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February 1, 2007

Transaction Analysis

AL Central Catchup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed OF-L Scott Podsednik to a one-year, $2.9 million contract. [11/30]

Signed UT-R Pablo Ozuna to a one-year, $800,000 contract. [12/5]

Acquired RHP Gavin Floyd and a PTBNL from the Phillies for RHP Freddy Garcia. [12/6]

Acquired LHP Gio Gonzalez from the Phillies as the PTBNL in the Garcia trade. [12/7]

Signed RHP Mike MacDougal to a three-year, $6.45 million contract with a $3.75 million club option for 2010. [12/8]

Non-tendered RHP Eduardo Sierra. [12/12]

Acquired LHP Andrew Sisco from the Royals for 1B/OF-L Ross Gload. [12/16]

Signed C-R Toby Hall to a two-year, $3.65 million contract with a $2.25 million club option for 2009. [12/17]

Acquired LHP John Danks and RHPs Nick Masset and Jacob Rasner from the Rangers for RHP Brandon McCarthy and OF-R David Paisano. [12/23]

Acquired RHP John Lujan from the Rangers for C-R Chris Stewart. [1/12]

Agreed to terms on a one-year, $4.94 million contract with 3B-R Joe Crede, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]

Signed OF/1B-L Darin Erstad to a one-year, $1 million contract with a $3.5 million club option for 2008. [1/25]

Signed 2B-R Junior Spivey on a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/30]

Mission Accomplished? If there was a mission, it was pretty ill-defined. Sans Chief Garcia and McCarthy, at least initially the rotation takes on a more dubious look, and that's without wishcasting a Don Cooper miracle with Floyd. However, to give credit where it's due, the pitching coach has done wonders with Jose Contreras, and Jon Garland developed on his watch. Whatever the short-term hit that might be involved, this might be the situation where Charlie Haeger breaks through, and with the addition of Danks and the reacquisition of Gio Gonzalez, the organization is now much stronger in pitching talent above A-ball. In other words, guys with options, with futures, and without a lot of say about their compensation. The risk is that it might hamper the team's shot at winning this year, but the Twins and Tigers don't look as strong this time around.

What little money in this year's budget that didn't get eaten up by arbitration-driven raises got spent on finally adding a solid backup for A.J. Pierzynski in Hall, and in liberally compensating MacDougal for being occasionally present. What's the over/under on MacDougal's innings pitched total over the next three years, 120? Snidery aside, he can be a quality reliever when healthy, and with Herm Schneider on the job, the Sox are one of the better teams around as far as handling the fragile.

What Reason Why? The Erstad contract might seem to be cause for alarm, and it would be-if the option for 2008 were guaranteed. Instead, for the money in play, it isn't a disaster, and to be charitable, he gives the team a security blanket against the groin injury that will keep Scott Podsednik shelved into March, and the bat injury that Brian Anderson's rookie season inflicted on the lineup. Sure, I think it's money wasted, but it's a hedge against Josh Fields winning the job in left or Anderson snapping back to hit his projected .265/.324/.447 or Podsednik's recovery taking him out of the picture for longer than expected. If Fields has a good camp and Podsednik comes back to find Anderson struggling, Podzilla might even move back to center, where he's not quite the relative offensive liability. On the other hand, if Erstad ends up getting 300 PA, things will have gone very badly.

Obscure Good Move: Another one at the expense of the Royals, in that I'm interested in seeing what Ozzie and Mr. Cooper can make out of Sisquatch, the giant lefty. Motivation was supposed to be an issue for Sisco, but pitching in Kansas City, should we be surprised? He only just turned 24, and perhaps if anyone can get him focused, it'll be on a relevant team among a crew of relatively young veterans, and guided by a good pitching coach. Besides, it's fun to wonder what contortions the Ozzeroo will utilize when calling for the 6'10" behemoth in games.

What's Left to Do? It depends on how much hope you want to invest in David Aardsma and Sisco being ready to step in as the righty-lefty middle relief tandem in front of the Bobby Jenks/MacDougal/Matt Thornton late-game crew. Kenny Williams will probably dig up a journeyman righthanded reliever.

