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February 15, 2006

Transaction Analysis

National League, December 15, 2005-February 11, 2006

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Acquired RHPs Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino and CF-R Chris Young from the White Sox for RHP Javier Vazquez and cash. [12/20]

Acquired RHP Miguel Batista and 2B-L Orlando Hudson from the Blue Jays for 3B-R Troy Glaus and SS-R Sergio Santos. [12/27]

Signed OF-R Eric Byrnes to a one-year contract. [12/30]

Signed RHP Brandon Webb to a contract extension through 2009, with an option for 2010; agreed to a one-year deal with RHP Luis Vizcaino. [1/13]

Signed RHPs Brandon Lyon and Claudio Vargas, C-B Johnny Estrada, 2B-L Orlando Hudson, and 2B/SS-B Alex Cintron to one-year contracts. [1/17]

Signed OF-B Jeff DaVanon to a one-year contract with a conditional option for 2007; designated LHP Michael Gosling for assignment. [2/7]

Color me all sorts of shades of impressed with the D'backs' bold winter. New GM Josh Byrnes probably picked up the best center field prospect in baseball in Young, as well as the temp to cover the spot until he's ready in Byrnes, plus a brilliant defender at second base. Cut costs and improve the future? Seems sensible enough, and there's nothing about having Hudson in the lineup and El Duque and Batista in the rotation that precludes mounting a more modest challenge for the weak NL West right now.

It's the little elements of the deal that I like, as well as the flexibility of thought that they represent. Whether Batista sticks in the rotation will depend to a great extent on how well a young pen shapes up, but if he does get plugged in there, the Snakes aren't quite so dependent on the double risks of Russ Ortiz and El Duque collapsing, nor are they forced to open with a rotation that has to have bothBrad Halsey and Claudio Vargas in it. Heck, anything that keeps Kevin Jarvis in Tucson is okay by me. Trading Glaus allows the team to move Chad Tracy back to his best position, third base. Getting Hudson in at second exploits the team's having Craig Counsell ready to move across the keystone and play short every day, producing a solid amount of offense from the middle infield. And while there are reasonable questions about whether or not Byrnes can play center field well enough on an everyday basis, given that he's replacing the disaster that Luis Terrero represented, and that he's only around to hold the job until Young is ready, you've got another nifty short-term solution to one of last year's running sores in the lineup. Center field, shortstop, and catcher were last year's egregiously bad lineup problems, and all three have been upgraded. The Snakes shouldn't be favored, but at least they've retooled, and should be more competitive than last year's wipeout.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired OF-R Matt Diaz from the Royals for RHP Ricardo Rodriguez. [12/19]

Non-tendered RHPs Jim Brower and Wes Obermueller, making them free agents. [12/21]

Signed RHP Chris Reitsma to a one-year contract; signed C-R Eddie Perez and OF-R Brian Jordan to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/3]

Signed RHP Jeff Bennett to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/13]

Signed 2B-R Marcus Giles, LHP Horacio Ramirez, and RHP Oscar Villarreal to one-year contracts, thus avoiding salary arbitration. [1/17]

Signed RHP Jorge Sosa to a one-year contract, avoiding salary arbitration; signed LHP Mike Remlinger to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/23]

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed OF-L Jacque Jones to a three-year, $15 million contract. [12/20]

Signed OF-Rs Marquis Grissom and Michael Restovich, and INF-B Augie Ojeda to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/3]

Acquired 2B-L Nate Spears and LHP Carlos Perez from the Orioles for CF-L Corey Patterson. [1/9]

Signed RHP Wade Miller to a one-year contract. [1/23]

Purchased the contract of OF-R Angel Pagan from the Mets. [1/25]

Signed LHP Will Ohman and CF-L Juan Pierre to one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with each. [2/2]

There isn't much to add to how monumentally dumb the Jones move is, since this is covered in some depth in this year's book and has also been justly criticized by our own Joe Sheehan. If the Cubs show some sense and platoon him with Restovich, that might not just tickle Andy MacPhail's sweet tooth for ex-Twins, but at least give the Cubs functional production out of an outfield corner. Add in what they should get out of Matt Murton, and hope that Pierre hits for a high enough average to post an adequate OBP, and perhaps the outfield won't have to be blamed for why the Cubs fall short this year. There is the danger that the decision to reunite Dusty Baker and Grissom could make this entirely a legacy outfield, made up of ex-Twins for MacPhail, the center fielder Jim Hendry acquired in trade, and one of the manager's fellow former Giants. That sort of "something for everybody" approach might please the management trio, but should be anathema for Cubs fans. I've already touched on my thoughts about the Patterson deal in yesterday's Orioles segment, but the Cubs did get something in their act of ditching him. Spears is somewhat interesting, since he should be 21 and reaching Double-A this season, and having hit .294/.349/.429 in the High-A Carolina League does portend some on-base and power potential. The Cubs being a pitcher-friendly organization, they might be more excited about Perez, but a guy who's going to turn 24 and hasn't yet gotten out of A-ball is just another arm until he gives real reason for anyone to believe otherwise.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Signed UT-R Ryan Freel to a two-year, $3 million contract; signed OF-L Andy Abad and INF-R Aaron Holbert to minor league contracts. [12/19]

