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January 30, 2007
AL East Catchup
Signed RHP Chad Bradford to a three-year, $10.5 million contract; signed RHP Scott Williamson to a one-year, $900,000 contract. [11/30]
Signed OF-R Jay Payton to a two-year, $9.5 million contract. [12/11]
Re-signed INF-R Chris Gomez to a one-year, $850,000 contract. [12/18]
Agreed to terms with RHP Daniel Cabrera on a one-year, $1.825 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed C/1B-R J.R. House, 1B/OF-R Brandon Sing, 1B/3B-R Mike Cervenak, 1B/3B-B Terry Tiffee, OF-B Ruddy Yan, LHP Chris Waters, and RHPs Cory Doyne, Francis Beltran, Jon Leicester, Jose Acevedo, Steve Green, and Victor Moreno, and to minor league contracts and with spring training NRIs. [1/5]
Mission Accomplished? If the Orioles wanted to prove that they can be a destination for free agents after all, then yes, mission accomplished. Now, if only there was some actual method involved in their selection...
To be fair, the Orioles wanted to address two major problems-their bullpen, and getting better offensive production from the outfield corners and first base. The bullpen expenditures are pretty massive, and the Orioles are about to find out that guaranteed pay doesn't make for guaranteed performance with relief help, especially with guys as reliably unreliable as Williamson or Danys Baez, or remarkably nondescript, like Walker or Williams. After last summer's late-game mayhem, you can forgive them for being a strange blend of punch-drunk and eager, but they're going to be pretty disappointed by what they're going to get for the $43 million or so they've laid out to stock the pen with experienced help.
The suggestion that they've found sufficient offensive help is even more disconcerting. It isn't that the Orioles haven't found potentially adequate regulars, it's that "potentially adequate" is the upside of their moves. Signing Payton and Huff makes me think back on the days when signing Lee Lacy and Fred Lynn was supposed to solve their outfield problems, back in 1985. Even more than Lacy back then, Payton just isn't going to be a good regular in a corner now, as he goes from the insurance policy the A's ended up having to use to someone the O's are paying as if he's always going to hit .298 to compensate for the absence of any real ability to put runs on the board. The nicest thing you can say is that Payton's an insurance policy against Corey Patterson's revisiting the Dusty Zone, but if that happens, it isn't like Payton will be the difference between one rung in the standings and another.
Like Lynn, Huff is an ex-famous person signed after his peak, except unlike Lynn, Huff's peak casts a much shorter shadow. Already 30, Huff's not a great bet to match his career averages of .285/.342/.477, except for perhaps the OBP, and if you're getting .272/.341/.456 (his PECOTA projection) out of your left fielder or first baseman, you'd better be getting a lot of offense from other spots in the lineup. Instead, you'll get guys like Payton or Kevin Millar getting 400 or 500 plate appearances, plus Melvin Mora's continued tumble, plus Miguel Tejada a year older. This isn't a team raging against the dying of the light-there hasn't been an escape from darkness since Pat Gillick left town, and hiring veteran temps en masse at inflated prices is only good news for the veteran temps.
What Reason Why? Even if it removed a notional insurance policy against Adam Loewen having to go back to the minors or Jaret Wright's being Jaret Wright, dealing Rodrigo Lopez made all sorts of sense. The pen's too crowded to have fit in Lopez in the meantime, and if something goes wrong, they'd be better off bringing up Hayden Penn. Plus, they get back a 40-man roster spot, and both Miller and Burch throw hard and might make it up as big league relievers in the not-too-distant future. It was pretty much an ideal bit of dumpery for an organization that needs talent and had little use for Lopez.
Obscure Good Move: If Beltran's elbow is sound after losing most of 2006 to Tommy John surgery, he might be a nice in-season upgrade once the Orioles recognize the limitations of guys like Scott Williamson and Todd Williams. He used to be a flamethrower coming up through the Cubs system, so if he's not one of those unhappy examples of a guy who doesn't bounce back from the ligament transplantation, he could sneak into the picture. House really can't catch all that well, but when the alternative is Bako, he's a worthwhile pickup. If something bad happened to Ramon Hernandez-or something good, like a trade to someplace relevant in the present for blue-chip prospects-House and Bako wouldn't be the worst filler solution behind the plate.
What's Left to Do? Not a lot. Resolve arbitration cases with Erik Bedard and Corey Patterson. That, and prepping themselves for a few rude awakenings, but a few foreheads are no doubt already calloused by past repeated head-slapping over one misfortune or another.