Summary: An interesting bit of re-tooling, in that the Sox have made a point of trimming expenses and adding hard-throwing youngsters. Part of that is perhaps a canny appreciation that nobody in the division is an easy pick for 95 wins.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Signed RHP Roberto Hernandez and LHP Aaron Fultz to one-year contracts for $3.5 million and $1.65 million, respectively, with club options for 2008 (for $3.7 million and $1.5 million, respectively). [12/2]

Signed OF-L David Dellucci to a three-year, $11.5 million contract; signed RHP Joe Borowski to a one-year, $4.25 million contract with a $4 million club option for 2008. [12/6]

Signed RHP Jeff Harris to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/13]

Signed 2B-R Luis Rivas and 2B/3B-R Keith Ginter to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/2]

Signed RHP Keith Foulke to a one-year, $5 million contract with a mutual $5 million option for 2008; designated RHP Brian Sikorski for assignment. [1/4]

Re-signed RHP Matt Miller to a one-year, $560,000 contract; outrighted RHP Brian Sikorski to Buffalo (Triple-A). [1/15]

Agreed to terms with RHP Rafael Betancourt on a one-year, $840,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]

Agreed to terms with RHP Jason Davis on a one-year, $670,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

Signed OF-L Trot Nixon to a one-year, $3 million contract; designated RHP Jeremy Guthrie for assignment. [1/19]

Signed OF-R Jason Michaels to a two-year, $4.25 million contract, with a $2.6 million club option for 2009, avoiding arbitration. [1/22]

Mission Accomplished? Mark Shapiro addressed two problems from last season-the bullpen, and outfield depth. On both scores, he didn't just aim for upgrades, he larded on a remarkable amount of redundancy. In the outfield, Nixon and Dellucci will take over in right and left, with Michaels and Casey Blake falling from last year's starters to this year's reserves. Shin-Soo Choo will almost certainly end up in Buffalo, where he'll make a quality replacement for Nixon once Trot suffers his perhaps inevitable injuries.

In the bullpen, spending $14.4 million on veteran relief help for 2007 might not rise to the same level as what the Orioles did, but it's also fraught with considerably more risk than what the Birds did in terms of inking relievers. Borowski's remarkably fragile, and Foulke's a salvage job that could end up making everyone involved look brilliant, or an exercise in "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss five mil' goodbye." Against that, they should get situational-driven success from guys like Hernandez and Fultz, and Betancourt remains an underrated asset.

What Reason Why? To me, Nixon seems a bit of overkill, but that's in part because I make no secret of the fact that I think Choo will make half of a productive outfield platoon in either corner. Nixon's projected to hit .267/.355/.417, and has a great chance of breaking down; Choo's projected to hit .289/.356/.434, and doesn't have anything like the same sorts of risks. I guess the worst-case scenario is that Nixon hits about like that or worse and doesn't get hurt, but again, redundancy was a bit of a theme the last month or so.

Obscure Good Move: None, really. Keith Ginter's sell-by date was a couple of years ago, and he'll make a nice alternative in case of an injury, but it's more likely that he'll be an important part of a better Bisons ballclub.

What's Left to Do? The multiplicity of veteran relievers crowded out Guthrie, and it might push Jason Davis out as well. It seems likely that the Indians will have to make a roster space-driven move before the end of spring training, dealing a reliever rather than losing him on waivers. Digging up a veteran sixth-starter type might make sense, although with Fausto Carmona probably going down to Buffalo and Adam Miller coming up to it, that's not really necessary.

Summary: Some of the mistaken assumptions from the plan for the 2006 season were fixed with extreme prejudice, but the Indians clearly plan to get back in this thing and make it a four-team race.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Purchased LHP Edward Campusano from the Brewers. [12/7]

Signed 3B-R Brandon Inge to a four-year, $24 million contract. [12/8]

Signed RHP Jose Mesa to a one-year, $2.5 million contract; non-tendered OF-L Alexis Gomez. [12/12]

Signed RHPs Dennis Tankersley and Jason Karnuth, LHPs Felix Heredia and Lance Davis, OF-L Brandon Watson, and C-R Dane Sardinha to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/15]

Signed LHP Bobby Seay to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/22]

Signed OF-L Timo Perez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/5]

Agreed to terms with LHP Nate Robertson ($3.26 million), UT-R Omar Infante ($1.3 million), and OF-R Craig Monroe ($4.775 million) to one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]

Agreed to terms with RHP Fernando Rodney on a two-year, $2.7 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/19]

Signed LHP Joey Eischen to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/25]

Mission Accomplished? For the Tigers, it was pretty much an exercise in sitting on their paws. After really only exerting themselves to bring in Mesa and nabbing Campusano through the Rule 5 draft, they're presumably quite toasty. They've basically been dealing with clerical matters since before Christmas.

What Reason Why? With Timo Perez and Brandon Watson likely to be haunting Toledo this season, Mudhens fans will wind up speaking fondly of the salad days, when Ryan Ludwick roamed their outfield sward. You know, like last year.

