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October 17, 2006
September 29-October 16, 2006
Declined to pick up the 2007 option on LHP J.C. Romero, making him a free agent. [10/6]
Before this season, the Angels had been more than a little haphazard about getting with the situational program and employing lefty specialists with any regularity. To their credit, they seemed to recognize there are better ways to put the last spot in a bullpen to use during a regular season, and that there's no point to employing Mike Gallo or the like as a talon-less tactical catspaw. (Say that five times fast.) But this year was different-this year, the Angels made a point of going out and getting Romero from the Twins just as he started getting too rich for Terry Ryan's blood: $2.2M in '06, with a $2.75M option for '07. On one level, he succeeded as the team's token situational lefty, holding the southpaws he was supposed to ice to .202/.298/.303. Unfortunately, even with that going for him, he really wasn't an asset for the Angels' pen. He seemed to fall out of favor with manager Mike Scioscia before the All-Star break, and his walk rate-already a barely-tenable four unintentionals per nine from 2003-05-spiked to almost five while righthanders clobbered him for power for the third year of the last four, making it look more and more like he's pitched his way down into marginal utility where he was once a pretty rubber-armed and more generally handy lefty. He still boasts a solid groundball tendency, so I wouldn't count him out, certainly not with the right infield, but there was no way picking up his option made sense.
Outrighted C-R Raul Chavez to Norfolk (Triple-A). [10/5]
Claimed SS-B Luis Hernandez off of waivers from the Braves. [10/12]
I like getting Stern well enough, because while his season stats are pretty miserable (.258/.300/.388), keep in mind it was his bounceback year from missing most of his potential playing time in 2005 to being a Red Sox Rule 5 pick out of the Braves' system. Between a slow start and a season-ending hamstring injury, he had a decent enough June/July run. As aspiring fifth outfielder types, you could do worse, but now that he's 27, a bad camp would be enough to get him outrighted to make room for a veteran non-roster invite.
As for the claimed roster jetsam, at 22, Hernandez might be young enough to learn to hit, and his hitting .270/.309/.330 in Double-A isn't terrible, but he's really a defense-minded pickup. I just wouldn't bet on it. As a temporary use of a roster spot, until some better use proposes itself, it's not unreasonably-I just wouldn't go out of my way to keep him on the 40-man. I'd rather take my chances with the Rule 5 draft and minor league free agency to help make sure that Norfolk and Bowie both wind up with enough shortstops, because Hernandez isn't going to provide you with an alternative to Miguel Tejada if you don't get something like Erick Aybar back in the deal.
Signed RHPs Mike Burns and Bryan Corey to one-year minor league contracts, and assigned both to Pawtucket (Triple-A); announced that RHP Kevin Jarvis, C-R Ken Huckaby, 2B/SS-B Alejandro Machado, and 1B-L Carlos Pena have all chosen free agency of Pawsoxery. [10/13]
There are two things worth noting here. First is that Pena's on the loose, and for all of the complaints about his attitude or his strikeouts, the guy did slug better than .470 in the major leagues in both 2004 and 2005, so if you chalk up a 2006 spent in the minors as a lost season, he's worth a flyer. The Devil Rays, the Giants, the Orioles, the Pirates, even the Athletics should all give him some thought. Machado's also worth looking at for teams hunting for smooth-fielding middle infielders with a wee bit of patience and a bat that doesn't get knocked out of their hands (.259/.355/.345 with Pawtucket, and perhaps a little hit-unlucky). Certainly better than digging up D'Angelo Jimenez, but that's my bitterness talking.
Outrighted RHP Agustin Montero to Charlotte (Triple-A). [10/6]
Outrighted OF-R Jason Dubois to Buffalo (Triple-A). [10/11]
Generally speaking, this is all to the good, but I think there's some reasonable concern that Westbrook is slipping, considering he didn't strike out five men per nine in 2006. However, there's the appropriate rejoinder, that Westbrook's more at the mercy of Jhonny Peralta's fielding than anybody else on the staff, because he generates three times as many groundball outs as flyballs. That's a matter that might be resolved if Peralta responds to challenges that he needs to improve, or if the Tribe really does push Peralta across the keystone to second and plug either Hector Luna or Asdrubal Cabrera in at short. It should probably also be pointed out that Westbrook did give the team 20 quality starts (through six innings; three were "blown" after the sixth) in 32 overall. Given that it's a one-year commitment to Westbrook for $5.6 million, that's a reasonable gamble for less than what you'd normally spend on a veteran starter who can give you quality starts 60% of the time on the open market. The man did finish 33rd among all starting pitchers in baseball in Support-Neutral Value Added, so while he's not an ace, he's a more reliable workhorse than Paul Byrd, certainly.
