
Signed RHP Guillermo Mota to a one-year contract. [1/17]
Designated RHP Tim Bausher for assignment. [1/18]
There's a lot here I flat-out don't like. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to see Seanez get a big payout, but do you really want to be the team spending more than $2 million to see if Seanez can have three consecutive healthy seasons for the first time since the late '80s? Do you really want to rely on Snow as the big half of a first base platoon at 38?
Basically, we can boil the last two months to activities focused on the bullpen and the margins of the lineup. In the pen, I guess I'm enough of a long-time Strat player to have my reservations over relying on a platoon-poxed pitcher like Tavarez. Yes, he's better than a ROOGY, but do you want to rely on him and the perennial question of when and if Seanez is going to be able to pitch? I'd rather have taken my chances with Mota, but at least they did get Riske in the Crisp deal. Despite declining strikeout rates, he did see his control improve. Still, there's a very good chance that this crew is unstable enough to force the Sox to turn to Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen, and while that isn't a bad thing, it will be if it's as haphazardly managed as last year. I guess I see a bullpen with a lot of question marks despite the expense.
As for the lineup, I can live with A-Gonz as the temp at shortstop, but this is beginning to resemble a filler-driven lineup, where you hope that players like Snow, Gonzalez, and Mike Lowell don't kill you. Crisp was a must-have item and could be an improvement on the Caveman, but he came at a huge price, a franchise-quality hitter in Marte plus a catcher good enough to start on some teams (the Padres, certainly). Happily, Crisp is in the middle of what should be the most valuable portion of his career, and for a team in win-now mode, he's a player who will help you win now. But if this lineup wasn't entirely dependent on Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz ranking among the game's best hitters before, it will be.
Finally, as far as odds and ends, I guess we'll get to see whether Bard gets offered up as the catcher whose defensive stats get sacrificed to the role of designated butterfly net backstop for Tim Wakefield, or whether Flaherty's experience catching knuckleballer Dennis Springer in Tampa wins out. And again, call me more stubborn than a mule, but I like the possibilities of having a utility player who can offer some OBP and speed off of the bench, perhaps spotting for Mark Loretta at second while being a primary outfield reserve, so I like the decision to pick up Willie Harris. The problem, as some Sox fans will be quick to remind me, is that I said the same thing about Cesar Crespo, and however right I like to think the decision was to sign him, he didn't exactly shine.
Signed C-L A.J. Pierzynski to a three-year contract. [12/19]
Traded RHPs Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino and CF-R Chris Young to the Diamondbacks for RHP Javier Vazquez and cash; non-tendered RHPs Jon Adkins and Felix Diaz, UT-L Willie Harris, and OF-L Timo Perez, making them free agents. [12/20]
Agreed to terms on a three-year, $29-million contract with RHP Jon Garland, avoiding arbitration. [12/28]
Agreed to terms with UT-L Rob Mackowiak on a two-year contract with a club option for 2008. [1/4]
Signed RHP Chad Bentz to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/7]
Signed 3B-R Joe Crede to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]
Ouch. How high a price are you willing to pay to upgrade an already good rotation, and minimize the likely come-down of Jon Garland? A pretty high price, apparently, but keep in mind, even if the Indians have lost Kevin Millwood, they've replaced him and Scott Elarton with Jason Johnson and Paul Byrd, which should be a net gain for them. Still, keeping up with the Joneses got dangerously expensive, in that picking up Vazquez costs the Sox $19 million over this year and next plus the best center field prospect in the game. It isn't a deal I would have made, but I'm hopelessly high on Young's talent. Still, Kenny Williams seems determined to win now to build on what's been achieved. If the Sox return to the playoffs again, while the Cubs continue to falter, can the North Side continue to come first in hearts and minds? This is naked ambition, not just to win the AL Central, but to become Chicago's team. I disagree with the risk taken, but admire it nevertheless.