Obscure Good Move: Picking up Campusano. He should make a handy replacement for Jamie Walker if he proves he's up to the jump up from Double A. He throws hard for a lefty, but a factor beyond his control will be who earns the primary lefty relief role, and how much confidence Jim Leyland invests in him.

What's Left to Do? A real first baseman would still be swell; think they can ask Gary Sheffield if he's willing? Instead, Marcus Thames will get bounced back to a reserve role. An injury to either starter on the left side of the infield would be crippling, but the Tigers didn't really make any effort to find an upgrade for their bench. It's always possible that, with Mike Maroth and Thames as spare parts, GM Dave Dombrowski shops around for an upgrade, but he seems to be treading very carefully.

Summary: Beyond adding Sheffield, the Tigers have basically settled for embroidering their roster. It makes for a big risk in the game's most competitive division, but it's a nice change of pace for Dombrowski and Leyland from their last pennant, with the subsequently Huizenganated '97 Marlins.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Acquired RHP Brian Bannister from the Mets for RHP Ambiorix Burgos. [12/6]

Signed RHP Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million contract, pending a physical; selected RHP Joakim Soria from the Padres in the Rule 5 Draft; released RHP Runelvys Hernandez. [12/7]

Signed LHP John Bale to a two-year, $4 million contract; signed RHP Octavio Dotel to a one-year, $5 million contract; designated RHP Scott Dohmann for assignment. [12/8]

Non-tendered RHPs Brandon Duckworth and Scott Dohmann. [12/12]

Designated C-R Paul Phillips for assignment. [12/15]

Acquired 1B/OF-L Ross Gload from the White Sox for LHP Andrew Sisco. [12/16]

Signed RHP David Riske to a one-year, $2.25 million deal with a $2.85 million club option for 2008; signed RHPs Brandon Duckworth and Zach Day to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/20]

Outrighted C-R Paul Phillips to Omaha (Triple-A), but invited him to spring training. [12/23]

Designated 2B-R Jeff Keppinger for assignment. [1/3]

Acquired RHP Russ Haltiwanger from the Reds for 2B-R Jeff Keppinger. [1/10]

Agreed to terms with LHP Jimmy Gobble on a one-year, $712,500 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/11]

Signed INF-R Alex S. Gonzalez to a minor league contract. [1/12]

Signed OF-R Emil Brown to a one-year, $3.45 million contract. [1/17]

Mission Accomplished? If you're jaded, you might consider Dayton Moore's veteran pitching acquisition program to be the flip side of Allard Baird's quest for equally mediocre major league hitters in his last hot stove league. However, as Rany noted yesterday, the penalties for dabbling in second-tier free agents (or lower) are far less daunting. More optimistically, if Dotel or Riske or even a Japanese leagues import like Bale do good stuff, they become nifty little bargaining chips at the trade deadline. That said, none of them project well, and all of them are winding up in Kansas City because they need the work as much as the Royals need the help.

The big surprise is, of course, the Meche deal. The kindest thing you can say is that it's a hope-and-faith signing to help put the team on the map, but for me, that just means it's sort of like the Orioles' signing Miguel Tejada, except without the getting-a-good-player part of the program. As much as it might reflect on the looniness of this winter's pitching market, it says something that the annual average value of his deal is much more than twice as much as Scott Elarton's, for more than twice as long, without any suggestion that he's significantly better than Elarton, let alone twice as good. He's leaving Safeco for a better hitter's park in Kauffman Stadium, but both parks tend to forgive flyball tendencies well enough to make Meche survivable.

The real question is whether or not Meche's improved strikeout rate and flashes of better control herald the cusp of a turnaround, or if he's just a barely-adequate placeholder. He didn't log quality starts in more than half of his appearances (only 15 in 32), and outside of Safeco last season, he posted a 5.14 ERA, he walked a guy every other inning, and he allowed 1.4 home runs per nine. That's not a good fourth starter, and if it's what the Royals get-keeping in mind that last year was one of Meche's "good" ones-they'll be disappointed, yet for very little reason.

