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February 6, 2007
NL Central Catchup
Non-tendered RHP Adam Harben and C-R Jose Reyes. [12/12]
Re-signed RHP Adam Harben and signed RHP Matt Harrington to minor league contracts. [12/13]
Signed LHP Ted Lilly to a four-year, $40 million contract; signed 1B-L Daryle Ward to a one-year, $1.05 million contract with a mutual $1.2 million option for 2008. [12/15]
Signed RHP Jason Marquis to a three-year, $21 million contract. [12/19]
Agreed to terms with LHP Neal Cotts on a one-year, $825,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/3]
Signed INF-B Tomas Perez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/12]
Agreed to terms on a two-year, $2.5 million deal with LHP Will Ohman, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Signed RHP Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $10 million contract with club options for 2012 and 2013. [1/19]
Signed OF-L Cliff Floyd to a one-year, $3 million contract with a mutual option for 2008. [1/24]
Released LHP Glendon Rusch. [1/25]
Agreed to terms with RHP Mark Prior on a one-year, $3.575 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/31]
Mission Accomplished? The goals were to avoid some of last year's problems, so that Lou Piniella didn't have to demonstrate whether or not he had answers that Dusty didn't. The outfield now looks like an offensive asset, although signing Floyd makes it clear that Soriano's the team's centerfielder, sink or swim. That might not turn out too well as far as the pitchers are concerned, but if they could survive Jerome Walton's vague routes and nevertheless contend, why not take their chances with Soriano? This might seem like bad news for Matt Murton, but a four-outfielder rotation with Murton seeing all lefties and Floyd resting regularly to try to avoid a major injury should help this team score runs.
The big money spent on the rotation got more of the headlines, with veterans added to spare Lou Piniella from the babysitting tasks that Baker had to endure last season. The Lilly deal seems pretty rich, considering he hasn't been able to average six innings per start in either of the last two years, but keep in mind he's leaving the DH league, and he's generally pretty tough on lefties. When you're in a division with thumpers like Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Lance Berkman, Prince Fielder, and Adam LaRoche, it becomes a little more defensible. Still, he's a flyball pitcher coming to Wrigley, and that's got potential for ugliness. Perhaps less easily understood is the money given to Marquis; you might think that whatever pitching coach Larry Rothschild is selling as far as his claims that Marquis is fixable might require a few swigs of Kool-Aid to really swallow. On the other hand, Marquis' season was infuriatingly inconsistent as opposed to consistently awful, and he probably shouldn't be held entirely responsible considering he took one for the team at least a couple of times, pitching five innings and allowing 25 runs in games he'd lost big early (on June 21 and July 18). Basically, Hendry's placed a large bet on Rothschild's acumen. If it doesn't work, both will have to be held accountable.
What Reason Why? The money for Samardzija is a major risk, but as Kevin Goldstein noted, he could be something, or he could be a major flop. The money makes sure that he's committed to baseball full-time, and we can credit Hendry for again not pussyfooting around and having faith in the Cubs' player evaluations. It also stands to reason that if the doubters are right, and Samardzija doesn't pan out, it'll be another item on the list for why the Hendry regime came to an end.
Obscure Good Move: Signing Ward isn't really obscure, although it's handy to have him around as a high-impact pinch-hitter and in-case-of-emergency-break-glass option for first base if Derrek Lee sustains another major injury. Signing the infamously unfortunate Matt Harrington, years removed from his fights with agents and the Rockies, is a nice flyer to have taken. He wasn't dominant in his five years for Forth Worth in the indie leagues, but he throws in the low 90s. Maybe things will finally work out for him.
How about releasing Rusch? Savage as that might seem, considering the guy's recovering from a blood clot discovered in his lung last September, the Cubs have to pay him anyway, and his ability to contribute is very much in doubt. As cold-hearted as it sounds, the Cubs needed the roster spot: this isn't the Olympics, and Rusch will be able to determine whether or not he's going to be able to resume his career on his own timetable. Here's hoping he not only makes a full recovery, but returns to being an effective swing guy for somebody.