While I'm sure everyone's going to be following what pitching coach Don Cooper does with Vazquez closely, I guess I'm more curious about what the White Sox might get out of Redding. We can all reasonably anticipate that Vazquez will do well: he has talent, and beyond his pinstriped hiccup in '04, I don't think there's that much cause for concern. You might worry about his flyball tendencies in the Cell's tight outfield corners, but his command should keep the number of runs scored on the inevitable big flies down. Redding, by contrast, has talent, but a pretty slim record for success, doing a decent job in 2003 as a rotation regular before washing out of Houston, San Diego, and even Columbus over the last two seasons. Can he be retreaded? There are a few teams and pitching coaches I'd like to take the chance with, and the White Sox with Cooper certainly rates as one of them, especially considering what they were able to get out of Dustin Hermanson and Cliff Politte on the famous side of things, but even someone as marginal as Jon Adkins in 2004.
Signed C-R Tim Laker to a minor league contract. [12/16]
Non-tendered RHP Jose Diaz, making him a free agent. [12/20]
Signed C-R Einar Diaz to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/23]
Signed RHP Jason Johnson to a one-year contract plus a mutual option for 2007. [12/26]
Signed 1B-L Ben Broussard to a one-year contract. [1/24]
Acquired OF-R Jason Michaels from the Phillies for LHP Arthur Rhodes; acquired RHP Guillermo Mota, 3B-R Andy Marte, C-R Kelly Shoppach, cash, and a PTBNL or further cash considerations from the Red Sox for OF-B Coco Crisp, RHP David Riske, and C-B Josh Bard. [1/27]
Wow, that's a deal. No, not getting Michaels for Rhodes, although that's pretty sweet. Getting Marte in the Crisp deal is all sorts of smart. First, while you might be concerned that this leaves the Tribe stuck with Michaels and Casey Blake as their regulars in the outfield corners, keep in mind that Brad Snyder isn't too far off from being ready. So what position or positions did Mark Shapiro have to wonder about, not simply this year, but over the next five years? With quality players and young stars at short, catcher, center field, with Ryan Garko on his way towards replacing Broussard, and with Snyder and perhaps Franklin Gutierrez on the way, if there's a real question, it's about third base, currently manned by an aging and dubiously worthwhile Aaron Boone. Eventually substituting a potential franchise hitter like Marte for a placeholder, and in exchange for an effective-right-now center fielder, was a no-brainer. And despite a winter's worth a frantic rumor-mongering in Beantown, it appears that Marte's elbow is fine, meaning that he'll have a shot at winning the job away from Boone at the get-go, let alone being a key component of a great Indians infield for years to come. This is the sort of move that can make a contender stay that way perennially.
Will Michaels pan out as an everyday left fielder? He's about to turn 30, and he's not really a reliable power source, not after posting ISOs of .141 and .111 in his two seasons as a semi-regular for the Phillies. You can hope that he'll give you some power and continue to reach base well as a sort of poor man's Brian Downing. That's handy when it isn't a key cog in your lineup, and the Tribe has already announced that their plan is to plug Michaels into the second slot, where he'll be handy, if something less than a VORP monster compared to other left fielders.
What about the rest of the Marte-Crisp deal? Replacing Riske with Mota seems reasonably worthwhile, in the sense that if Mota continues to devolve into a fungible Antonio Alfonseca-type, the Indians have young pitching on the rise, and can afford to have discarded either Mota or Riske, especially when it's a matter of getting a talent like Marte. What I'm more impressed with is getting Shoppach as a throw-in. Whether or not the Indians use him, or immediately peddle him around while settling for Diaz or Laker as their backup backstop shouldn't matter too much, not unless there's some sort of concern about Victor Martinez's ability to catch in the years to come. So far as I know, there isn't, so Shoppach makes a nifty in-season bargaining chip. That said, he's a bargaining chip that Shapiro should convert quickly, since he's about to turn 26, meaning his future is now.
Admittedly, Jason Johnson isn't an ace starter, but he's not going to be asked to be. He's instead being charged with replacing Scott Elarton, and on that score, he's projected to be a good win or two more valuable, while also being able to boast taking his turn every fifth game four of the last five years. That makes up what should be some of the margin lost by having to replace Kevin Millwood with Paul Byrd, while also costing the Tribe considerably less.