What Reason Why? Both trades are more than a little frustrating. Admittedly, both Sisco and Burgos were exasperating in their wildness and failure to deliver, but both were young, both were relatively healthy, and both threw hard. In most rebuilds, those are the guys you see if you can straighten out. Instead, the Royals added two fundamentally fungible talents. Gload is a player of the sort you can usually dig up through minor league free agency, and while he's a decent insurance policy against Mike Sweeney's next injury and/or Ryan Shealy's capacity to disappoint, he's also not going to propel the Royals in any particular direction. At least he's a plausible fallback; getting Bannister is simply boggling. He's not a particularly gifted starter, he was extremely hit-lucky in his brief time in the Mets rotation, and he has next to no up-side. There's something sad about the Royals giving up talent for both generations of Bannisters in the big leagues, but the best thing you can say is that Brian cost less than Floyd (Greg Hibbard and Melido Perez, among others).

Obscure Good Move: Picking Joakim Soria in the Rule 5 draft. Kevin tabbed him as the system's sleeper, and I'm probably a little more enthusiastic about him than that, if only because of the organization's relative paucity of plausible prospects. If they're going to keep a guy like Bannister around, they ought to afford themselves the roster space to keep somebody with actual up-side.

What's Left to Do? Keep anonymously mailing Angel Berroa offers for free all-expenses-paid trips to Gatlin, Nebraska. Think pleasant thoughts about what's going to happen with Alex Gordon, and whether they'd rather move Mark Teahen to left, or see how many goodies they get offered from the several teams who could really use a quality third baseman.

Summary: The Meche deal was gutsy or insane, depending on your point of view, but whichever it ends up being, it will most of all define Moore, and if Meche is terrible out of the gates, it'll quickly become the same sort of albatross and punchline that Eric Milton was for Dan O'Brien. If, on the other hand, it actually works, score one for his scouting acumen. It's supposed to be his calling card, and he's essentially placed a $55 million bet on himself.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Non-tendered RHP Willie Eyre and INF-B Luis Rodriguez. [12/12]

Signed 1B/3B-R Jeff Cirillo to a one-year contract; re-signed INF-B Luis Rodriguez to a one-year contract. [12/13]

Announced the retirement of RHP Brad Radke. [12/19]

Re-signed LF-R Rondell White to a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2008. [12/20]

Signed RHPs Sidney Ponson and Brad Voyles to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/3]

Signed LHP Randy Choate to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/9]

Signed 1B/C-R Matt LeCroy to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/17]

Signed RHP Ramon Ortiz to a one-year contract. [1/22]

Mission Accomplished? Terry Ryan wanted to get some veteran insurance to keep him from having to count on just the kids to fill out a rotation shorn of Radke and Francisco Liriano, and on some notional level, he did. If, on the other hand, you were hoping for something better than Ortiz and Ponson, tough cookies. If the Twins had a playoff dividend from 2006, it's gone to paying for contract acceleration (more than $7 million for the club's five best-paid players) and/or Carl Pohlad's favorite grand-niece's trip to Mašao. Putting Ortiz in the better league and taking him out of RFK is going to be ugly. The good news is that if Scott Baker and Matt Garza and Glen Perkins pitch well in camp or in the early going at Rochester, the veteran stumbling blocks in their way won't be too difficult to hurdle.

What Reason Why? You might think the only people in Christendom happy to have Rondell White back are Rondell White and Jason Tyner. White, because let's face it, job security at his age is going to be increasingly rare, and Tyner because White's one of the few outfielders on the planet making seven figures he can plausibly take a job from after last season's flop. Either way, it's bad news for a Twins lineup that will need to paste opposing pitching to keep up with the rotation's runs allowed. The Twins are basically hoping that White's slightly-healthier second half hitting (.321/.354/.538) will be what they're going to get. I'm more optimistic than PECOTA's baseline projection is (.264/.302/.403), but even if he hits his 75th percentile projection (.279/.318/.433), that's lousy production from a left fielder.

There's no reason for Chris Heintz to be on the 40-man roster, but apparently the demand for catchers, even of the worst sort, encourages people to do silly things. For mutliple years.

Obscure Good Move: Picking up Cirillo is a nice enough little move, because it gives them a righty-swinging alternative to Nick Punto at third, and he can also do some spotting for Justin Morneau against some particularly nasty lefty. Could Choate be this year's Dennys Reyes? I don't really expect it to be the case, but it's fun to see them taking a chance on him.

What's Left to Do? Will Cirillo be enough? If Punto falters, Cirillo can't handle everyday play, at which point you've got an immediate need at third base. Better outfield alternatives than Tyner or Lew Ford would make for happy additions, but it looks like Ryan will let it ride going into camp.

Summary: Depth is a problem pretty much everywhere but the rotation, but the choices there aren't a collection of sure things. This is a team that really needs to avoid injuries in the lineup and needs Jason Kubel to post a productive season.


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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