Signed LHP Chris Hammond to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2007; non-tendered RHPs Ramon Ortiz and Joe Valentine, making them free agents. [12/20]

Signed C Jason LaRue to a two-year contract; signed RHP Jimmy Journell, LHPs Ben Kozlowski and Tommy Phelps, OF-Ls Andy Abad and Jacob Cruz, 2B-R Aaron Herr, 1B/ 3B-R Earl Snyder, UT-B Derek Wathan and OF-L Dewayne Wise to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/21]

Re-signed INF-R Rich Aurilia to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2007. [1/8]

Signed RHP Grant Balfour to a one-year contract; designated RHP Josh Hancock for assignment; signed INF-R Frank Menechino to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/12]

Signed OF-R Austin Kearns on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]

Signed RHP Aaron Harang to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]

Signed RHP Rick White to a one-year contract. [1/31]

Designated RHP Bubba Nelson for assignment. [2/1]

Outrighted RHP Bubba Nelson to Louisville with a spring training NRI. [2/3]

Named Wayne Krivsky general manager. [2/8]

Claimed LHP Mike Gosling off of waivers from the Diamondbacks; designated RHP Luke Hudson for assignment. [2/10]

The real news here is the decision to hire Krivsky once the new owner took over and decided to reward Dan O'Brien with his freedom. Krivsky does come over from his Assistant GM job in Minnesota with a good reputation on the player development and scouting side of operations, although it's also worth noting he was not singularly credited for being the brains of the operation, just one of among a number of good baseball men on Terry Ryan's staff. Krivsky also comes in with considerable experience handling contract negotiations and arbitration cases. Also, while there's speculation as to what Krivsky might have gotten done in the last two years had he gotten the job the last time around, when he was in the running before O'Brien was tabbed, we can just as easily wonder what would have happened if the job had gone to then-Astros Assistant GM Tim Purpura. In the end, Krivsky's a cipher, one with a good reputation out of a well-operated franchise with a productive farm system, but at least one with a knowledge of the details of the job, and one free of any of the taint that came with O'Brien. (Rumor has it that one of the criteria of that round of hiring involved a Pete Rose question; as an Ohio native and Big Red Machine fanboy, O'Brien apparently aced that one to Carl Lindner's satisfaction.)

Krivsky's inheriting a pretty strange 40-man roster, as highlighted by the decision to sign Balfour to a major league contract. Although Balfour himself isn't a bad pickup, he will be recovering from having his elbow and shoulder repaired, and is far more likely to open the year on the 60-day DL. That's fine, since that would open 40-man roster space to purchase the contract of one of the NRIs. The problem is that Balfour isn't the only dead or redundant spot on the 40-man. What 40-man roster needs both William Bergolla and Ray Olmedo? If you designate Dane Sardinha for assignment, the odds that you'll miss him if somebody claimed him off of waivers are beyond minute. And Tony Womack? These obviously aren't Krivksy's error's of judgement, but it does put him on the spot this spring, as the Reds should be aggressive in claiming players on waivers, or making small deals for players before their parent clubs have to risk waivers, especially in March as teams start making the tougher cut-downs.

Finally, I guess we can note that Balfour's an appropriate addition to a pen that's relying on aging retreads like White, Hammond, and Kent Mercker. Since the Reds also have Brian Shackelford in camp, just claimed Gosling, and have to find a role for Jung Bong, it also looks like Krivsky has plenty of lefty relief help, and might be in a position to make a trade from that surplus before Opening Day.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Outrighted C-R Miguel Ojeda to Colorado Springs. [12/16]

Signed RHP Bret Prinz and LHP Steve Colyer to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/19]

Signed LHP Brian Fuentes to a two-year contract; non-tendered RHP Jose Acevedo and OF-R Ryan Spilborghs, making them free agents. [12/20]

Signed RHP Jose Acevedo and OF Ryan Spilborghs to minor league contracts. [12/21]