As for picking up Blake's option while declining Boone's and taking Dubois off of the 40-man, they're interrelated. Blake provides a decent bit of insurance for all four corners around the diamond. On the face of things, he provides insurance at third against Andy Marte falling on his face, as well as a prospective platoon mate to Shin-Soo Choo in right field-Blake pasted southpaws at a .272/.366/.561 clip last year. He may also be part of a job-sharing arrangement between catcher and first base, with Victor Martinez playing a goodly amount of first base, Kelly Shoppach getting to be a frequently-used backup backstop, and Blake absorbing a goodly number of starts at first. However, there's also the presence of Ryan Garko to add to that mix, which I why I can't help but wonder that, if Blake can continue to slug .460 or better overall (dicey, given that he's already 33), he probably deserves consideration to compete for playing time over Jason Michaels in left. But even there, Blake might run up against plans to move Kevin Kouzmanoff from third to left-if that takes, Blake could be reduced to just platoon duties with Choo and spot work at first, third, and left. If that happens, however, a lot of things will probably have gone very right for Cleveland, at which point paying a quality reserve $3.75 million isn't really odious. They'd be paying Choo, Kouzmanoff, Garko, and Marte no more than half of that next year. In short, a good talent move, a good insurance move, and a good financial move.
As for Boone, it's a seller's market for third basemen. There's no real pleasure to be taken in being right that his relatively tepid comeback wouldn't bring him all that far back, but I expect he'll be in somebody's camp. He certainly didn't offer the same sort of roster flexibility that Blake does. While Dubois might have been able to hit well enough to earn his keep as a right-handed outfield reserve and sometime DH, he's never been a great outfielder, and hitting .275/.343/.492 in Buffalo is merely solid work, not attention-generating.
Claimed RHP Ken Ray off of waivers from the Braves. [10/12]
Announced that RHP Adam Bernero elected to become a free agent instead of accepting an assignment to Omaha. [10/13]
I suppose Ray makes for a nice token veteran reliever to bring in to a club with no settled spots, and add in that he's made it back from shoulder surgery that cost him nearly three full years, and he's certainly a human interest story more compelling than Jim Morris. An Atlanta native, Ray made the Braves last spring on the strength of a changeup that could fool some of the people some of the time, but as the season progressed, that number of fool-ees dropped, and he was reduced to human interest story as punching bag. Maybe he's supposed to provide veteran leadership, but on the Royals, he joins equally nondescript thirtysomething journeymen like Joe Nelson and Joel Peralta, and it isn't like Todd Wellemeyer or Scott Dohmann are kids any more. Obviously, not all of these guys are all that likely to still be on the 40-man by next April, and you can assemble a big league bullpen out of the strangest assorted parts, but if this doesn't sound like the start of something good to you, it doesn't work so well for me either. I guess Ray's really just an example of Dayton Moore's willingness to bring in former Braves-that didn't work so well for Chuck LaMar when he took over the D-Rays, certainly.
Purchased the contract of INF-R Mark Kiger from Midland (Double-A); released LHP Scott Sauerbeck outright. [10/10]
I sort of tackled the timeless question, "where do Kigers come from?" in the ALCS preview last week, so the questions from here are whether or not Kiger sticks on the 40-man before the winter meetings, whether he ever shows up in the big leagues again, and how soon D'Angelo Jimenez can be converted into an unfortunate memory.
