January 31, 2007
NL East Catchup
Signed RHP Tanyon Sturtze to one-year deal. [12/3]
Signed INF-R Chris Woodward to a one-year, $850,000 contract. [12/20]
Agreed to terms with RHP Rafael Soriano on a one-year, $1.2 million contract. [1/16]
Mission Accomplished? The goal was to build a better bullpen after last summer's problems, and make a clean break with the past policy of scaring up relief help from other people's discards. The Mariners' deal should turn out quite nicely, in that the Braves got a power reliever with mid-90s heat and a nasty slider for Ramirez, who may or may not ever pan out as anything. Against that we have to balance the risk built into the Pirates trade. Gonzalez hasn't thrown more than 64 innings since 2002, and we don't know if his elbow will hold up in a role somewhere between top lefty setup man and co-closer with Bob Wickman. Wickman wasn't all that great last year, posting a WXRL of .779 on the season. Best case, the Braves have a quality relief trio, but it isn't difficult to envision one or both of Gonzalez and Wickman breaking down.
Another risk is in assuming that they're fine at first base with Scott Thorman stepping into LaRoche's shoes, and the generally popular supposition that LaRoche's 2006 was a bit of a fluke. I'm given to being more charitable about LaRoche's season, while Thorman has 199 unintentional walks in 2658 minor-league plate appearances. However, to Thorman's credit, he's shown a solid ability to improve after a rough initial introduction to a new level. In 2003, he slugged a paltry .391 in his first year in the Florida State League, then improved that to .461 in 2004. That got him a promotion to Double-A that season, where he struggled again, slugging just .406. Returning to the Southern League in 2005, he slugged .506, which got him up to Richmond, where he again dropped, this time to .438. Repeating the level, that bounced up to .508, which got him some time in the bigs, where he slugged .438. It isn't unreasonable of the Braves to think that maybe they've got something here. It also isn't unreasonable of them to sign Craig Wilson, just in case Thorman isn't the answer; they could also use Wilson in the outfield, except that the Braves already have Matt Diaz on the bench, beyond the whole Langerhans/Johnson issue (more on that in a second).
To sum up the Braves' moves, you might take Gonzalez, Soriano and Lillibridge for LaRoche, Ramirez and Romak, but it depends more on Lillibridge's upside than the value added to the club's pen. That's a critical consideration, especially for an organization that has Edgar Renteria at shortstop and under contract through 2008 (with a club option for 2009). Maybe Yunel Escobar pans out, but his .264/.361/.346 season at Double-A was merely good, not a guarantee of future greatness. Lillibridge is a good shortstop with speed, power and patience, and might be able to clamber past Escobar, or join him in the Braves' middle infield of the future.
What Reason Why? Moving Kelly Johnson to second base seems like a clever enough tactic. He's a former third baseman, and if he can handle the move back in from the outfield and it doesn't affect his hitting, the Braves might end up with an offensive asset at the keystone. The question is whether it was really necessary, because if you want to choose between Willy Aybar at second or Ryan Langerhans in left field in your lineup, taking defense into consideration, it's not exactly clear that Langerhans is the right choice. Consider the weighted mean PECOTA projections for Johnson, Aybar, and Langerans:
Player AVG /OBP /SLG /EqA Age Johnson .291/.374/.495/.293 25 Aybar .270/.345/.425/.262 24 Langerhans .266/.363/.451/.276 27
Nobody's old, and nobody's terrible, so there isn't anything to rail about. PECOTA really doesn't like Aybar, while seeming a bit optimistic about Langerhans (whose career major-league SLG is .399). Even so, without taking defense into consideration, it already gets pretty close. Aybar has shown solid patience and power throughout his minor-league career, and makes a much better second baseman than hot-corner defender. There's certainly the opportunity to fall back to Aybar-at-second/Johnson-in-left if Johnson's conversion to second base doesn't work.
Obscure Good Move: None. We can't really say that signing Wilson was obscure; it's double insurance for the left-field and first-base situations, and it wasn't so long ago that a lot of us were campaigning for his liberation from Pittsburgh. Signing Sturtze doesn't have a lot of upside, and he probably won't be in The Show before May, at which point he might be blocking someone better, like Phil Stockman.
What's Left to Do? They could probably find a better veteran insurance policy for the rotation, and by that I mean something better than sending out a search party for Travis Smith. Right now, the Braves are counting on Tim Hudson boucing back, on Mike Hampton being healthy and effective, and on Kyle Davies rounding back into form. Behind them, you've got Oscar Villarreal and Lance Cormier as immediate filler options, and Anthony Lerew being groomed for better things. It's not a bad collection of options, but there isn't a lot of win-now breakout potential; instead it's more a matter of "if these guys don't get hurt and don't suck, everything else might be enough." Also, a better alternative to Brayan Pena than Corky Miller for backing up Brian McCann should still be on the shopping list.