Signed RHP Matt Mantei to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/10]
There's little to be said about a decision to sign Mantei these days. If he's healthy, he won't be for long, and he might not be particularly effective. Happily, los Tiggers signed him up for the scale to which he should be consigned to, a deal with little or no risk. Beyond basic bookkeeping, the move here to feel good about is taking a look-see at Ludwick, who lost last year to sporadic play, a demotion, and an injury. There's still reason to hope for more power potential from him than your average Dunwoody, and it isn't impossible to see him actually turning in a nice career given a break. New managers take a gander at all sorts, so who knows? Maybe Jim Leyland takes a fancy to Ludwick. Stranger things have happened.
Designated DH-R Ken Harvey for assignment; signed C-L Paul Bako to a one-year, $700,000 contract; signed 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek to a one-year contract; signed RHP Scott Elarton to a two-year, $8 million contract; signed 1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz to a one-year, $1.85 million contract. [12/16]
Acquired RHP Justin Barnes from the Brewers for RHP Chris Demaria. [12/21]
Designated RHPs Kyle Snyder and Devon Lowery for assignment. [1/6]
Outrighted RHP Kyle Snyder to Omaha; outrighted RHP Devon Lowery to Wichita (Double-A). [1/12]
Signed DH-R Ken Harvey to a minor league contract. [1/25]
Signed RHP Bob Keppel and OF-R Chad Allen to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/1]
This winter's "Buddy, can you spare a vowel" shopping extravaganza might be best described as a late-term job-saving operation, as Allard Baird takes a splash in the shallow end of the free agent pool in pursuit of that always-beguiling prospect of a 75-win season. But is that really what you want? I'm not quite sure what Reggie Sanders was thinking in winding up here, other than that it might be easier to let Baird send him to a contender this July or next rather than figure out which one to sign with himself. What Minky's for boggles the mind. Doesn't he do what Matt Stairs is supposed to be for if Justin Huber isn't ready? If Huber isn't ready and Mike Sweeney is hurt, why do you want to showcase a lineup that has Stairs and Minky in it? You've already got Chip Ambres on the bench now that Sanders is starting in one outfield corner. What does Grudz give you, other than a one-year non-answer to the question of whether either Ruben Gotay or Donnie Murphy are going to pan out? I was talking about it with Baseball Encyclopedia front man Gary Gillette a couple of days ago, and his comment was that nothing kills fan interest faster than a going-though-the-motions veteran ballclub. Not that any of us expect Bako or Grudz or Minky to not do their jobs, but it makes for a pretty uninspiring gaggle of veterans.
On the pitching side of the fence, nobody should be sold on the virtues of a rotation that might have to boast Elarton and Joe Mays, even if each has had his moments. Three aspiring fourth starters don't get spot-welded into a single solid #2, even if you make Doc Frankenstein a spot gig as the team trainer. That leaves you with works in progress with Zack Greinke and Runelvys Hernandez, equally plausible #4 or 5s in Mike Wood and Jeremy Affeldt, and an outfit whose best bragging right is that it doesn't have Jose Lima in it. Nobody should suggest that progress may not be linear, even if it's upward, and not when the rest of the division boasts improved rotations.
Signed OF-L Andres Torres to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [12/20]
Signed OF-R Rondell White to a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2007. [12/22]
Signed LHP Dennis Reyes to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/27]
Signed LHP Gabe White to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/4]
Signed LHP Darrell May to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/10]
Agreed to terms with INF-R Nick Punto on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/24]
So, what's the good news? Swapping out Jacque Jones for White? Replacing J.C. Romero with Reyes or White? Having May or around to replace Joe Mays and Terry Mulholland? At best, these moves are token roster manipulations, and the Twins will instead stay focused on the important things, like whether or not Scott Baker or Francisco Liriano are ready for spots in the rotation, and if they've got the gumption to give the shortstop job to Jason Bartlett. Futzing around with reimporting the odd Batista or spending money on Rondell doesn't change the balance of power in the AL Central in the least, while those are the players who, if it is to change, will have to be part of the reason.
