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November 3, 2006

Transaction Analysis

October 17-November 2, 2006

by Christina Kahrl


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Placed OF-L Curtis Pride on waivers. [10/23]

Pride is one of those guys I keep hoping winds up getting a major league job as a pinch-hitter and fifth outfield type, especially on a team that might have a gaggle of weak-hitting right-handed-batting infielders and catchers. I know, that's basically the Astros, and Orlando Palmeiro is under contract for next season, and now that Pride's about to turn 38, that's asking for him to be Julio Franco without first being an All-Star and generally great player.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Activated LHPs Kirt Birkins and John Parrish and RHP Aaron Rakers from the 60-day DL. [10/31]

BOSTON RED SOX
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Exercised the club option on RHP Tim Wakefield for 2007; re-signed RHP Mike Timlin to a one-year contract. [10/30]

Elevated Allard Baird to Assistant GM. [10/31]

Both Wakefield and Timlin are relatively affordable, as Wakefield is signed to what seems like an endless series of one-year, $4 million options, while the agent-free Timlin banked his being the club's best or second-best reliever in each of the last four years (in WXRL) for a tidy $2.8 million. That's a pay cut from 2006 of $700,000, but he's got more than a half-million in games-pitched incentives and some other odds and ends, so the veteran setup man should be set up pretty nicely for his seventeenth major league season.

As for Baird's quick elevation to one step down the dais from the highest level in the Boston front office, I'd consider that a reflection of Baird's ability as a subordinate, and his value as an evaluator of talent. There are people around the industry who think well of him, and not simply out of sympathy for his years spent in the Glass house. You have to hope he won't encourage signings like Scott Elarton, Mark Grudzielanek, or Doug Mientkiewicz, because however much those kinds of moves might have been a product of circumstance, they hardly reflected any particular genius, either in terms of talent added or money spent.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Exercised their club options on LHP Mark Buehrle, RF-R Jermaine Dye, and 2B-R Tadahito Iguchi for 2007; declined the 2007 club option on RHP Dustin Hermanson. [10/30]

Because of the buyout clauses for the three veterans retained, the costs to the White Sox really break down to placing an $8 million bet that Buehrle will bounce back, while spending less than that to lock in their right fielder and second baseman. Ditching Hermanson and his cranky back puts $3 million back into the coffers, so we're really only looking at a payroll inflation of $600,000 in total, not too shabby. The only element of it that I'd see as risky is Buehrle. His second-half flop was particularly ghastly, as he posted a 6.44 ERA after the All-Star break, logging five quality starts in 14, and three of those against the Royals. Now, maybe it's a matter of his tipping his change-up, and maybe some of it's also his being a less-than-overpowering lefty in a park with a short porch in left field. There's reason for fear, but I guess you can look at this as Kenny Williams' gamble that, if Buehrle is fixable, he can afford to deal Freddy Garcia to add a power bat in left field, and perhaps replace Garcia with Brandon McCarthy. Will it pay off? We can't even really harbor a guess until June 1, but you can admire the willingness to play for high stakes. In a division with four plausible contenders, there's really no other way to operate.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Handed GM Dave Dombrowski a four-year contract extension trhough 2011. [11/2]

Seems like a sensible enough bit of rewarding performance well enough. As for Dombrowski himself, it isn't like he has to worry about being Huizenganated here, barring an ownership resurrection as lamentable as Tom Werner's return to the game. Ticket sales will go up, which on top of the playoff payoff should help the club afford to sign some help to defend their pennant. I wouldn't bet on the Tigers making it back into the postseason, but then the resurrection of the franchise was going to have to be a longer-term project than just the first five years he's put in. If, at the end, we've got a Tiger team with as much staying power as the Lajoie/Sparky teams of the '80s, that's going to be something to brag about that would rank with this year's World Series shot.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Julio DePaula from New Britain (Double-A). [10/18]

Exercised their contract option on RHP Carlos Silva for 2007. [10/31]

Silva's option is "only" for $4 million, but I suppose it depends on whether or not you think he's going to bounce back to adequacy. By SNLVA, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball, but a trio of good September starts did wonders for his season's (generally execrable) final stats, and if he can get back to Bob Tewksbury Lite and be a bit less of a punching bag, he might be worth it. I'm not much of a believer, but we're talking about a fourth starter at best, and a bad an overpriced fifth starter at worst. There's no certainty over Francisco Liriano's near-term future, leaving the club with Johan Santana and the young trio of Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, and Matt Garza. Silva doesn't offer a lot of certainty, but under the circumstances, Ryan's action is understandable. It isn't like Carl Pohlad's going to open up his wallet, so Terry Ryan can't really afford to go shopping as readily as others.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Released 2B-B D'Angelo Jimenez. [10/23]

In any team's history, some names earn a sort of permanent infamy, and in the A's case, I think we can now add Jimenez to that list. I suppose it's a question of matched pairs-Mike Andrews and Manny Trillo, of course, but also Tony Phillips and Donnie Hill, and now Jimenez and perhaps Mark Kiger. As surprising as it was to see Kiger on a postseason roster, he might actually get to stick around. How is that, you might ask.