Re-signed RHP Byung-Hyun Kim to a one-year contract; acquired SS-R Josh Wilson from the Marlins for a PTBNL. [1/6]

Signed OF/1B-R Eli Marrero to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/9]

Signed RHP Aaron Cook to a two-year contract through 2007 with an option for 2008. [1/13]

Signed RHP Zach Day to a one-year contract. [1/17]

Signed RHP Keiichi Yabu, LHP Tom Martin, and 1B-L Carlos Rivera to minor league contracts with spring NRIs. [1/18]

Released RHP Ryan Speier, then signed him to a minor league contract. [2/9]

Purchased INF-R Jamey Carroll from the Nationals. [2/10]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Claimed C-L John Baker off of waivers from the Athletics. [12/15]

Signed RHPs Ryan Rupe and Buddy Carlyle, OF-L Matt Cepicky, 2B-B Mickey Lopez, and UT-R Mike Kinkade to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/15]

Acquired LHP Ben Julianel from the Yankees for LHP Ron Villone. [12/16]

Sold the rights of 1B/3B-R Joe Dillon to the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Leagues. [12/20]

Signed RHP Joe Borowski to a one-year contract; signed 2B-R Pokey Reese to a one-year contract. [12/29]

Signed C-R Miguel Olivo and 1B/3B-R Wes Helms to one-year contracts. [12/30]

Designated C-L John Baker and SS-R Josh Wilson for assignment; signed RHP Kerry Ligtenberg to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/3]

Traded SS-R Josh Wilson to the Rockies for a PTBNL. [1/6]

Agreed to terms with LHP Dontrelle Willis on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]

Enough attention's been given to the school of guppies already picked up in trade this winter, and I think it's best to leave it to the question of whether more than one of the ten pitchers or so they picked up in trade this winter will amount to a major league pitcher. Generally speaking, I'm not as impressed by the gaggle gotten as some, but with pitchers, youneverknow. Now, instead, I'd like to take a page from history, dial up the wayback machine, and think on Year One of the Teal Empire. When the Fish were first started up, some were impressed with the ease with which they assembled an adequate pitching staff. Some of that was park effects, to be sure, but some of it was appreciating that guys like Luis Aquino or Ryan Bowen were more than good enough in a pinch. This year's lineup seems likely to fall short of even squid scrap status, especially if you're in danger of having Pokey Reese or Dan Uggla at second, Helms at third, and guys like Chris Aguila or Reggie Abercrombie in the outfield. don't get me wrong, I think a club can get by just fine with Reese or Helms or Miguel Olivo behind the plate. By themselves, one guy doesn't kill you. But in combination, it's going to be a godawful defense, and as long as we're in doubt as to whether or not Joe Girardi might be more like Joe Torre and watch games from the bench, or take his cue from earlier managers in his career, like Don Zimmer or Don Baylor, and try to win games with tactical chicanery, I'm belaboring the obvious in noting that the Marlins will field a lousy lineup. Can it be worse than lousy, bordering on historically awful? In a 162 game season, the all-time low for single-season runs scored are the 1969 Padres, who scored 468 runs in 1969. The Pads also hold the second-worst slot with 486 runs scored in 1971. (Many thanks to Caleb Peiffer for digging that up for me.) I have to think that scoring less than three runs per game would be impossible these days, even in the DH-less league, and even in a good pitching environment, but I guess it's telling that I even wondered about it in the context of this team.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Signed RHPs Dave Borkowski and Steve Sparks, INF-R Danny Klassen, 1B/3B-L Eric Munson, and 1B/3B-R Kevin Orie to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/22]

Signed OF-R Preston Wilson to a one-year contract. [1/3]

Signed LHP Trever Miller to a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2007. [1/9]

Signed RHP Joe Valentine to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/11]

Signed RHPs Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler to one-year contracts. [1/17]

Signed 3B-R Morgan Ensberg to a one-year, $3.8 million contract. [2/3]

Give credit where credit's due, both to the agents of Wilson and Munson. Wilson's going back to a happily snug hitter's environment, where he'll manage to refresh his reputation as a slugger after having to spend almost half of a season outside of Coors Field. And Munson's in a great place to challenge for a playing time, what with Jeff Bagwell's bum wing and Mike Lamb's general lack of offensive virtue. Admittedly, he's still looking at a bench role at best, since Wilson's arrival gives the 'Stros a pair of starting corner outfielders that can push Lance Berkman to first in an everyday role. The question is whether it adds up to a good offense, and there, I have my doubts. As for the decision to sign Miller, it's sensible enough in that it ends the charade of pretending that in Mike Gallo, Houston has its LOOGY need fulfilled.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed INF-R Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year, $6 million contract. [12/19]