Summary: There's promise, but also plenty of risk. It makes for perhaps one of the most interesting camps going into spring training. Credit John Schuerholz for making some interesting and unpredictable choices in trying to propel the Braves back to the top of the division.
Signed 3B-R Aaron Boone to a one-year contract. [12/29]
Signed OF-R Chad Hermansen to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/5]
Signed RHP Felix Rodriguez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/12]
Agreed to terms with LHP Dontrelle Willis on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]
Agreed to terms with C-R Miguel Olivo on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]
Signed 1B/3B/OF-R Joe Dillon, 1B/OF-R John Gall, UT-B Zach Sorensen, INF-R Jason Wood, 1B/3B-R Scott Seabol, OF-L Alex Sanchez, C-Rs Chris Ashby, Paul Hoover, and Nick Trzesniak, RHPs Roy Corcoran, Nate Field, Lee Gardner, Mike Koplove, Wes Obermueller, Eddy Rodriguez, and Jimmy Serrano, and LHP Chris George to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/4]
Mission Accomplished? The Fish didn't have a master plan this winter, but they also didn't need one. When almost everyone on the 40-man roster is under control and short of service time, you can afford to let the flames on your own hot stove burn out.
What Reason Why? The Fish have had some reasonable luck with veteran infield reserves, as they've gotten good work out of Damion Easley and Wes Helms. Aaron Boone will bring that to an end; he was terrible at third for the Indians last year, which doesn't suggest a future in utility work, and his bat seems even more lifeless than his leather. If his contract wasn't guaranteed, he wouldn't be a great bet to beat out guys like Dillon, Wood or Seabol.
Obscure Good Move: If Rany's our resident hopelessly optimistic goofball on all knuckleballers, I'm probably our equally-daffy fan of everyone who throws side-arm or lower. Knowing that, you probably won't be surprised that I like seeing Mike Koplove in Miami. I'm an optimist; put the guy in a better ballpark than the former BOB, and the penalties that go with seeing lefties get a little less nasty for the prospective righty situational specialist. That said, it also isn't something to bank on. We all have our blind spots.
What's Left to Do? Nothing new. They still need a center fielder, and they still have Reggie Abercrombie, Eric Reed and the power of prayer to choose from. (With his capacity for mischief on the bases and in the field, Alex Sanchez makes for a horrifying alternative; better that GM Larry Beinfest stay on his kneeler.) They still have to hope that Jeremy Hermida bounces back from an ugly season. They still have a huge menu of choices to make from among their many ready or nearly-ready arms for the bullpen, with the only real wild card being whether they tab Ricky Nolasco for closing duties instead of the fifth starter's job.
Summary: If you're a Marlins fan who spent the last four months at the beach, you invested your time wisely. There's nothing here you didn't already know and/or wonder about on October 1.
Re-signed LHP Tom Glavine to a one-year, $7.5 million contract with a vesting $9 million player option (or a $3 million buyout) for 2008. [12/1]
Re-signed RHP Guillermo Mota to a two-year, $5 million contract. [12/7]
Signed UT-L David Newhan to a one-year, $575,000 contract. [1/5]
Re-signed C-R Mike DiFelice to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/9]
Agreed to terms with RHP Duaner Sanchez on a one-year, $850,000 contract. [1/11]
Signed LHP Scott Schoeneweis to a three-year, $10.8 million contract; signed RHP Jorge Sosa to a one-year, $1.25 million contract; agreed to terms with OF-L Endy Chavez and C-R Ramon Castro on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Signed RHP Aaron Sele to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/25]
Designated RHP Jason Standridge for assignment. [1/27]
Mission Accomplished? General Manager Omar Minaya was busy early, so it wasn't that frenetic for the Metsies these last six or seven weeks. Tom Glavine is in place, as is El Duque, and after that, the rotation becomes an open-mike night. With so many plausible swing guys and sometime starters and Williams-like head-scratchers, this is the sort of collection of pitching talent someone like Casey Stengel might relish playing mix-and-match with. Willie Randolph probably isn't the new Casey Stengel, so I think it's more likely we'll see a lot of riding the hot hand, and jerking people in and out of the rotation in the hope that something gels.