Consider this-should the new CBA really end up adding a year to how long players won't have to be added to the 40-man roster, then teams will no longer have to worry about adding members of the 2004 Rule 4 amateur draft this winter to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. As a result, fewer people will have to be potentially crowded onto the 40-man, making it easier to keep an organizational soldier like Kiger, however marginal he may be. It certainly makes it easier for teams to reserve a couple of spots on the 40-man for an extended taxi squad of sorts, as they can exercise greater flexibility in cycling through the Kigers, the John Wasdins, and the like to fulfill their in-season bit player needs, while not having to worry about using those slots on players in what might represent a make-or-break year for them as prospects in Double-A. That's potentially (but not necessarily) a good thing for minor league veterans, but it could end up being pretty rough on a lot of Rule 4 picks.

How so? In terms of career arc, you might normally expect a guy to spend part of his first year as a pro in one of the short-season leagues, then two years in the high or low levels of A-ball, at which point you might have to add him to the 40-man without his making it to Double-A. Now, if you get to wait until after that fourth year as a pro before deciding whether or not to add a guy, more of them will have Double-A experience. That's a good thing for the clubs as far as making informed choices about who's on their 40-mans beyond the economic benefit of getting an additional year's worth of control of that player's career. But it also makes it that much less likely that those guys will ever get onto the 40-man, or, for that matter, into the union.

Draftees could still show up ahead of schedule because they ink big-league deals, or out of good old-fashioned merit, but generally speaking, this potential change to the CBA should do some pretty interesting things to roster dynamics. For the teams, the ability to control their minor leaguers an additional year is huge, and would represent a pretty significant gain for the owners, and another giveaway by the MLBPA of rights and benefits of people they don't represent, and don't claim to represent. (Except in 1995, when it suited the MLBPA to claim that they did.)

As far as what this means for the pool of candidates for the Rule 5 draft, it's pretty interesting. Clearly, it's now both less likely that a real prospect will be available, but also more likely that players with upper-level experience will be. That means that instead you'll wind up with a pool of potential Rule 5 picks that are better-prepared to fill bit player roles in the major leagues. They might be guys you normally see as potential depth pickups as minor league free agents.

Whis is to say that there's a lot we don't know, and a lot we can't anticipate too easily in terms of team behavior in these sorts of changing markets. It might mean that in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft, we'll see if clubs are more aggressive in picking up useful bench players instead of shopping for them. We'll also see if this means that teams start giving more thought to how they use the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. What I do know is that it'll be interesting to see how these things play out, and that it might contribute to Mark Kiger's preservation on a big-league roster.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Outrighted RHP Josh Towers and OF-L John-Ford Griffin to Syracuse (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Tracy Thorpe, and assigned him to New Hampshire (Double-A); announced that RHP Pete Walker and 1B/OF-L Kevin Barker declined their outright assignments to Syracuse, and elected for free agency. [10/19]

Signed RHP Jean Machi to a one-year contract. [10/31]

Towers is under contract for $2.9 million for the season to come, so the Jays can at least get by with turning that particular sow's ear into... well, not even a doggie treat, because nobody's going to touch that on waivers, or in the Rule 5 draft. (Griffin, on the other hand, might elicit some interest, although I wouldn't bet on it.) What interesting is that the Jays immediately plugged D-Rays farmhand Machi into the 40-man, signing the minor league free agent to a major league deal. Machi throws hard, and seems to throw heavy-as a Biscuit this past season, he generated more than twice as many groundball outs and flyouts. A short Venezuelan, he's still a work in progress, in that despite already having six years as a pro, he'll only be 24 next season, he's wild (allowing an unintentional walk every other inning), and he lacks a consistent breaking pitch. Still, he's the sort of guy orth taking a look at, especially since he's got a full slate of options for the club to use. Getting picked in the minor league portion of the 2004 Rule 5 draft by the D-Rays out of the Phillies' organization didn't cost him one, so Toronto can take some time to see if it can teach him something offspeed or wiggly, and potentially add a cheap quality reliever to its stable.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Brad Salmon from Louisville (Triple-A). [10/17]

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Declined their contract options on RHPs Mike DeJean and Jose Mesa and LHP Ray King, making all of them free agents. [11/1]

Exercised their contract option on RHP Byung-Hyun Kim for 2007. [11/2]

Kim's option was for only $2.5 million, and while his understandably extreme platoon split (the man is a submariner, after all) makes him an odd choice for a rotation regular, he's not the worst guy to use to fill out a rotation, and there's always the option of bumping him back to the pen if you find a better option for starting. After releasing the other veteran dreck, GM Dan O'Dowd saved himself more than $5 million towards next year's budget, and while much of that will get eaten up by the raises for Kim, Aaron Cook, Jason Jennings, and Brian Fuentes, it leaves the team with better flexibility going into serious shopping season. At this point, any one of the veteran trio should count himself lucky to get something more solid than a split contract and a non-roster invite.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Declined to exercise the club option on 1B-R Jeff Bagwell for 2007. [10/31]