So, for those of you keeping score at home, the Mariners' deal that sent Randy Winn to the Giants was Winn for Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba, and they deal Torrealba to the Rockies for Marcos Carvajal, and then dealt Carvajal to the D-Rays for hulking righthanded reliever Jose De La Cruz, a 6'7" flamethrower who had a pretty decent season in the Cal League. Now, to be fair, there was no way the Mariners could anticipate Winn's post-trade explosion, but then that explosion encouraged Brian Sabean to sign Winn to a still-amazing three-year, $23.25M extension beyond 2006. So, basically, what Bill Bavasi dealt was the rest of Winn's 2005, and the option for 2006. What that brought him was a flyer on Foppert, and subsequently De La Cruz. Foppert reinjured himself, first with blister problems, and then with a leg injury; he didn't pitch past May, and at this point, he has to be considered an example of someone who didn't bounce back from Tommy John surgery. De La Cruz is promising, big (6'7"), and throws into the mid 90s, but if he doesn't go anywhere, he wouldn't be the first big, talented reliever to flame out in A-ball. Still, setting aside the unfortunate mistake with overrating Foppert, De La Cruz isn't a terrible return as these things go, and it isn't like Bavasi made an enormously expensive mistake with Winn.
Signed RHP Jae Seo to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [10/11]
Signed 4C-B Greg Norton to a one-year contract with a club option for 2008. [10/13]
Released 1B-L Kevin Witt; purchased the contract of LHP Jeff Ridgway from Durham (Triple-A). [10/16]
Kudos to the D-Rays for taking care of business early. There's no point in speculating what's going to be on the market this winter until people finish up with their non-tenders, most people probably aren't having substantive discussions about trade possibilities this time of year, so no time like the present to get some of the basic contracts hammered out before you have to start talking in terms of arbitration. Seo's going to be a rotation regular next season, while Norton's sort of a poor man's Casey Blake, an adequate veteran reserve for first and the outfield corners, third base in an emergency, as well as providing some DH work. Certainly, better to have him than invite Travis Lee back ever again, and I doubt Wes Bankston will be ready for the job at first base before the second half, so Norton might end up getting his first real short at playing time since 1999.
Finding fresh meat to feed to the pitcher's abbatoir in Texas is a perpetual task for their front office, so this time of year is pretty handy for the Rangers. Nor would I disparage the possible contributions they could get from Wood or Cruceta in long relief or spot starter roles, similar to what they got out of Rick Bauer. Wood can throw strikes, and he's probably more up for fulfilling the John Wasdin utility pitcher role than Wasdin is any more. Cruceta has more promise, although he also presents a more likely washout, and this is his second organization jump through waivers in two seasons. A lot depends on whether or not you think his improving mastery of a splitter to support his decent velocity could turn him into something useful, or whether his search for a reliable assortment will leave him in the PCL, surredering homers at an unhealthy clip. At Tacoma this year, Cruceta led the PCL in strikeouts with 185 in 160.1 IP, but he also surrendered 25 homers and 73 unintentional walks. He also had to rely on Tacoma's friendly dimensions to post the season he did, getting hammered in the rest of the PCL at a .273/.361/.483 clip. Maybe the Rangers feel they can teach him a third pitch and polish him up as a starter, but it seems more probable that he'll stick in the pen, where he might be useful. It's certainly worth their claiming him to find out, although now that he's out of options, he may just as easily find himself back on waivers at the end of March.
Acquired 2B-R Trevor Lawhorn from the Reds to complete the Scot Schoeneweis deal. [10/13]
Lawhorn's your basic "has all of his limbs" PTBNL-he wasn't on the 40-man, and odds are, he never will be. He'll turn 24 this winter, and he hasn't hit at all as a pro since bopping 21 bombs for East Carolina U. in 2004. That got him drafted in the 9th round by the Reds that year, but that says more about the Reds' drafts than his prospectdom.
Woody's a former college closer picked out of Baylor in 2005, but between his height (under six feet) and his pedestrian fastball, he's not seen as a prospect. However, as the payoff for the club's frustrations with Gil, he's worth a little bit of notice. The Reds pushed him up to the Florida State League for his full-season debut, and while allowing 3.9 runs per nine isn't great for a reliever, he rarely lets anything out of the infield with a solid sinker, posting a 3-1 groundball/flyball ratio and allowing an Isolated Power of .048. After dispensing with the nine intentional walks that manager Donnie Scott ordered him to issue, Woody walked 3.1 per nine against 6.7 Ks, not too shabby. He's still a longshot, but he's another year away from having to worry about adding him to the 40-man, and if he makes the leap to Double-A, he'll definitely make things interesting for more than his Bermanism potential.