What Reason Why? That's a lot of money for a guy like Schoeneweis, but considering the Orioles gave Jamie Walker $12 million over three years, it isn't just what the market will bear, it's a market loaded with GM-eating bears intimidating GMs into big-money offers. Newhan might seem like a solid National League player, a contact hitter with modest power who can play five or six positions. Unfortunately, he's had his problems coming off of the bench, and the guy is already 33.
Obscure Good Move: Primal screams from Royals fans helped elevate the Burgos deal out of obscurity, but let's be frank: Burgos is still more promise than results. Still, not a lot in this category. Perhaps signing Ambres, but that's because this is a team counting on a healthy Moises Alou, on Endy Chavez to play like every year is 2006, and for Shawn Green to give them a solid season.
What's Left to Do? A right-handed starter who can deliver 200 innings would really come in handy. I understand that Tom Seaver is tanned and rested. A utility infielder who can play short and step into the second base job if Jose Valentin falters would come in handy, but the Mets think they have that in Damion Easley.
Summary: If the sabermetric canard that managers don't matter is true, Willie Randolph has nothing to worry about. A rotation will sort itself out, or not, and he won't have been able to have witnessed it without the players. On a more realistic level, Randolph and Rick Peterson will have their hands full trying to pick a rotation in only seven weeks of spring action, and there's sorting out what's going to happen in right field to boot.
Signed RHP Adam Eaton to a three-year, $24.51 million contract. [11/30]
Bought LHP Bobby Livingston from the Devil Rays (only to see the deal nullified by MLB on 12/14). [12/12]
Signed OF-R Jayson Werth to a one-year, $850,000 contract. [12/19]
Claimed RHP Anderson Garcia off of waivers from the Orioles. [1/5]
Claimed PH-L Greg Dobbs off of waivers from the Mariners. [1/16]
Signed 2B-L Chase Utley to a seven-year, $85 million contract extension. [1/21]
Signed RHP Antonio Alfonseca to a one-year contract. [1/23]
Signed OF-L Karim Garcia to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/26]
Mission Accomplished? Adding starting pitching? Check. Lurching around from bright ideas to desperation-driven experiments in the rotation was a major factor in the Phillies' playoff bid coming up short. Not all of that was management's fault; Brett Myers' problems last summer simply underscored how poorly-staffed they were. Overall, the Phillies got just 68 quality starts last season, 75 if you count the ones blown after the sixth inning. Adding Chief Garcia and Eaton gives them six relatively solid starting pitchers, shores up the pen by putting Ryan Madson there once and for all, and gives GM Pat Gillick the ability to make a deal for a hitter to help round out his outfield. Dealing Jon Lieber to wind up with Eaton as the fourth starter and Jamie Moyer as the fifth should leave the Phillies with the best rotation in the division.
What Reason Why? Signing Barajas might seem like an expensive mistake, especially since they already have Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste. However, Coste isn't much of a catcher, and if Ruiz flops, where would that leave the Phillies? The money isn't really that major by contemporary standards, and Barajas is coming to a park that, like Texas, should play to his one strength as a hitter.
Obscure Good Move: Adding Jayson Werth seems like an interesting enough risk, giving the Phillies a nice tandem of outfield reserves between Werth and Shane Victorino. PECOTA is willing to believe that Werth could even provide the club with a fix for their right-field needs, projecting him to hit .268/.358/.469 with a .284 Equivalent Average. He'll have to show that he can stay healthy first, of course; if anyone's going to get the black spot from Will Carroll, it might be Werth. Dealing Conine creates opportunities for Coste to handle the reserve duties at first, and might even make for roster space for Dobbs. Dobbs was miscast as a useful regular anything in Seattle, but as a back o'the bench, pinch-hitting type with modest power and contact abilities, he might stick and provide some value. He'll probably have to beat out Chris Roberson, though, and Charlie Manuel might decide he'd rather have a guy who can run.
What's Left to Do? From here on out, Pat Gillick can ponder high-stakes moves, like trading a spare starter for a right fielder, and/or a spare starter and Pat Burrell for a top outfielder. That said, Kevin Mench is not the answer, and Burrell has his uses, however striped he's become as the local whipping boy. Something clever involving a three-way trade that makes Rocco Baldelli a folk hero in Philly would be pretty neat (after all, what would the Devil Rays do with Jon Lieber?), but Gillick's not exactly known for getting elaborately creative in his deals in recent years.
Summary: It's been a very solid winter. Signing Wes Helms for third base seems like a solid move, the rotation has been shored up, and with a spare starting pitcher, Gillick's in the catbird seat to make a deal with some significance. The entire NL Central needs starting pitching, so it'll be interesting to see whether Gillick shops aggressively, or lets the non-Littlefields come crawling.