Signed CF-L Kenny Lofton to a one-year contract; signed 3B-R Chris Truby to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/20]

Signed LHP Kelly Wunsch to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/21]

Signed RHP Brett Tomko to a two-year contract. [12/22]

Acquired RHP Jae Seo and LHP Tim Hamulack from the Mets for RHPs Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll. [1/4]

Acquired RHPs Danys Baez and Lance Carter from the Devil Rays in exchange for RHP Edwin Jackson and LHP Chuck Tiffany; signed RHP Aaron Sele to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; designated RHP Joel Hanrahan for assignment. [1/14]

Signed INF-R Ramon Martinez and RHP Kurt Ainsworth to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/31]

Maybe it's just me, but I think a team that goes as decisively old as the Dodgers have this winter is asking for trouble. Maybe Nomar can play first well enough, but will he hit well enough to make it worth it to L.A. to have him there, even if healthy? There's a good chance that we'll never see the guy who slugged .500 when fully functional ever again. As for the outfield, even with the decision to sign Lofton, they've fallen short of pushing Jose Cruz Jr. to the bench, which leaves them short a corner outfielder, while still having considerable depth in the infield while Hee Seop Choi, Olmedo Saenz, Willy Aybar and eventually Cesar Izturis are all hanging around. An obvious solution suggests itself, but the Dodgers also don't have a full rotation just yet, not when they're counting on Odalis Perez to be healthy and dominant, or Brett Tomko in any capacity. Not that having Scott Erickson around last season was much of a master stroke, but when the options to the front five in the rotation after Tomko, Perez, Seo, Brad Penny, and Derek Lowe are Sele and D.J. Houlton, that's isn't exactly a particularly intimidating set of starters.

If there's one area to give new GM Ned Colletti credit, it's in his aggressive assembly of arms for the pen. While getting a year of Baez was expensive, Lance Carter isn't chopped liver, and I do like the chances that Hamulack might actually become pretty useful in a LOOGY role. Given that the team also had a couple of homegrown assets to turn to, one real point of improvement on last year is that this should not be a pen that has to have both Eric Gagne healthy and Yhency Brazoban ironed out to work with. If both Gagne and Brazoban are in operating condition, however, that would definitely make this a tough pen to beat, perhaps even one that Grady Little could use to advantage.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Signed LHP Justin Thompson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/20]

Acquired RHP Chris Demaria from the Royals for RHP Justin Barnes. [12/21]

Signed RHP Danny Kolb to a one-year, $2 million contract. [1/3]

Acquired 3B-L Corey Koskie from the Blue Jays for RHP Brian Wolfe. [1/6]

Designated 4C-L Russ Branyan for assignment. [1/9]

Signed RHPMatt Wise on a two-year, $1.7 million contract. [1/12]

Announced that 4C-L Russ Branyan cleared waivers and was released. [1/17]

Signed OF-R Brady Clark to a two-year, $7 million contract. [2/8]

Corey Koskie is two and a half years older than Branyan. Which one hit .280/.405/.538 against RHPs? Not Koskie; he gave the Jays a merely adequate .265/.365/.437 clip. But Koskie's the much better defender, right? Not exactly, not when Branyan's finished slightly better than Koskie two of the last three years at third in Zone Rating, Range Factor, and Clay Davenport's Fielding Rate. Career, Koskie's well ahead, but at 33, Koskie may not have a whole lot of career left, while Branyan might. When a team already has Bill Hall around, I guess I'm left wondering why the Brewers are supposed to have come out "ahead" because they're "only" paying Koskie $4.25 million of what he's owed over the next two years. That's still probably close to $3 million more than they might have had to pay Branyan for a part-time role sharing third with Hall for the next year or two while waiting for Ryan Braun to develop, for no apparent offensive gain, and little prospect of a real defensive pickup. Maybe I'm being hard on a team I expect to contend in short order, but my scorecard has the Brewers down, and to no obvious point. Counting on Koskie is like counting on Clark: it's going to end up being hard to live with once the stakes get higher while adequate filler players like this get older and ineffective as well as bleeding the bottom line.