Signed LHP Mike Myers to a two-year, $2.4 million contract. [12/15]
Acquired LHP Ron Villone from the Marlins for LHP Ben Julianel. [12/16]
Re-signed RHP Ramiro Mendoza to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [12/19]
Re-signed OF-B Bernie Williams to a one-year contract. [12/22]
Signed CF-L Johnny Damon to a four-year contract. [12/23]
Signed RHP Octavio Dotel to a one-year contract. [12/29]
Signed 2B-B Miguel Cairo to a one-year contract. [1/4]
Signed LHP Al Leiter to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/6]
Signed RHP Aaron Small to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/24]
There's a lot here to count among the things that make you say "huh?" Dotel under contract, sure, but not past the year he's going to spend a large part of on the DL? That isn't what the Cardinals did with Chris Carpenter, the Cubs with Scott Williamson, or the Yankees themselves with Jon Lieber. Why settle for one year in which he'll get to spend a good chunk of the year working out in Tampa? It isn't like he's got that Jeff Nelson cachet for postseason dominance. And does anyone expect situational superfreak Myers, Leiter, or a solid utility pitcher Villone to fix their pitching staff? Admittedly, having both Villone and Aaron Small around to back up a rotation made up of Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, and four question marks makes sense. And Myers might make a nice tag-team partner with Kyle Farnsworth in getting games to Mariano Rivera. But that still involves a lot of faith in Villone and Small in relief roles, even more in the utterly replaceable Tanyon Sturtze, and no clear indication that Joe Torre's going to take a shine to everyone and use them regularly enough to keep everybody sharp, or if, more predictably, he'll forget the last five to seven guys on his roster.
All of which dodges the major question, about whether or not Damon's worth it, which is what you really want to know, right? Now, don't get me wrong, avoiding Bubba Crosby in the limelight is a fine thing indeed. Would you pay $52 million for that? While you and I might like Damon's complete package of skills, there's an awful lot for histrionic Yankees fans to latch on to as far as what he doesn't do. He has power... for a center fielder who hits leadoff. He draws some walks, but not one in ten plate appearances, not lately. He runs well, but not all that often. He isn't among the game's best gloves in center, and his arm should provide Yankees fans with a few too many reminders that this isn't any different from Bernie Williams' limp noodle. If Yankees fans give him a break, forget his Beantown past, and instead think on the similarities that Damon has with his justly beloved predecessor, things might be fine, but a slow start and an increasingly worried media market might go rabid on him in ways that might make him turn to Steve Kemp for advice on hideouts.
Signed DH-R Frank Thomas to a one-year contract; designated C-L John Baker for assignment. [1/25]
There's still some magic for me when it comes to the Big Hurt. Maybe it was my fifteen years in Chicago, when we had the opportunity to compare and contrast the way in which time stood still when Andre Dawson, Sammy Sosa, or Thomas went to the plate. For myself, Thomas was the one to watch, even if each was exciting in his way, in part because you just never knew what might happen. Would he hit a clout of truly historic length? Would he get nothing, and just up the ante with a walk? Would he settle for showing off the sort of batsmanship that huge sluggers generally aren't known for? The thing about Thomas was that while he didn't get the same opportunities that Dawson or Sosa did in showing off his physical talent in the field, you also didn't mistake Thomas for John Kruk. He wasn't just a baseball player, he was an athlete. Now that he's busted up, I guess I like seeing him get a shot at the Jaha job, seeing if he can do what the former Brewers' slugger did for the A's in 1999 if he's up to it, but at the very least, hopefully being ready to give the A's a dangerous bat off of the bench in October. It's going to be weird seeing him in green and gold, but maybe MLB and the Raiders could finally cut the people of Oakland a break and let the guy wear a silver and black A's jersey or something. Bah, skip that, there's no pride to be taken in that. Maybe we can settle for keeping him out of a pair of white shoes; that just wouldn't look right on the big guy.
Assuming that the big man can play, that might push Nick Swisher and Jay Payton into a platoon in left field, with Bobby Kielty shunted all the way back to a fifth outfielder's role. That sounds worse than it might be, practically speaking, since we don't know what to expect from Thomas, and whether or not Milton Bradley might break down in any and every sense of the word. If nothing else, the lineup's pretty on paper, with the depth being the real source of comfort.