Acquired RHP Emiliano Fruto and OF-L Chris Snelling from the Mariners for 2B-B Jose Vidro and cash; outrighted C-R Brandon Harper to Columbus (Triple-A); signed LHP Ray King and RHP Jason Simontacchi to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/18]
Re-signed C/1B-L Robert Fick to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/20]
Outrighted 1B/LF-R Tony Blanco to Columbus; added RHP Jerome Williams to the 40-man roster; signed RHPs Jesus Colome and Anastacio Martinez, LHPs Luis Martinez and Arnie Munoz, 1B-L Travis Lee, 1B-R Jorge Toca, INF-R Melvin Dorta, 2B-B D'Angelo Jimenez, 2B-L Tony Womack, UT-B Jose Macias, OF-L George Lombard, and OF-B Abraham Nunez to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/18]
Mission Accomplished? The good news was really, really good, in that the Vidro deal was better than just a salary dump (saving the team $12 million of the $16 million they owed him); it actually provides the Nats with a talented young hurler and one of the great maybes in prospectdom. Snelling isn't a center fielder, so he doesn't help them fix that particular problem, but if their disenchantment with Ryan Church persists and they don't feel like Kory Casto is ready, at least they have an alternative as far as a useful lefty bat for left field. I know, putting Austin Kearns in center and playing two of Church, Snelling or Casto in the corners would make a huge difference in the club's offensive performance (as Basil Tsimpris demonstrated in a nifty little exercise over at Federal Baseball). Fruto has a power fastball and a good enough supporting assortment that the Nats might not want to rule out using him as a starter in time. Credit Jim Bowden and crew for another outstanding trade, with the additional benefit that it lets Felipe Lopez move across the keystone from short to second.
The bad news is that this team might field one of the most historically awful rotations since the infamous 1930 Phillies. I admire the front office's courage to see what they can get out of former pitchers with promise like Williams or Tim Redding. I might be one of the few diehards on the subject of Shawn Hill, and as much as I'm hopeful as far as Brandon Claussen's getting another chance, both are coming off of injuries, and Claussen won't be available until after the season's started. And let's face it, when Brandon Claussen is the cavalry riding to the rescue, it's time to ask the Indians if we couldn't just all get along.
What Reason Why? As desperate as the Nats are for help...Travis Lee and Tony Womack? It would be hard to envision a worse player to add than Lee, and even with Nick Johnson shelved in the early going, the club could have found a better temp to cover first base. Heck, give a trial by fire to Larry Broadway, a man whose prospect status is already on the wane, or play Robert Fick. Lee crankily departed Tampa Bay after playing terribly. He's had one worthwhile season in his entire career, and while he's been granted a reputation as a top fielder, there isn't a lot of supporting data for it in anybody's defensive metrics. Hal Chase had a great defensive reputation too, and while Lee might not be quite as corrosive, he'll be a weak spot.
As for Womack, maybe he spares the team from Jose Macias or Bernie Castro, and provides the team a positionless speedy singles hitter off of the bench. It didn't work when Bowden and AGM Bob Boone tried it in Cincinnati with Wilton Guerrero, but there seems to be some sort of fondness for the concept. As long as Womack doesn't play regularly, it's not the end of the world. What I think is interesting is that with so many former starters at second base in camp, might there be a desire to experiment with moving Felipe Lopez to center? That would provide the club with a better long-term solution than Nook Logan, certainly, and finding a useful second baseman is easier than finding a useful center fielder.
Obscure Good Move: Picking Flores in the Rule 5 draft might provide the club with its eventual replacement for Brian Schneider behind the plate. A well-timed "injury" to make sure he gets a month's worth of at-bats in Double-A might help make sure his bat doesn't go entirely stale, and it isn't like playing him in the bigs is going to cost the Nats their shot at fourth place--they don't have one. As far as random journeyman former outfield prospects go, Abraham Nunez isn't the worst outfielder to have dug up.
What's Left to Do? Keeping an organizational eye peeled for any sort of pitching that crosses the wire. Don't be surprised if two-fifths of the Opening Day rotation gets staffed by waiver claims. Disappearing Cristian Guzman. Fielding offers for Kearns or Church, not for their own sake, but if either can fetch any talent to help the organization bounce back from touching bottom in 2007.
Summary: It's a serious rebuild, which necessarily will involve some serious struggles. As bad as the big league team will be right now, it's a necessary break from the self-indulgent delusions of the Minaya era.