As for the decisions to discard Bajenaru and Koplove, both are defensible decisions, since both have struggled in their Snakey incarnations, Bajenaru in his brief, explosive debut, and Koplove in his on-again, off-again usefulness as a situational sidearmer. Both guys may have fallen out of favor here, but both are also worth spring training invites. I'd just rather see Bajenaru in a bigger ballpark than the Snake Pit, while Koplove could be functional staff filler in several team's pens.
Purchased the contract of RHP Manny Acosta from Richmond (Triple-A); outrighted RHP Kevin Barry to Richmond; announced that RHP Ken Ray (Royals) and SS-B Luis Hernandez (Orioles) had both been lost on waiver claims. [10/12]
Generally speaking, nothing too major. Ray might have gotten a lot of work this summer, but he's a fungible retread, Hernandez was a no-hit glove man, and Burrus' prospect status flatlined at Double-A Mississippi after he hit .213/.252/.285-no matter how toolsy your rep, that doesn't fly in anybody's organization. As far as the addition, Acosta throws hard, so he was seen as worth protecting from the Rule 5 draft despite walking more than six hitters for every nine frames between Mississippi and Richmond. He obviously has room to develop something off-speed or with wiggle, though.
Outrighted LHP Les Walrond to Iowa (Triple-A). [10/2]
Activated RHP Grant Balfour from the 60-day DL, and designated him for assignment. [10/3]
Acquired SS-R Jerry Gil from the Diamondbacks for RHP Abe Woody; traded 2B-R Trevor Lawhorn to the Blue Jays to complete to Scot Schoeneweis deal. [10/13]
You might be surprised by this given the guy's track record, but I really like the decision to pick up Gil. Not in a shout-it-to-the-rooftops sort of way, but it's not a bad little snag, and it might even turn out being particularly tasty if the club hadn't already wasn't money and committed roster space to the always-execrable Juan Castro. As a 23-year-old, Gil just had a nice little breakout of sorts at the plate at Double-A, hitting .269/.301/.531 at Tennessee before finishing up the year at Tucson (and struggling). While his 111/18 strikeout/walk ratio in the Southern League is pretty gruesome, keep in mind that Gil's a slick-fielding shortstops with one of the best arms on the planet, and he might eventually be playing in the bandbox the Reds call home. Although the D-backs were getting frustrated that Gil wasn't working on improving his approach to hitting, that power is tantalizing to make him an interesting alternative to the Castros and the Royce Claytons of the world, and make him potentially particularly well-adapted to exploit Cincinnati's reachable fences.
However, there's also a fallback, in that if Gil's inability to master the strikezone as a hitter becomes so debilitating that he can't cut it, even as an infield reserve, there's been talk that he might make a nice conversion project to the mound because of his arm strength. There's no point in speculating how good he might or might not be as a pitcher, other than that he'd have a fastball, he'd be more dangerous than most moundsmen at the plate, and he'd presumably be a pretty nimble-fielder once he adapts to coming off of the mound. As a fall-back, it's far from a sure thing, but it's something to keep in mind. Basically, a nice little pickup for Wayne Krivsky.
Announced the loss of C-B J.D. Closser on waivers to the Brewers. [10/13]
Outrighted OF-R Chris Aguila to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [10/13]
Really, it really only seemed like Jack McKeon saw something in Aguila, and that could have been a trick of the bifocals. No doubt he'll be catering to the needs of whatever folks are jonesing for a Chad Allen Lite experience somewhere in Triple-A.
Another one of Andres Reiner's Venezuelan finds, Estrada's one of the particularly happy developments in the Astros system this year. His plus slider and solidly low-90s heat gave him the weapons with which to mow down 134 hitters in 88.2 innings. He does hang the occasional mistake-ten homers allowed seems proof enough of fallibility-but not very often, as he also generated nearly three times as many grounders as flyouts. There seems every reason to expect that he'll make it to the majors at some point in 2007.
Although I'm hopeful that we'll see both Munson and House in major league camps next spring, and while the Astros really ought to be able to use a catcher who might actually be able to hit major league pitching, the questions about both men's glovework behind the plate are such that it's no big deal that their shots will have to come with a split contract and a spring training NRI. On the year between Double- and Triple-A, House hit .345/.392/.521, with 105 RBI to placate those sorts of people, and 55 extra-base hits to make everyone happy. If your club winds up with Ken Huckaby instead of House, at any level, you'd have reason to be cranky.