NEW YORK METS
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Released LHP Kazuhisa Ishii; signed LHPs Darren Oliver and Pedro Feliciano, and RHP Jose Parra to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/19]

Non-tendered RHP Tyler Yates and OF-B Wayne Lydon, making them free agents. [12/20]

Signed OF-L Endy Chavez to a one-year contract. [12/23]

Signed RHP Chad Bradford to a one-year contract. [12/28]

Acquired RHPs Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll from the Dodgers in exchange for RHP Jae Seo and LHP Tim Hamulack; signed 2B-R Bret Boone to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/4]

Designated OF-R Angel Pagan for assignment; signed Japanese free agent RHP Yusaku Iriki to a one-year contract. [1/18]

Acquired RHPs Jorge Julio and John Maine from the Orioles for RHP Kris Benson. [1/21]

Sold OF-R Angel Pagan to the Cubs. [1/25]

Omar Minaya might have had another fine winter when it came to playing for high stakes, but it looks like he's screwed up some of the little stuff again. Dumping Benson, and more importantly, Benson's expense, might make sense, but it might have encouraged the team to hold onto Seo instead of dealing him for a bit of waiver bait like Sanchez and a possibly adequate sidearmer like Schmoll. Yes, I know that the deal should mean that Aaron Heilman is going to move back into the rotation, which I'd qualify as a very good thing, but there's still the matter of why anyone should be counting on Victor Zambrano at this point, and I wouldn't invest a whole lot of hope in Yusaku Iriki this early on. Perhaps Maine can help with that, but there's still the matter of how much hope is being invested in Sanchez to be something more than an innings eater, as well as the now-standard bit of wishcasting that Julio is another pitcher that Rick Peterson will fix. If Julio and Sanchez both falter, what happens then? Does Heilman go back to the pen, and will the pitching staff then start faltering by the slow bleeding caused by too little excellence and too few alternatives? It's bad enough that they have to go through the rigamarole of a fight between Boone and Kazuo Matsui at second base, but hopefully Anderson Hernandez or Jeff Keppinger will impress Willie Randolph early enough to prevent the Mets from really hurting themselves.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Outrighted RHP Aquilino Lopez to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; re-signed LHP Aaron Fultz to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. [12/16]

Acquired RHP Ricardo Rodriguez from Texas as the PTBNL to complete the Vicente Padilla trade. [12/19]

Non-tendered OF-L Endy Chavez, allowing him to become a free agent. [12/21]

Signed RHP Ryan Franklin to a one-year contract. [1/5]

Claimed OF-L Josh Kroeger off of waivers from Arizona. [1/6]

Signed RHP Brett Myers to a one-year contract. [1/12]

Signed OF-R Jason Michaels to a one-year contract. [1/16]

Acquired LHP Arthur Rhodes from the Indians for OF-R Jason Michaels. [1/27]

Signed INF-R Alex Gonzalez to a one-year contract. [2/8]

I can't say I'm particularly impressed by this latest gaggle of Gillick decisions. The formerly better Alex Gonzalez is a utility infielder at best, and it makes the decision to spend real money on Tomas Perez stranger still. What does Gonzalez do that you couldn't reasonably expect from Perez or even Matt Kata? There's also no explanation as to what Rhodes is supposed to give this team that it wasn't already getting from Rheal Cormier and Fultz. And why ditch Michaels on a team that might now have to rely on Shane Victorino as its fourth outfielder? Not that I don't like Victorino or mind the decision to move Michaels, but making the move just to acquire Rhodes gave the Phillies a pitcher they didn't need while seriously hurting their depth.

The move that seems to have elicited the most criticism is the one I'm most ambivalent about, picking up Franklin. Perhaps obviously, it's a case of Gillick signing up one of his former players (just as inking A-Gonz was). I'm not convinced that Cory Lidle can make it through the year, and do you really want to be in a situation where you have to have Gavin Floyd put on the spot after last year's disaster? And if, for the sake of argument, Floyd looks great and wins a job in camp, would it be so terrible to have Ryan Madson back in the pen, at least until one of Floyd, Lidle, or Franklin falters? Maybe it's maddening to ponder that Franklin's not really better than a lot of guys in Triple-A, and the Phillies could have better spent the $2.6 million. But in terms of the market, if third starters are making Benson money ($7 million), what did you expect a veteran fifth starter to get? Yes, Phillies fans and the budget will be punished by Gillick's act of loyalty, but it isn't a crippling mistake, just one of a more mundane variety.