What's Left to Do? Angel Pagan's knee injury might handicap his candidacy to become Soriano's defensive replacement in center, and there's not a lot of reason to believe that Buck Coats would be any better. Scaring up a central casting fifth-outfielder type probably wouldn't be a bad idea. Considering the general shortage of third basemen around the game, Hendry might entertain offers for Scott Moore, or at least find out who's interested in him to lay down some groundwork on how valuable he is to them. This isn't an especially deep roster, and Hendry might have to move fast if he loses somebody significant to an injury.
Summary: The lineup's now seven guys who can hit and Cesar Izturis. Will that be enough to outscore this rotation? Signing Lilly and Marquis notionally puts them in a position where they're not absolutely dependent on Prior finally getting his career back on track (Prior and Wade Miller will be sparring for the fifth spot), but I don't buy that. If Prior pitches the way he could, they could win 90 games and be the favorite for the division title. If he doesn't, they'll be brawling with the non-Pirates to sort out a winner.
Purchased OF-L Josh Hamilton from the Cubs. [12/7]
Re-signed C-R Miguel Perez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/13]
Traded INF-R Brendan Harris to the Devil Rays for a PTBNL. [1/2]
Signed C-Rs Ryan Jorgensen and Dan Conway, OF-L Dewayne Wise, SS-B Anderson Machado, RHPs Tom Shearn and Victor Santos, and LHPs Jason Kershner and Mike Gosling to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/8]
Signed RHP Paul Wilson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/15]
Agreed to terms with RHP Kyle Lohse on a one-year, $4.2 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Signed RHP Brian Meadows to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/1]
Signed LHP Eddie Guardado to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/5]
Mission Accomplished? For all of the activity, it's hard to discern a plan. Even with the decision to discard Claussen (a very defensible choice), there's a four-way fight for the fifth starter's job, because the rules-minded snitfit over Livingston and the strange decision to go out and get Saarloos crowds a battle that was already between Elizardo Ramirez and Matt Belisle. It gets stranger still when you consider the likelihood that Homer Bailey will probably be ready to make the jump to the majors at some point this summer. Shafer wasn't a bad pitcher to have kept around as an alternative for the pen, and hoping that Saarloos will be more of an asset as a utility pitcher than Belisle might be a bit optimistic.
The bullpen's similarly overstocked, with bodies if not talent. Even allowing for the fact that Guardado's recovery from elbow surgery will keep him out until the All-Star break, why the team needs five experienced lefties (with Bill Bray, Mike Stanton, Rheal Cormier, and Brian Shackleford the others) lacks a solid explanation. Bray, Stanton, and Cormier should all end up on the Opening Day roster, which probably also means four right-handed relievers (Weathers, Todd Coffey, Gary Majewski, and probably Belisle or Saarloos). That's not a bad pen, but it also isn't an especially great one, and Wayne Krivsky's hyperactivity in its assembly seems like a leftover from last summer's mayhem.
Acquiring Conine didn't cost much in terms of talent, and gives them a veteran someone to mix and match with Scott Hatteberg at first, but he's not much of a lefty thumper or an anybody-thumper, and he should only be used in the outfield in emergencies. If Hatteberg implodes, Conine's not really a solution; he'll just be a placeholder who allows them to bring up Joey Votto at his own pace.
What Reason Why? Getting Hamilton was nothing if not interesting, and considering he'll at least initially be rehabbing his way back from last year's season-ending knee injury, the Reds should be able to keep him squirreled away in the minors before working out a deal that allows them to send him to the minor leagues to stay. Even if he's clean and sober, though, he'll be 26 in May, and he hasn't played above A-ball since a 23-game trial in the Southern League in 2001.