I have no idea why the Dodgers would make a point of adding Valdez to the 40-man roster. He's 28, and there's no reason to think that his hitting .365/.434/.472 in his home park is anything more than further proof the wisdom that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. (He hit .238/.302/.295 in the rest of the PCL.) If he's still on the roste by the time the Rule 5 draft rolls around, the Dodgers will be gambling that nobody notices Logan White doesn't dig up a lot of talent, and that's the definition of a bad bet.
Re-signed RHP Chris Spurling to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [10/11]
Claimed C-B J.D. Closser off of waivers from the Rockies. [10/13]
I wouldn't kvetch over-much over the money being spent on Miller-it looks that since it was his call, he'll only cost the team $2.25 million, instead of the $3.75 million he would have cost if they'd picked up his option. He was exactly as productive as we expected-PECOTA forecasted a year hitting .250/.320/.390, and he hit .251/.322/.390. He also did a pretty decent job deterring the running game, throwing out 17 of 53 attempts, and only those 53 in the equivalent of 95 full games. So the Brew Crew saves $1.5 million, and they have an adequate enough placeholder at catcher.
The question that might be a little more interesting is, who will be his backup? Mike Rivera hit a pretty tasty .268/.325/.458 in his couple of months subbing for Miller, but he also saw opponents run wild against him, swiping 39-of-47 bags in 40 Adjusted Games. That's probably the sort of thing that annoys former catcher Ned Yost to no end, however well Rivera hits, and it's a few years before we can start talking about the arrival of the organization's best catching prospect, Angel Salome. So, in the meantime, enter Closser. Yes, he's washed out of Colorado after hitting only a translated .228/.310/.349 over his Rockie career. There are also concerns about his defense after an especially miserable 2005 season, although he made it back up throwing much better this past season. Will getting out of Denver before he's dead do him any good? He'll be 27, and he was once a prospect, and before the season PECOTA saw him as a guy capable of posting a .330 OBP and slugging .400 anywhere. I also like that his top four preseason comparables were all guys you'd like to have, and while that list will change a bit after this past season, picking him up off of waivers certainly made sense.
As for the money saved on Miller, the Brewers immediately flipped around and used it to help compensate Cordero in their picking up his 2007 option for $5.4 million. Of course, they're also goind to see Derrick Turnbow's compensation jump from $1 million to $2.3 million, but at least they might save at least $1.7 million by not getting back on the consistently-disappointing Dan Kolb Fun Ride for the low, low price of $2 million. The question really is whether or not Cordero's worth that chunk of change-his combined total WXRL was "good" enough to rank him 106th among all MLB relievers, and while he had a nice two-month stretch with the Brewers, he as facing major leaguers in Texas too. His track record from the previous two seasons should provide some reassurance, though, and he's certainly a more reliable quantity than Turnbow or Kolb.
On the cheaper side of things, I like the decision to take a chance on Balfour, assuming there's anything left of him; the Reds have already done you the favor of rehabbing him, and he might finally be ready to come back in spring. If he's done, it won't cost Milwaukee much to see that for themselves. I wouldn't bet on his making it back-recovering from having surgery on his elbow, his rotator cuff, and his labrum certainly makes him a longshot. Still, he was really impressive once upon a time, and it's worth picking up the flyer to take a look-see.
Outrighted LHP Mike Johnston to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [10/12]
Purchased the contract of LHP Josh Shortslef from Altoona (Double-A). [10/13]
Hampson is your basic lefty-no real velocity, but he changes speeds and spots the odd inside pitch to keep things interesting. He showed improvement in his second season at Colorado Springs, improving his Runs Allowed per nine from 6.8 to 4.2, but bounced around between the rotation and the pen. He might just be a Beaver to be, but he did limit PCL lefties to a .291 OBP. Basically, he's worth the flyer, if perhaps not the roster spot.
Outrighted LHP Jesus Reina and INF-R Tomas De La Rosa to Fresno (Triple-A). [10/13]
Outrighted RHP Roy Corcoran, OF-L George Lombard, UT-R Melvin Dorta, and 2B-B Henry Mateo to New Orleans (or Columbus, or Triple-A in general); activated OF-R Alex Escobar, LHP Micah Bowie, and RHPs Shawn Hill and John Patterson from the 15-day DL. [10/6]