Summary: Total team payroll's going to wind up someplace in the vicinity of the mid-80s in millions of Angelos money. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure if that's the most expensive fourth-place team ever, but for all of the activity, I'm not sure if anybody in the AL East needs to notice or care. The team's raison d'etre should still be about breaking down the veteran components to acquire a better supporting cast for Cabrera, Bedard, Loewen, and presumably Markakis. Spending lots on the dreck assembled won't achieve that, but it might help sell some tickets in the early going.
Signed LHP Hideki Okajima to a two-year contract with a club option for 2009. [11/30]
Announced the retirement of OF-R Gabe Kapler. [12/12]
Signed 2B/SS-R Julio Lugo to a four-year, $36 million contract. [12/13]
Signed RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million contract. [12/14]
Signed RHP Travis Hughes, 1B/C-R Jeff Bailey, C-R Alberto Castillo, 1B-L Luis Jimenez, UT-R Joe McEwing, INF-R Ed Rogers, UT-B Bobby Scales, and OF-L Kerry Robinson to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/20]
Signed RHP Adam Bernero to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/21]
Signed RHP Runelvys Hernandez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/22]
Signed RHP Joel Pineiro to a one-year contract with a mutual option for the 2008. [1/4]
Agreed to terms with RHP Brendan Donnelly on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration; signed C-R Kevin Cash to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/24]
Finally agreed to terms on a five-year, $70 million contract with OF-L J.D. Drew. [1/26]
Mission Accomplished? It took all sorts of dancing around in the ever-sudsier soap opera in the Fens, but the Sox added a premium pitcher in Matsuzaka, a premium outfielder in Drew, and a solid shortstop in Lugo. It didn't come cheaply, but the Sox need to do everything they can to make the most of their window for postseason opportunities with the sainted Papi-Manny-Schilling trinity, and there's a good chance that Drew and Matsuzaka will be important parts of a future contending Sox squad that doesn't depend on that threesome. It's perhaps easy to suggest "hang the expense," but this is why the Sox are doing everything in their power to maximize profits, and credit them for investing in the product. This isn't Tom Yawkey's collection of expensive curiosities; results are expected, instead of suggested over a few drinks.
What Reason Why? The bullpen/rotation double-dare involving Jonathan Papelbon and Pineiro is interesting. If Papelbon pans out as a starter after a year as good as he had in the pen, that's pretty amazing and cool in a Goose Gossage's Spirit of '76 sort of way, but unlike the Goose, he's got a four-pitch assortment that could work-low 90s heat and a lovely splitter, supported by a solid changeup and a for-show curve. If Pineiro can go for the Dennis Eckersley resurrection gig after three grisly seasons in the Mariners' rotation, better still, but if it's more like Neil Allen, and the Sox only get a useful reliever instead of a closer, that's okay. I'm particularly interested in seeing what elements of Pineiro's assortment get kept-will they have him stick with four-seamers and his slider, and ditch the sinker, change, and curve? Or some other combination? Neither is a sure thing, but in each case, I like that everyone involved is invested in the experiment. Papelbon isn't going to have to be the ace, and if Pineiro needs to be eased into the closer's role, there are guys like Mike Timlin around.
Obscure Good Move: Signing Travis Hughes, because he might sneak into the fringes of the big league bullpen picture. And not signing someone like Tony Graffanino or Mark Loretta-second base goes to Dustin Pedroia, and if the kid isn't all right and needs a few weeks in Pawtucket at some point, Alex Cora's a solid alternative. More obscure than necessarily good would be the decision to bring Alex Ochoa back after four years in Japan, but with Gabe the Babe's retirement, perhaps the Red Sox really needed a beefcake injection.
What's Left to Do? There's the much-rumored attempt to get Todd Helton, which creates a subsequent question over what they might get for Mike Lowell or Kevin Youkilis in trade. Finding out for sure that Jon Lester's back will help erase concerns in the rotation, but it seems a safe bet, and obviates any need to go get an extra starter to save them from utilizing any of the ex-Royals AGM Allard Baird seems determined to inflict on the people of Pawtucket.
To some people's thinking, the most pressing issue right now might be finding what sorts of additional relief they might still be able to scare up. I'm not so sure it's that much of a source of concern, though. Okajima should be the primary lefty, and Romero, Craig Breslow, and Javier Lopez make a decent group of candidates to select from for his second. Among the righthanders, beyond the Papelbon/Pineiro scenario, Timlin's in place, and Donnelly's got a similarly solid reputation; Julian Tavarez was last year's mistake, but he might be adequate in a utility role. It would be swell if Manny Delcarmen or Craig Hansen blossomed, of course, but it's early yet.