There is one move I genuinely like, which was nabbing Kroeger on waivers. Maybe I just haven't worked up proper enthusiasm for Michael Bourn just yet, but Kroeger's young enough and promising enough to be the best outfield prospect in the system. Yes, damning with faint praise, but Gillick recognized that he had play on his 40-man, and took advantage of the D'backs taking a risk with theirs.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed RHP Roberto Hernandez to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. [12/15]

Signed RHP Giovanni Carrara to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/28]

Signed UT-R Mike Edwards and SS-R Gookie Dawkins to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/29]

Signed 3B-R Joe Randa to a one-year contract. [12/31]

Signed OF-L Jeromy Burnitz to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2007; designated INF-R J.J. Furmaniak for assignment. [1/4]

Outrighted INF-R J.J. Furmaniak to Indianapolis, but invited him to spring training; signed OF/1B-R Craig Wilson and LHP Oliver Perez to one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]

Signed RHP Kip Wells to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]

Signed RHPs Terry Adams and Jorge Vasquez to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/18]

If there's a team I'm disappointed with this winter, it's Pittsburgh. Attendance is going down, and what does the team do? Pick up veteran rentals with no chance to elevate this team to 75 wins? Randa? Burnitz? Casey? What does that sort of lineup do? Cash checks? Lose games by just a little bit? Keep fan favorites like Craig Wilson, a genuinely worthwhile ballplayer in the first place, on the bench? Sure, replacing the likes of Jose Mesa with Hernandez is an upgrade, but when you've dialed down your self image to something along the lines of "we're a lot like the Royals, but in a prettier ballpark," you've lost your way. How long can you inspire season ticket holders with visions of name ballplayers you sign up hoping to move one or two of them in deadline deals that you don't always pull off? "Who's that at third base, Dad?" "If we're lucky, two PTBNLs and a game-worn Randa jersey, son. Kinda gets your heart to racin', don' it?"

I'm well down the road towards believing that Dave Littlefield's falling into the same credibility sinkhole that devoured Cam Bonifay after a promising start, and if the farm system is at least starting to produce a few noteworthy talents, it is those ballplayers, Jason Bay, and the Wilsons that the team should be trying to get people worked up about, not firing up a debate on whether or not Casey will make people forget Jason Thompson. I'm guessing no, but that's because Thompson did have a nifty 1982 season.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed RHP Doug Brocail to a one-year, $1 million contract. [12/15]

Signed INF-B Mark Bellhorn and RHP Brian Sikorski to one-year contracts. [12/21]

Signed C-R Todd Greene to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/31]

Acquired 1B-L Adrian Gonzalez, OF-L Terrmel Sledge, and RHP Chris Young from the Rangers in exchange for RHPs Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka, and C-L Billy Killian. [1/4]

Signed RHPs Andy Ashby and Eric Junge, LHP Alan Embree, INF-R Manny Alexander, 3B-R Justin Leone, and OF-L Eric Valent to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/12]

Claimed 1B-L Walter Young off of waivers from the Orioles. [1/19]

Signed C-R Mike Piazza to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2007. [1/31]

Designated LHP Rusty Tucker for assignment; released C-R Todd Greene. [2/3]

Some of what the Pads do grabs you on the spot as sensible on one or two levels, the sorts of moves that help them win now while handicapping their future. On that score, I particularly liked the trade with the Rangers. First, there's the challenge portion of the trade, in that the Pads are sort of daring the Rangers to see if Young does as well as Eaton in the immediate future. On that score, it's a reasonable bet: Young outpitched Eaton last year (posting a WARP of 4.3 to Eaton's 3.1, a SNLVAR of 3.6 to 2.3, and a VORP of 24.1 to 8.0. It's hard to believe Texas sees this as a real upgrade, but there you have it. PECOTA forecasts Young to be about as valuable as Eaton for the next three years, with WARPs of 3.4, 2.1, and 2.1 to Eaton's spread of 3.1, 2.3, and 2.2. As if that wasn't benefit enough, it's also a deal that saves San Diego money, because while Eaton has arbitration eligibility generating pay hikes for him both this year and next, the Rangers had locked Young up through 2008 for a fraction of what Eaton will make in 2006 alone ($4.65 million). So, as weird as it might seem to be trying to contend with a rotation featuring a couple of ex-Rangers starters (let's not forget Chan Ho Park), the Pads seem to have actually helped themselves through the exchange.

Then there's getting Gonzalez in the deal as well. While you might think Gonzalez as blocked in San Diego behind Ryan Klesko as he was in Texas behind Mark Teixeira, Klesko is no Teixeira, and the Padres can't really afford to wait out Klesko's cold spells the way they have in the past. Also consider that Gonzalez is the most likely beneficiary of almost any injury to a player in one of the lineup's power slots. If left fielder Dave Roberts breaks down, Klesko can go back out to the outfield; enter Gonzalez. If Mike Cameron or Brian Giles get hurt, it's the same story: Roberts can move over to center or right, Klesko can move out to left, and enter Gonzalez.