Signed LHP Jarrod Washburn to a four-year, $37.5 million contract. [12/19]
Signed UT-R Willie Bloomquist to a two-year contract. [1/17]
Signed RHP Gil Meche to a one-year contract. [1/26]
I guess the jury's in, in case you were wondering whether Bill Bavasi was the guy who nicked just enough credit from his former team's victory in the World Series to get himself a new job, or the guy just spectacularly ill-prepared to deal with that club's failures on his watch. I might have a similar soft spot for Washburn, but at least it isn't in my head, and certainly not the sort of thing you spend this sort of money for when you're talking about a starting pitcher whose rates and peripheral stats are all headed in the wrong direction. Washburn can't even boast a good health record, having missed missed time in each of the last two years. I think we can all recognize that a pitching staff with King Felix, an increasingly decrepit Jamie Moyer, and the infrequently worthwhile Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro begged for improvement, and with Ryan Franklin skipping town, a slot was open. But to spend this sort of money for Washburn is the sort of move that might make people outside of Cincinnati forget Dan O'Brien's decision to give Eric Milton an insane amount of cash, and not just because of the payday. This move could end up being very like the Milton deal, in that after it exasperates everyone in Seattle, it might be the big free agent signing that costs the GM his job.
Designated RHP Joe Borowski for assignment. [12/20]
Signed 3B-R Ty Wigginton to a one-year contract. [1/10]
Signed LHP Casey Fossum to a two-year contract with a club option for 2008. [1/23]
Signed 4C-L Russ Branyan to a minor league contract with a spring NRI. [1/31]
Some of this is definitely to the Rays' credit. Although there's obvious risk with young pitching, I like the chances that Jackson can be turned around and that Tiffany will pan out, and given that the only thing that Tampa has surrendered was one year of Baez (Carter's pretty fungible), those are rolls of the dice worth throwing. I also like the overlapping third base solutions at the club's disposal. Yes, Burroughs may not pan out, but maybe he just needed out of San Diego and the ruts of frustration he seemed mired in there. If he flops, the Rays can turn to either Branyan or Wigginton, or some combination thereof. While I'm not all that wild about Dan Miceli, the money is minor, ranging from a minimum of $1.5 million if they don't pick up the option to $2.75 if they do and he earns all of his escalators. While Miceli's been a bit of a roster hot potato in recent years, as well as being a player with the hubris to go after his manager publicly, there is always the consideration that if a veteran reliever signed to such a small deal pitches well, he might fetch something in barter before the end of July 2006 or 2007. Basically, while there's been some grief given to the new guys for their failure to achieve some masterstroke trade involving Huff, it's important to note that the opportunity to flip him for serious value was already lost, and on Chuck LaMar's watch. I think it's worth waiting to see if someone ends up with a particular need for a lefty bat at either infield or outfield corner or for the DH slot, and see what you can get for Huff then. And since the Rays have already added Branyan, they won't even miss Huff, having someone already well-suited to do all of the things Huff does for the time being.
What won't work? The pity pickup of the Legend of Buffalo Grove, and your Official Postseason Goat for 2005, the lamentable Paul. He might beat out Kevin Cash, but would anyone besides you, me, and their mothers know? I would rather see the Rays take a look at Mike Rose now that the opportunity to see if Pete Laforest can do anything is gone.
Signed 2B/3B-B D'Angelo Jimenez to a minor league contract. [12/16]
Signed RHP Kevin Millwood to a five-year contract. [12/29]
Signed RHP Joaquin Benoit to one-year deal for 2006, avoiding arbitration. [1/12]
Signed C-R Rod Barajas to a one-year contract for 2006, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Aarom Baldiris off of waivers from the Mets. [1/20]
Signed OF-R Kevin Mench on a one-year contract. [2/3]
I guess I'm not quite so certain that the Rangers got anything they really needed out of Eaton-Young deal, and if Eaton's useful, he's also more expensive, and that makes it more difficult for the team to do something when the rotation is already relying on Vicente Padilla to bounce back and adapt to life in the rough environs of Texas. A front three of Millwood, Eaton, and Padilla just doesn't look all that fearsome, not in a division where both the Angels and A's offer much better.