Summary: Playing in the high-stakes end of the free-agent pool sets a different standard. Although they overpaid for Lugo, market economics didn't really give them a lot of room for creativity, and the Sox tackled difficult negotiations in both the Drew and Matsuzaka situations nicely, even adulterating their initial offer to Drew to protect themselves by securing opt-outs if his bad shoulder forces him to the DL in 2009 or 2010. Rather than whine about what Matt Clement wasn't, they went after Matsuzaka. Rather than wring their hands over whether or not Wily Mo Pena should play everyday after dealing Bronso Arroyo for him, they signed Drew. Milk gets spilt, but however overly lubricated with pathos Red Sox Nation might be, the organization is still aggressively committed to actually winning ballgames.
Signed C-R Raul Chavez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/2]
Selected 1B-R Josh Phelps from the Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft. [12/7]
Non-tendered OF-L Aaron Guiel. [12/12]
Signed LHP Andy Pettitte to a one-year, $16 million contract with a one-year, $16 million player option for 2008. [12/21]
Signed 1B-L Juan Miranda to a four-year, $2.07 million contract. [12/22]
Signed LHP Kei Igawa to a five-year, $20 million contract. [12/27]
Signed LHP Ben Kozlowski to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/3]
Signed 1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [1/5]
Signed INF-R Chris Basak to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/16]
Re-signed INF-B Miguel Cairo to a one-year, $750,000 contract; designated RHP Matt DeSalvo for assignment. [1/26]
Mission Accomplished? After making Gary Sheffield go away, rebuilding the rotation was the priority item. Disenchanted with Randy Johnson, moving him made room for an imported pair of veteran lefties, from Texas and Japan. Igawa looks like a relative bargain, although it did cost the Yankees a posting fee of more than $26 million to lock him up. His track record in Japan suggests he should be a solid third or fourth starter. What's a little more dicey is whether or not they'll get their money's worth from Pettitte. Although he's leaving the difficulties of pitching in Non-Carbonated Fruit Beverage Ballpark behind, moving to the DH league isn't going to help him revert to the 2005 edition of Andy Pettitte. He did shave a run off of his ERA in the second half, and he did log 12 quality starts (two blown) in the 17 he made after July 1, and concommitantly, his strikeout rate went up and his homers-allowed rate went down. So, a tidy collection of factors to make you feel good, assuming you can comfortably ignore 2004 or the first half of 2006, or that he allowed all opposing hitters to slug .472 against outside of Houston last year. This seems more like sixteen million reasons to worry, but between New York taxes and paying for the association Pettitte has had with World Series teams in pinstripes or Houston's latest Crayola variant on red, the Yankees had to offer a premium.
The swag for only one year of Randy Johnson was decent, but hardly earth-shattering. Not that Gonzalez is ever going to move Derek Jeter off of short, but a worthwhile shortstop prospect could come in handy around the end of July, especially negotiating with teams that don't want to have to pay Julio Lugo prices or go get Royce Clayton. Vizcaino isn't cut from the same cloth as Chris Britton and Brian Bruney in the Yankees' stable of solid middle relief help they didn't have to spend top dollar to acquire; a pre-arb settlement boosted his compensation to $3 million. Nevertheless, he's a nice addition. Ohlendorf and Jackson aren't really prospects, but they're solid enough organizational arms.
What Reason Why? Signing Miranda might get some prospect hounds worked up, but the forbidden-fruit aspect of all things Cuban should be seen as understandably rotten after burning so many of those who've taken a bite. (And no, come to think of it, that was not an oblique reference to one of the worst Bakula-free Star Trek episodes of all time, all series.) He's supposed to be good, and he's Cuban. He might be Kendry Morales, and he might be Andy Morales. He might be 23, or he might be 25. He's bigger than a bread box, and smaller than a barn door (at least in two dimensions, and perhaps more). At least the price tag isn't that huge this time around.
The decision to sign Doug Mientkiewicz is sort of like the decision to haul in Travis Lee for 2004: he can play first, which lets them leave Jason Giambi in the DH role. Unfortunately, he's barely an offensive upgrade on the execrable Andy Phillips. There's a distinct difference between having a lineup so strong that your first baseman is its worst hitter, and having a bad-hitting first baseman. Although the Yankees can afford Minky's bat in a way almost no other lineup in baseball could, they would have been better off with Carlos Pena or Hee Seop Choi or one of the other relatively luckless, low-cost lefty-hitting first base types who were on the market this winter.