Obscure Good Move: Krivsky's nothing if not rules-minded, and his apparent tantrum over the Devil Rays utilizing their waiver claim primacy to flip Livingston to the Phillies found a sympathetic ear in MLB's offices. Getting Livingston for themselves was a decent little snag, but we'll see if it creates any lingering ill will with the Devil Rays. If you're generous, you might see adding Keppinger as a nice singles-on-demand bench player. But between Keppinger, Juan Castro, and Bellhorn, you've got a trio of utility infielders without a lot of utility.
What's Left to Do? There's a goodly amount of slack in the 40-man roster, and a potentially crowded fight for the last couple of position-player spots on the bench. The danger is that they'll do things like keep Chad Moeller or Bubba Crosby, which in addition to Castro would make for a really weak bench. More happily, the announcement that they're willing to play Griffey in right creates some hope that Chris Denorfia may finally get to stick, but Griffey's going to have to prove his hand is healed.
Summary: It's a team that can continue to contend as long as nobody else in the division takes a step forward. That should make Krivsky look good while he overhauls the player development system.
Selected RHP Lincoln Holdzkom from the Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft. [12/7]
Re-signed RHP Brandon Backe to a one-year, $545,000 contract. [12/8]
Agreed to terms with RHP Dave Borkowski on a one-year, $575,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/13]
Announced the retirement of 1B-R Jeff Bagwell. [12/15]
Agreed to terms with UT-R Eric Bruntlett on a one-year, $525,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/22]
Signed INF-R Mark Loretta to a one-year, $2.5 million contract; signed RHP Jose Rodriguez, LHPs Stephen Randolph and Kevin Walker, C/1B-L Eric Munson, and INF-R Cody Ransom to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/4]
Agreed to terms with RHP Dan Wheeler on a one-year, $2.1 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/8]
Signed OF-R Richard Hidalgo to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/12]
Agreed to terms with RHP Brad Lidge on a one-year, $5.35 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Signed RHP Brian Moehler to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/19]
Signed RHP Rick White and LHP Scott Sauerbeck to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/2]
Mission Accomplished? With their former Yankees both gone or going, GM Tim Purpura busily rebuilt the rotation with less-famous and less-talented veteran alternatives. Woody Williams looks like a disaster in the making, and giving up that much talent for one year of Jason Jennings before he become eligible for free agency smacks of desperation. Still, he has considerable experience pitching in high-offense environments, and there's the hope that he'll blossom in the relatively friendlier confines of Pulped Fruit Beverage Ballpark. The problem is that if he really does rise to the challenge of being a contending team's No. 2 starter, he'll almost immediately have priced himself beyond the Astros' ability to afford him.
The other interesting ripple effect is that dealing Taveras basically means Chris Burke has to stand and deliver as an everyday centerfielder. He's made great strides as an outfielder, and his bat will certainly play at the position. As an everyday player, he's poised for a counting-stats breakout season. Purpura also had to fend off a lot of arbitration-related chores, but things seem to have been worked out with a relative minimum of fuss.
What Reason Why? It's been four years since Loretta spent any real time playing third or short, so while it might seem like a good idea to have brought him in as the team's utility infielder, he's more plausibly just insurance against Craig Biggio's bat slowing down even more than it already has. Even then, as one of the guys whose power disappeared relatively overnight a couple of years ago, he's not really a great bet to provide much more than a decent OBP and some average. If Loretta can play short, though, that might give them reason to sit Everett on days when flyballers like Williams are on the mound. It doesn't seem likely, though, considering his range at second has declined in recent years.
Obscure Good Moves: While Sammy Sosa's return has gotten the headlines, Richard Hidalgo's comeback seems a relatively minor matter. If Hidalgo gives the team a platoon partner for Luke Scott in right, it could also provide the defense with one of the best outfield cannons of the recent past. Snagging Holdzkom in the Rule 5 draft was a nice pickup of a player with a live arm and good velocity, and they should have the roster space to keep him as their sixth or seventh reliever.