This sort of flexibility might suck if you're Paul McAnulty and you don't want to spend the summer in Portland, and it might reduce Sledge to a Mark Sweeney-style key pinch-hitting role if he can handle that, but it's the advantage of having some flexibility with your position regulars, something that should create opportunities for Gonzalez if he earns them, and even if Klesko doesn't falter. After this year, Klesko's certain to be bought out, which creates a possible fight for the job at first between Gonzalez and McAnulty in 2007, which isn't a bad thing to have on your hands. Getting Gonzalez on top of the benefits that swapping out Eaton for Young certainly makes it significantly easier to live with losing Otsuka, but relievers are relatively replaceable, and the Pads have interesting guys like Brian Sikorski (back from Japan himself) and Steve Andrade to look at.

Although the decision to sign Piazza might make you wonder what Kevin Towers is thinking about his decision to trade away Mark Loretta if Doug Mirabelli isn't the answer behind the plate, Piazza's availability this late in the winter signing season was a contingency the GM could not have reasonably anticipated. Nor could he have expected to get Piazza for less than $3 million (he'll get $2.75 million if he reaches his playing time incentives). Piazza seems happy in that he'll have a lot of discretion in when he can play (and perhaps a sympathetic manager in former catcher Bruce Bochy), and the plan seems to be that Piazza might only start ~100 games. That creates a larger-than-normal role for Mirabelli, so even if Piazza can catch that much, there's nothing wrong with being covered if the games the fading star can't catch. It does create the question of whether or not Bochy might carry a third catcher at the back of the roster, but that's for Dave Ross to lose sleep wondering about.

Then there's the second base situation. Signing Bellhorn on the reasonable chance he isn't finished is a sensible no-risk move. He'll be thrown into the hopper alongside Bobby Hill and Geoff Blum in the search for a veteran temp to man second in case Josh Barfield isn't ready yet, but each can fulfill other roles as well, with Blum and Bellhorn both having enough experience at third and short to make useful reserves, and possibly spot starters against the league's tougher right-handers for the slowing bat of Vinny Castilla. I guess the most I can say on behalf of Hill is that the former Cubs prospect might still have use as a pinch-hitter after doing reasonably well in that job with the Pirates in 2004, but I don't really consider him much of a challenger as much as an insurance policy in case the other options fail.

Finally, don't get worked up about the club adding Walter Young, potentially creating a trio of unrelated Young men on the roster. Where Eric and Chris are locks, Walter seems likely to be the one Young outrighted to make room for an NRI who has a good camp.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Acquired OF-L Steve Finley from the Angels in exchange for 3B-R Edgardo Alfonzo. [12/21]

Signed INF-B Jose Vizcaino to a one-year contract. [12/23]

Designated LHP Brian Burres for assignment. [1/3]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Signed RHP Braden Looper to a three-year, $13.5 million contract. [12/15]

Signed RHP Sidney Ponson to a one-year contract; signed 1B/OF-L Brian Daubach and RHP John Riedling to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/21]

Signed 2B-R Junior Spivey to a one-year contract; signed OF-R Juan Encarnacion to a three-year contract. [12/23]

Signed RHP Jeff Nelson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/16]

Signed RHP Jason Marquis on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]

If you missed Will Leitch's column on St. Louis, you missed something, because there is a problem here, and it ain't just in Houston. Braden Looper, Juan Encarnacion, Junior Spivey, and Sidney Ponson have all been disappointments. Not just prospects down on their luck, peddling a story of a close relative with lumbago to catch a break from an easy mark, but guys who have made a bunch of money and come up well short of living up to expectations despite all sorts of opportunities. These aren't the guys that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan have retreaded, these are the guys they usually get to beat because they're on the Cubs or clogging up the Reds roster or something. I don't mind the idea of trying to get by with Ponson if you hope he might get his act together and pitch well for you in case Anthony Reyes isn't ready or if somebody's going into the Cal Eldred broken-down failed former prospect slot in the pen. But I also remember LaRussa and Duncan hoping the same thing about Eric Show once upon a time. Encarnacion could be adequate, but I don't really see him being a good replacement for Reggie Sanders, let alone Larry Walker, and I guess I'm prone to remembering LaRussa's "village idiot" showdown with Ruben Sierra when I ponder Encarnacion's proclivity for hacktasms at the plate and the occassional on-field Merkle. Spivey isn't the worst possible replacement for Grudzielanek at second, certainly, but if anyone's expecting him to be something more than a fill-in who can hurt the occasional lefty and play an adequate second, they're going to be disappointed. Is this really the sort of supporting cast you wanted to surround your core of Edmonds-Pujols-Rolen with? As much ground as I expect a Clemens-less Astros team to lose, I'm not sure if the Cardinals aren't going to fall even further, creating all sorts of hope in Wrigleyville and Milwaukee.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Signed LHP Mike Stanton to a one-year contract. [12/24]