Extended the contract of GM Tim Purpura through 2008. [11/2]

Taken in tandem, this is the sort of combination that makes for good things for the Astros for the next couple of seasons. Purpura has done a pretty good job of handling a mostly-veteran roster and aiding their runs on the NL pennant in recent years, and he's had to do it while working around some pretty major distractions, like Roger Clemens previously-unknown coquettishness, and the massive financial commitments to Craig Biggio and Bagwell. True, buying out Bagwell still costs the club $7 million, but after their setback with their insurance claim on 2006, just getting the other $11 million represents a significant boon. I'm sure the Astros will continue to employ players found on both sorts of B-list, but the Killer B's are a thing of the past, as this marks the final note in the franchise's transition to being the team of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Whether or not this heralds other breaks with the past-they are still stuck with Brad Ausmus for another season, after all-will tell us a lot about whether or not Purpura's going to reshape this team to his design or not in the two years he now has to work with.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Announced that 1B/3B-R Jeff Cirillo, INF-R Tony Graffanino, and RHP Tomo Ohka have elected for free agency. [10/29]

Announced that 3B-R David Bell and RHP Rick Helling have elected for free agency. [10/30]

Activated SS-R J.J. Hardy, 3B-L Corey Koskie, 2B-R Rickie Weeks. and RHP Matt Wise from the 60-day DL. [10/31]

Announced that RHP Dan Kolb has elected for free agency. [11/1]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Signed LHP Jamie Moyer to a two-year, $10.5 million contract extension. [10/23]

It should not surprise anyone that Pat Gillick wanted to keep Moyer around, and part of the way they got the veteran lefty to waive his no-trade clause to cross the country and the leagues was to already create an extension for 2007. This new deal supersedes that one, and the $10.5 million is a guaranteed threshold: A $1 million signing bonus, $6 million for 2007, and $3.5 million for 2008 (at the age of 45); his pay for 2008 could move up an additional million or two if he reaches 170 or 180 innings pitched in '07. So, it's a front-loaded deal for an aging veteran, which seems pretty sensible on the face of it. By current market rates for a mid-rotation innings mucher, Moyer doesn't seem to be making overmuch. He managed quality starts in 17 of his 33, adequate enough, but I guess the question is whether his junk will play as well in Philly as it did in Safeco.

Signing him provides the Phillies with relative certainty in their rotation. It's not an unreasonable risk, but the real question is whether this gives the Phillies a rotation with the sort of talent to get you to 90 wins or not. Beyond Moyer, Jon Lieber's already under contract for 2007, Brett Myers is locked in (although arbitration eligible), and Cole Hamels should be in place for the next five years. If the Phillies are going to contend for the division or the wild card, Myers and Hamels will have to be the stars, because the upside to Lieber and Moyer is that you'll get 60-70 starts of slightly better than league-average pitching. That picture could improve, depending on what Gillick does with his last slot, but I don't think anybody expects the Phillies to hunt any big game among the free agent starting pitchers. Internally, it looks unlikely that the club will turn to Ryan Madson again, and there's a tough decision to make on whether or not to risk offering Randy Wolf arbitration now that he's filed for free agency. Gavin Floyd has work to do, and Scott Mathieson didn't look especially ready in his time in the rotation down the stretch. Don't be surprised when the Phillies go fishing for a low-end free agent or a rehabbing NRI type who'll sign a heavily incentivized deal.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed RHP Scott Strickland to a one-year contract. [10/26]

Exercised their options on CF-R Mike Cameron and 4C-L Russell Branyan for 2007; declined their option on C-R Mike Piazza and DH-L Ryan Klesko. [10/30]

All of this makes sense, although the decision to dump Piazza might surprise some. However, with Josh Bard looking pretty useful as a regular (and likely to get a significant raise in arbitration), and Piazza's weak arm and relative immobility behind the plate, it looks like the aging slugger would be much better off in a league that has a DH, or on a team that can afford him some playing time at first base. I could see him fitting in pretty nicely in Anaheim or Oakland, and Seattle and Boston would certainly make sense as well. Houston would be interesting, but I guess I don't see him being that appealing to most National League ballclubs these days.

What dumping Piazza and Klesko also does for the Pads is net the club a savings of almost $15 million. While they might decide to spend a lot less to bring Klesko back, I wouldn't bother. For their left field needs, they'd be better off looking at Terrmel Sledge if Dave Roberts is definitely skipping town as a free agent, and it's probably best for all concerned to either learn from or forget the mistake of carrying Klesko on the postseason roster. In comparison, getting Cameron at $7 million looks pretty affordable, and potentially employing Branyan as their everyday third baseman for $1.25 million looks like a solid and cheap solution that frees Kevin Towers to have that much more money to play with in a pursuit of Barry Zito, Roberts or some other better alternative to Sledge, and who knows what else. Chan Ho Park will be coming off of the books as well. Jake Peavy is the only player currently already under contract whose remuneration expands significantly in 2007, so Towers should definitely have the freedom to shop pretty aggressively.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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