What's Left to Do? Exploring a multi-year extension with Jennings this spring wouldn't be a terrible idea. Coming to a determination as far as whether to fish or cut bait with Jason Lane should be an interesting subplot to follow in camp. Trading for a better reserve catcher than Humberto Quintero or Munson would be sensible, but that's been on the to-do list for four or five years. Cross your fingers and hope that Matt Albers and Fernando Nieve are ready to step into the rotation, because turning back to Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio would almost certainly be bad news.
Summary: It's been a busy winter, but whether or not the team is really poised to contend depends on the value they get out of their three big additions-Carlos Lee, Williams, and Jennings. Two of those three should work out, but Williams' struggles could make for a repeat of last year's problems in the back half of the rotation.
Signed RHP Chris Oxspring to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/14]
Signed RHP Jeff Suppan to a four-year, $42 million contract with a $12.75 million club option for 2011. [12/24]
Signed RHPs Mike Meyers, Luis Pena, Vince Perkins, and Alec Zumwalt, and SS-B Ozzie Chavez to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/8]
Agreed to terms with RHP Grant Balfour on a one-year, $415,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/12]
Agreed to terms with OF-R Kevin Mench on a one-year, $3.4 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Agreed to terms with LHP Chris Capuano on a one-year, $3.25 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]
Agreed to terms with INF-R Tony Graffanino on a one-year, $3.25 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/19]
Signed RHP Luther Hackman to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/23]
Agreed to terms with RHP Claudio Vargas on a one-year, $2.5 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/29]
Claimed RHP Marino Salas off of waivers from the Orioles. [2/1]
Agreed to terms with C-B Johnny Estrada on a one-year, $3.4 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/2]
Mission Accomplished? Signing Suppan was meant to give the Brewers the division's best rotation one through four, but that depends more on Ben Sheets pitching like a staff ace than on the investment on Suppan. Although Suppan's stretch-drive heroics, including ten quality starts in his last fifteen, were a major part of the reason why the Cardinals were in a position to win the World Series, he's a command-and-control guy with little margin for error and flagging strikeout rates. In this division, he might be the best of the free agent hurlers signed to a big multi-year deal (keeping in mind that Jennings was acquired in trade), but again, that's not saying much. Setting aside the money, however, if you look at everyone's SNLVAR from 2006, Suppan was at 4.4, Capuano at 4.9, and Bush at 4.4, with Sheets bringing up the rear at 3.2 in an injury-shortened campaign. If the Brewers are fortunate and Suppan provides that sort of season while Sheets breaks out, they will indeed have the best front four in the Central. And with a 2.7 SNLVAR last season, Claudio Vargas isn't all that shabby as the fifth man.
What Reason Why? Although they seem to have been surprised that Graffanino accepted arbitration, between him and Craig Counsell, the Brewers probably have the best tandem of reserve infielders in baseball. Odds are they're going to need them, though, especially with questions about the health of Corey Koskie and J.J. Hardy. However, if Koskie and Hardy are both ready to go, and if Hall sticks in left, GM Doug Melvin will be in a position to deal from depth, perhaps packaging Graffy with Kevin Mench.
Obscure Good Move: I like the decision to bring back Aussie import and former Pads prospect Chris Oxspring after a relatively rough season with the Hanshin Tigers (a 5.12 ERA, but six K's per nine). He's most likely to spend the year pitching for Nashville; the Brewers would certainly be happier if that's how things worked out.
What's Left to Do? Play Corey Hart already, preferably by trading Mench before he becomes more pumpkin than pumpkinhead. Consider scotching the plan to make Bill Hall a left fielder, and move him to third if Koskie can't come back from post-concussion problems.
Summary: You can argue that Suppan wasn't the best way to spend $42 million, and you can argue that putting Hall in left field is a waste of his bat (and might involve a bit of Soriano-inspired wishcasting). Both are defensible, however, especially the Hall move if you're a Mench skeptic and a Hardy believer, as I am, on both counts. Melvin's provided Ned Yost with a multitude of options, which makes for a far more stable shot at contention than their division rivals.