Obscure Good Move: Picking up Josh Phelps on the off chance that talking to some famous people might convince him to move up on the plate seems like a nifty little shot in the dark. Picking up Kozlowski as an alternative to Jeff Karstens in the fifth slot is a low-risk move that might generate unexpected results, but then so is leaning towards Karstens in the first place. Regardless, it's nice to see the Yankees willing to sweat a few details, instead of having to take it for granted that Dave LaPoint's available, or having to count on Minky having anything left.
What's Left to Do? They could use help at first base, a better utility infielder, and a veteran alternative to Karstens in the fifth slot. Instead, you've got Minky, Cairo, and Carl Pavano. Nostalgia seems to have cut any ice for Bernie Williams, whose Yankee career appears over after all; whether that means they might actually keep Kevin Thompson or Kevin Reese as the fifth outfielder seems a bit unlikely. A worthwhile backup catcher would be a good thing, but they seem content with a ghastly choice between Raul Chavez and Wil Nieves, the sort of roster combat that might be resolved by who makes better cookies or tells funnier jokes.
Summary: Pettitte and Ogawa seem like a solid pair of replacements for a never-present Pavano and one rusty Unit in the rotation. The rest was essentially window dressing.
Claimed LHP Bobby Livingston off of waivers from the Mariners, and traded him to the Phillies for cash (and subsequently saw the whole thing nullified by MLB). [12/12]
Non-tendered OF-R Damon Hollins. [12/13]
Signed 3B-L Akinori Iwamura to a three-year, $7.7 million contract with a one-year, $4.25 million club option for 2010; re-signed RHP Al Reyes to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/15]
Signed RHP Gary Glover and OF-L Jason Grabowski to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/21]
Re-signed RHP Doug Waechter to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/22]
Released RHP Shinji Mori. [1/19]
Signed RHP Scott Dohmann to a one-year contract; re-signed RHP Shinji Mori to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/22]
Mission Accomplished? The big-ticket item for the winter was getting Iwamura, and they got him. We might see him as something like Tampa's take on the White Sox's acquisition of Tadahito Iguchi; while people were getting all worked up over Kaz Matsui because he'd signed with a team from New York City, the Sox grabbed a genuinely good ballplayer to relatively little fanfare. Iwamura arrives Stateside with a solid defensive rep and a track record for offensive reliability. His PECOTA (.271/.354/.450) suggests that he'll be one of the bargains of the winter. There's also the happy possibility that Iwamura might be able to play second instead of third, which could mean all sorts of things as far as the team's flexibility with Jorge Cantu-would he go back to third, play second, or get dealt? Regardless, they should get good value out of Iwamura's bat at whatever position they put him at.
What Reason Why? As far as the Livingston affair, I'm probably as exasperated as the D-Rays are by their not being allowed to exploit their position in waiver claim priority to nab players for somebody else. Given the generally loose enforcement of baseball's rules on Czar Bud's watch, cracking down on the Rays' attempt to monetize an element of their misfortunes seems petty. Given their general neediness, they could have plausibly claimed Livingston for themselves, and they could just as plausibly decided to sell him instead once they had him. Regardless, that should be the Rays' business, and since they had the space on the 40-man, what they did hardly seems especially untoward.
Obscure Good Move: You might kid that almost every move made by the D-Rays might seem obscure, particularly once we get past the Iwamura pickup, but I'm equally impressed by their retaining Al Reyes and nabbing Brendan Harris. Reyes appears to be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery, and should be on fanthead radars considering there's no established closer on this team. I don't expect greatness from Harris, but as a utility infield type with more sock than most of the breed, he should be an upgrade on Tomas Perez. I also like their signing up Choi, because this is the right sort of place for him to actually see if he can get his career back on track or fade into a sabermetrically-lamented obscurity. I've also stopped lighting candles in my hopes for him.
What's Left to Do? I want to believe they did everything humanly possible to avoid winding up with Darin Erstad. Whether it was bribing somebody in NFL Europe to get him to resume his football career, putting him on reality TV, or setting him up with Tawny Kitaen, they didn't sign him. If Joe Maddon didn't stop worrying this particular bone, he needs a facts-of-life conversation about the player Erstad didn't grow up to be, and who has long since been paid for. The Devil Fishies had no need for a piece of that.
Summary: A simple winter, with realizable objectives that were realized. Wags might note that little victories are the only kind the D-Rays win, but they didn't make any expensive mistakes, they added a significant talent in Iwamura, and they've moved beyond guys like Travis Lee. Rome wasn't built in a day.