I don't see Otsuka as that valuable, in that his WXRL last season was 1.542, good for 55th in the game, a big comedown after a brilliant "rookie" campaign in 2004 (his WXRL of 5.066 that year was tenth in all of baseball). Maybe there's something to be said for Japanese pitchers losing the 'surprise' effect after the league sees a bit of them. Shingo Takatsu went from valuable to marginal pretty quickly, and guys like Keiichi Yabu didn't even manage that initial bit of bushwhacking. But if Otsuka's just an okay right-handed reliever, then you just added expense in the rotation without getting a guarantee of quality to add an adequate bullpen staffer and a lefty-hitting catcher who's years away from being a 'maybe.' This was simply a bad move, all to acquire a recognizable young veteran for the rotation, and it's going to come up short.
The Millwood deal is interesting in that it carries all sorts of provisions that voids the fifth year after 2009 if he doesn't achieve certain IP thresholds: 540 IP in 2007-09, 360 IP in 2008-09, or 180 IP in 2009. That basically means he can't afford to miss much more than ten starts over that three-year stretch, a nice risk for the ballclub, an important challenge for a pitcher who hasn't made 32 starts in either of the last two seasons. Then there's spreading a quarter of the deal out as a signing bonus that doesn't get paid until 2011-15, and the way the dollar's going, heck, that doesn't seem like you'll be paying anything close to $15 million in 2006 dollars by then anyway. So the expense isn't quite so massive as "$60 million" sounds, not when one year can come off of the books, and not when so much of it is going to be a minor financial handicap more than five years from now.
There are a couple of little moves I do just simply like for their own sake. Nabbing Baldiris on waivers seems like a good risk, since he might pan out as a second baseman, but at the very least might make a good-hitting infield reserve someday. I also like the decision to bring in Jimenez as a bit of insurance in case Ian Kinsler isn't ready this spring. I expect that Kinsler will be, but nothing's wrong with making the kid win the job in camp, and better to do that with a plausible alternative.
Signed C-R Jason Phillips to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/3]
Acquired RHP Brian Wolfe from the Brewers for 3B-L Corey Koskie. [1/6]
Signed RHP James Baldwin to a minor league contract with spring training NRI. [1/24]
Signed C-R Ben Molina to a one-year, $5 million contract, with an option for 2007. [2/6]
Designated LHP Brian Tallet for assignment. [2/8]
With so much of what the Jays have accomplished on the offensive side of the ledger boiling down to reshuffling without improvement (here, I'm thinking of the decisions to pick up Overbay, or sticking with Shea Hillenbrand), I guess I'm glad to see some element of risk being taken. What Toronto has to hope is that if they're going to get any significant lineup advantage over the competition, beyond Vernon Wells they have to hope to get it from Glaus and Molina. Glaus can be the sort of player who can be a five-win hitter in a lineup (by WARP), and Molina's had years where he's been three or four wins better than a replacement-level player. That's exactly what this lineup needs if it's going to get to 90 wins or more, but can Glaus remain healthy and give the Jays that sort of boost? Can Molina? For all of the crowing that the Blue force of the North has got Red Sox Nation and the Pinstriped Menace running scared, it's a wee bit bombastic to think that this team will do anything more than finish in third place, same as last year.
While I wouldn't call myself a huge fan of Molina, beyond the lineup considerations, I do like what this deal does for the Jays right now. First, it makes the decision to put Guillermo Quiroz in Syracuse pretty much automatic. There, he'll get in his first full 100 game season at that level, as well as his first in three years. Having Molina also pushes Gregg Zaun into a reserve role, not a bad thing in itself. But with the decision to pick up Phillips, not only do they have a better third man than Ken Huckaby but it also creates the possibility that, for the right spare part, J.P. Ricciardi could part with Zaun. It would be a risk--as the Dodgers learned, a lot of Jason Phillips is not a good thing--and it would depend on what they were getting, but at least it's now on the table. There's nothing wrong with having Molina and Zaun both, of course.
While the decision to swap Hudson has been portrayed as assuring Aaron Hill's status as the team's second baseman of the immediate future, I wouldn't be so sure about that. First, Hill went in the tank in the second half last year, hitting .221/.291/.308. Few are the prospects so good that you ride that out for long, and there's no guarantee that Hill's that good a prospect. Second, the team has some pretty good alternatives who are close to ready in Ryan Roberts (.272/.379/.479 at Double-A after being promoted from Dunedin). Hill's the better prospect, but a slow start might put the Jays in the position of wondering if they really want John McDonald out there, creating an opportunity for Roberts.