Signed RHPs John Wasdin, Kip Bouknight, Allan Simpson, and Jim Brower, C-R David Parrish, INF-B Eddy Garabito, SS-L Don Kelly, OF-L Mike Ryan, and OF-R Chris Aguila to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/14]
Signed RHP Yoslan Herrera to a three-year, $1.92 million contract; designated 2B-R Craig Stansberry for assignment.[ 12/18]
Signed RHP Masumi Kuwata to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/19]
Signed C-R Einar Diaz to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/21]
Signed RHP Kevin Gryboski, UT-R Jose Hernandez, and 3B/OF-R Mike Edwards to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/8]
Signed C-R Carlos Maldonado, INF-R Yurendell De Caster, and OF-L Vic Buttler to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/15]
Acquired 1B-L Adam LaRoche and OF-R Jamie Romak from the Braves for LHP Mike Gonzalez and SS-R Brent Lillibridge; agreed to terms with RHP Shawn Chacon on a one-year, $3.825 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/19]
Signed OF-R Luis Matos and 2B/3B-R Nick Green to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/23]
Signed RHP Tony Armas Jr. to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with a mutual $5 million option for 2008; designated RHP Franquelis Osoria for assignment. [2/1]
Agreed to terms with 1B-L Adam LaRoche ($3.2 million) and LHP John Grabow ($832,500) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [2/2]
Agreed to terms with INF-R Freddy Sanchez to a one-year, $2.75 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed RHP Danny Kolb to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/3]
Mission Accomplished? What, you mean there are directions besides down? Keen. The bold stroke was the deal with the Braves, and while a lot of my colleagues are pretty negative on this, I can see the upside. If LaRoche's step forward in 2006 was what we can expect from him, he's a big-time bat in a lineup that needed to provide some sort of second fiddle for Jason Bay, and he's three years away from free agency. Support that with Sanchez and Nady, and you start to have something resembling a major league lineup. If Jose Castillo, Jose Bautista and/or Chris Duffy turn the corner, you're really not a patsy any more. If you get tired of Castillo, move Sanchez to second and play Bautista at third. If Nady continues to struggle against right-handed pitching (last year's .263/.312/.424 won't cut it for a starting right fielder), maybe Jody Gerut or Nate McLouth pick up a few starts. Score runs, and you're no longer boring, and if you're no longer boring, maybe attendance comes back up over 2 million. Giving up Gonzalez and Lillibridge was a lot, but if LaRoche makes a habit of slugging better than .500-and PECOTA suggests he will-then it's a great move, and GM Dave Littlefield's best in years.
What Reason Why? Signing Armas on top of employing Shawn Chacon seems like a pretty dubious pair of moves. Neither one has any business being in the rotation ahead of Paul Maholm or Tom Gorzelanny, and I wouldn't bet on either beating out Shane Youman in a fair fight. Add in that the organization should have Bryan Bullington, John Van Benshoten, and Sean Burnett all back this spring, and this pair of low-tread aspiring mediocrities look like unnecessary stumbling blocks, not to mention seven-figure expenses the Pirates shouldn't have afforded themselves.
Obscure Good Move: Bringing in the formerly famous Masumi Kuwata won't provide the Pirates with somebody all that useful-he'll be 39, and hasn't pitched well since 2002. However, he's won both a Japanese equivalent to the Cy Young and an MVP award in his 21-year career, and if signing him helps put the Pirates on Japanese players' radars, it's a worthwhile gesture. Similarly, the decision to sign Cubano emigré Yoslan Herrera might not give them a worthwhile pitcher-reports about plus stuff aside, we've seen plenty of Cuban washouts-but it does mean the Pirates aren't sitting still as far as scouting the international market. Herrera should open the year in Indianapolis, and we'll see what he does with the opportunity.