Signed C-R Jason Phillips to a one-year, $500,000 contract. [12/1]
Signed OF/1B-L Matt Stairs to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/12]
Re-signed INF-R John McDonald to a one-year, $750,000 contract. [12/13]
Agreed to terms with CF-R Vernon Wells on a seven-year, $126 million contract. [12/18]
Agreed to terms with 1B-L Lyle Overbay on a four-year, $24 million contract. [1/15]
Signed C-R Sal Fasano to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/17]
Signed RHP Tomo Ohka to a one-year, $1.5 million contract; outrighted SS-B Ray Olmedo and 2B-R Ryan Roberts to Syracuse. [1/25]
Mission Accomplished? Three issues seemed to be relatively pressing: shoring up the rotation, ending questions over what was going to happen with Vernon Wells, and finding shortstops. In all three matters, J.P. Ricciardi did pretty well. In the rotation, with a front duo of Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, and Gustavo Chacin coming back from health issues, the Jays needed a starting pitcher to help them replace Ted Lilly and thereby take their bid for AL East contention seriously. Enter Ohka, a reasonably-sound starter to join Chacin as a plausible second set. That leaves the fifth slot to the bids of Shaun Marcum, Thomson, Ty Taubenheim, Josh Towers, or whoever else has consecutive good outings in spring training. The gaggle fighting for No. 5 also provide the club with sufficient depth to be able to endure some brief (and perhaps unavoidable) absences from Burnett and Chacin.
The Wells contract is relatively insane, but Nate covered this pretty well in Unfiltered. Last year's breakout was a power spike when you'd expect one, plus a healthy dose of a batting average boost. If the average comes back down into the .270s, and his slugging drops 40-50 points, that's still a very good ballplayer, but is it what you're going to get after 2010, when Wells will be making more than $20 million per year?
Casting a wide net for shortstops, they found a few. Whoever ends up playing, just about every option, perhaps even Royce Clayton, represents an improvement on playing John McDonald every day, and it provides the additional defensive benefit of putting Aaron Hill at second, where he was outstanding last season.
What Reason Why? Wells for big money makes sense, but Overbay? It makes sense according to our own valuation metric, Marginal value Over Replacement Player, or MORP, which suggests that Overbay's potentially worth more than $37 million over the next four years. Nevertheless, it might seem relatively disconcerting, considering that all major league first basemen cranked out a .279 Equivalent Average, and Overbay's .293 doesn't seem that much better, as well as probably representing the upper limits of his ability. In Ricciardi's defense Overbay's been a relatively reliable offensive commodity, and this not only eradicates any arbitration entanglements for the next two years, it bought out the first two years of Overbay's free-agency eligibility. The last year or two of the deal might end up looking bad, if only because his performance will probably slip to the point that it won't be hard to find people who can hit about as well as Overbay for considerably less, but that isn't what Ricciardi is paying for-he's buying relative certainty, and paying a price to escape the risks of playing the first base lotto year-to-year in the hope of getting a good Scott Hatteberg year instead of a bad one. That can be a difficult series of gambles to have to risk; one mistake, and you're left hoping you can find guys like John Gall or Kevin Witt, and that's potentially a lot more expensive, especially for a team harboring visions of grandeur.
Obscure Good Move: Pretty much everything associated with their shortstop picture. Smith doesn't have the glove for everyday play at short. Olmedo does, but his offensive skills aren't sufficiently notable to make for an easy distinction between himself, Clayton, or McDonald. (Or Machado, for that matter.) Assuming Olmedo makes it through waivers this time around, he nevertheless makes a nice dark-horse candidate for the job at short. But more basically, the Jays should have learned they didn't have to sign Clayton to get Clayton-level talent at short, and they don't have to hitch their wagon to McDonald. It should make for an interesting fight in camp.
What's Left to Do? You might wonder whether or not they'll go out and get any token veteran relief help, just so that the overflow from the rotation and perpetual disappointments like Brandon League, Francisco Rosario, and Dustin McGowan have a little more competition for jobs. But the Jays might also understandably prefer guys like those three to just win those jobs, and if you're a thirtysomething journeyman, do you want to wind up as a spring crash test dummy, when there might be better opportunities elsewhere? Finding a decent fifth outfielder would be a good idea, but that's not exactly a major active item, just something that might spare them future trouble.
Summary: Solid execution. They overpaid for Wells, arguably underpaid for Overbay, found an experienced fourth starter with value, and expanded on their options at shortstop.