Signed RHPs Tony Armas Jr. and Ramon Ortiz to one-year contracts. [12/29]

Signed INF-R Jamey Carroll to a one-year contract. [1/4]

Signed RHP Luis Ayala to a two-year contract; signed OF-L Michael Tucker to a one-year contract. [1/9]

Signed C-L Brian Schneider to a four-year contract and 1B-L Nick Johnson to a one-year contract. [1/17]

Signed C-R Wiki Gonzalez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/24]

Signed 1B-L Daryle Ward and LHP Valerio De Los Santos to a minor league contracts with spring NRIs. [1/27]

Agreed to terms with RHP Felix Rodriguez on a one-year contract; signed SS-R Royce Clayton and OF-L George Lombard to minor league contracts with spring NRIs; outrighted RHP Francis Beltran to New Orleans. [2/2]

Signed RHP Steve Watkins and LHP Micah Bowie to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs; signed LHP Oscar Alvarez and RHP Billy Sylvester to minor league contracts. [2/3]

Signed RHPs Andrew Good and Anastacio Martinez and OF-L Mike Vento to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs; signed RHP Justin Echols and RHP David Gil to minor league contracts. [2/6]

Signed 1B/C-R Matt LeCroy to a one-year contract; designated RHP Darrell Rasner for assignment. [2/8]

Signed LHPs Mike Bacsik and Jim Crowell with spring training NRIs; signed 3B-R Brandon Larson to a minor league contract. [2/9]

Sold INF-R Jamey Carroll to the Rockies. [2/11]

It's a little hard to know what to make of the Nats' moves. Should we really expect them to get by with Armas and Ortiz in the fourth and fifth slots of the rotation, and/or fighting with the equally unintimidating Ryan Drese for time on the mound? Yes, Ortiz will be better in RFK than he was in Cincinnati, but everybody should pitch much better in Washington than in a bandbox. An NRI like Kyle Denney might expect as much, while making no great difference in terms of the Nats' shot at contending, which should already be seen as something of a dead letter. Heck, I expect Rodriguez will do a wonderful job of resuscitating his career with the decision to come to the Nats, and whether that makes him a deadline deal reliever or gifts him with a more lucrative free agency next winter, it's a good move for all concerned.

As far as depth, things are a little more interesting. I definitely like the decision to ink LeCroy to be Brian Schneider's lefty-mashing caddy, and he can also fill in at first base for Nick Johnson now and again. I guess I'm a little curious about the offense/defense balance, since LeCroy can't stop the running game any better than to shout out "Stop! Or I'll say 'stop' again!" In a good pitcher's park, should you worry more or less about that? I suppose it depends on who's on the mound, but late in games, when that extra base might make all the difference, you're usually catching relievers, who might be worse than your average starting pitcher when holding runners. I guess we shouldn't expect LeCroy behind the plate late in a game all that often in the first place, but I wonder about the tactical balances to be struck. Happily, if it's a matter of trying to squeeze out another at-bat from him against a lefty, you could always settle for a double-switch that puts LeCroy on first if Johnson isn't due up for a while. Should make for some fun boxscoring and pondering at the ballpark, if nothing else.

What might not make quite so much sense is the team's mass acquisition of other backup catchers. There's no real gain to trying to corner the market on aspiring third catchers, so I'm not quite sure why the Nats had to have Gonzalez, Brandon Harper, and Alberto Castillo, not to mention sometime-catcher Robert Fick. And all Michael Tucker does is give Frank Robinson a slightly less terrible alternative to Ryan Church than Brandon Watson, this on a team that's also still taking Tyrell Godwin seriously enough to have him on the 40-man, and still playing make-believe about Alfonso Soriano in the outfield. There are a lot of Bowden's standard last-chancers, guys like Larson, Ward, Lombard, or Bowie, not great ideas or bad in themselves as much as symptomatic of the combination of Bowden's predilections and a cupboard left bare by Omar Minaya.

I suppose Nats fans might take solace that the decision to sign Clayton gives the team a challenger to Cristian Guzman's dual role of starting shortstop and worst regular, with the hope that if Clayton wins, at least he might provide solid glovework. There's still the matter of the expense of having Guzman around, but another season like last year, and I don't think the Nats could pay a Korean League team to take Jim Bowden's big mistake off of their hands.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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