What's Left to Do? Not a lot. As you can see, they've been busy on the minor league free agent market, and they have overlapping options in both the infield and outfield. Sorting out the rotation will be unnecessarily busy, but the real head-scratcher may be finding a stable role for Ryan Doumit. He's too good to simply deal, yet his catching skills probably won't put him in a position to claim a major chunk of playing time from Ronny Paulino. Turning their catching situation into a job-share would make sense and keep their options open.
Summary: They won't be the worst team in the league, and losing fewer than 90 games seems pretty likely. Whether that's enough incremental improvement to save Littlefield and inspire local interest remains to be seen.
Signed RHP Chris Carpenter to a five-year, $63.5 million contract extension with a $12 million club option for 2012. [12/4]
Signed RHP Russ Springer to a one-year, $1.75 million deal. [12/8]
Signed 1B-R Tagg Bozied, 2B-R Edgar Gonzalez, OF-Rs Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Negron, C-Rs Ryan Christianson and Danilo Sanchez, and RHPs Mike Smith and Kelvin Jimenez to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/18]
Signed LHP Mark Mulder to a two-year, $13 million contract with an $11 million club option for 2009; signed RHP Ryan Franklin to a one-year, $1 million contract; re-signed OF-L Rick Ankiel and signed UT-R Jolbert Cabrera to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/10]
Agreed to terms with LHP Randy Flores on a two-year, $1.8 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/12]
Agreed to terms with OF-R So Taguchi on a one-year, $1.025 contract with a mutual $1.1 million option for 2008, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Mission Accomplished? Although the rotation seems a bit sketchy beyond Carpenter, things really aren't that bad. Kip Wells was a good low-end signing, and Anthony Reyes seems ready to shine. Adam Wainwright's conversion back to starting makes for a relatively promising quartet, and when so many other teams are getting silly as far as spending big money on the likes of Jason Marquis, Walt Jocketty's approach seems not merely cost-conscious but thoroughly sensible. The question is how much that's by design-the investments in Carpenter and Mulder aren't really no-brainer good news, and the team lost out in its flirtations with Jeff Weaver and Jason Schmidt.
What Reason Why? I buy Joe's argument that giving Chris Carpenter a $49 million raise to cover his 2009-2011 seasons seems a bit rich, especially when this team might be down to Albert Pujols and 23 dwarves by that point. So many other things will have to pan out for them to be able to justify this expenditure, and there's no guarantee that Carpenter's going to be this good that far ahead into the future. Add in the wild-ass guesstimate as far as how much Mulder's going to be able to contribute in 2007, and that's a lot of money spent on a pair of pretty sketchy propositions, when they might have instead employed that kind of money to secure a veteran hurler better prepared to help them defend their title right now.
Obscure Good Move: Signing Franklin seems like a case of digging up the sort of veteran hurler who might paper over the hole in the rotation created by Mark Mulder's recovery, with the potential upside being that pitching coach Dave Duncan turns him into another successful retread. Similarly, at this price re-inking Wilson seems like a reasonable hedge against Chris Duncan's implosion, as well as Jim Edmonds' continuing fragility.
What's Left to Do? Scaring up another veteran alternative for the rotation, in case Franklin doesn't work out, or for once somebody gets hurt. Somebody like Bruce Chen would be pretty interesting, while somebody like Steve Trachsel-much as I might like to see what Duncan might do with Pokey-would cost too much and expect guarantees he wouldn't really deserve.
Summary: It wasn't a brilliant winter, and a lot of things didn't work out the way the Cardinals wanted, but rather than pout about it, Jocketty has resorted to some adequate temporary fixes. Even so, the team increasingly resembles a disjointed collection of compromises and place-holding solutions, instead of a concerted effort to give Albert and Carpenter a top-shelf supporting cast. The trophy's nice, but this team might not match last season's 83 wins, and the rest of the division didn't sit still.