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February 7, 2007

Transaction Analysis

AL West Catchup and Recent AL Moves

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Signed LHP Darren Oliver to a one-year, $1.75 million contract with a club option for 2008. [12/11]

Non-tendered RHP Jason Bulger. [12/12]

Acquired LHP Phil Seibel from the Red Sox for RHP Brendan Donnelly. [12/15]

Signed 1B/3B-R Shea Hillenbrand to a one-year, $6.5 million contract with a club option for 2008. [12/26]

Designated RHP Chris Bootcheck for assignment; signed or re-signed INF-R Casey Smith, OF-Ls Curtis Pride, Nathan Haynes, and RHPs Alex Serrano, Marcus Gwyn, and Matt Hensley to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/4]

Outrighted RHP Chris Bootcheck to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [1/10]

Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with RHPs Francisco Rodriguez ($7 million) and RHP Scot Shields ($3.4 million), and with 1B/3B-R Robb Quinlan on a two-year, $1.85 million contract, avoiding arbitration with all three. [1/16]

Mission Accomplished? It was supposed to be a relatively relaxed winter. Bill Stoneman needed to move some salary to afford his arbitration cases. Donnelly was the reliever with the most potential to get flaky and unreliable and make for a poor expense, so dealing him created subsequent room to maneuver. I guess between last year's exercise with J.C. Romero, and this year's additions of Oliver and Seibel, the Angels won't be living dangerously with a lefty-free pen. A pity, but groupthink operates kleptocratically in its grabbery of all mindshare.

Juan Rivera broke his leg, and stands to miss a significant portion of the season. The team needed a bat, but it also didn't necessarily need somebody who expected a long-term deal. Rivera should be back in this lifetime, after all, and once Brandon Wood comes up, they're coming to have Chone Figgins back in a rover's role. In their quest for some right-handed sock to replace Rivera, they signed Hillenbrand. It doesn't look like a good choice--even if you're generous, and see him as a good enough hitter to play every day, he has next to no defensive value. Tabbed for DH, that means that between Garret Anderson in left and Hillenbrand, the Angels will be getting slack production from two power positions. If this team didn't already need Casey Kotchman to break out, now it really needs him to if they're going to score runs.

What Reason Why? That kind of money for Hillenbrand? No wonder they "couldn't" afford Brendan Donnelly's pending arbitration case. This wasn't the best way to utilize the club's financial muscle, and while the club had to come up with a temp to replace Rivera, they were probably better off taking their chances and seeing whether Wood is ready to push Figgins back to the outfield. If he isn't, they could have played a combination of Dallas McPherson--before McPherson was subsequently lost for a good part of the season, anyway--Maicer Izturis and Quinlan at third. That would mean putting Anderson back at DH, which helps the outfield defense, while playing to the roster flexibility that Mike Scioscia has done such a good job of exploiting in recent years.

For all the self-conscious blabber about how fortunate they were to get Bulger for Albert Callaspo, you can't say the exchange worked out all that well for them if they discarded the guy a year later. The organization has a multiplicity of shortstop prospects-it's up to Stoneman to do a better job than this of leveraging them into something that can help the Angels win the West.

Obscure Good Move: Not re-signing Darin Erstad. I know somebody in the front office probably had the shakes trying to get over his jones for keeping the best Nebraska punter to ever play baseball, but the intervention was long overdue.

What's Left to Do? It would be swell if they dug up a minor-league veteran who might give them alternatives to Hillenbrand or Kotchman. Nick Gorneault isn't likely to be the answer, and Kendry Morales has improvement issues of his own to resolve.

Summary: The offense might have issues in the early going, but there's potential for happy things to happen by trusting to some of the homegrown goodies. They should be considered the favorites to win the division.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Claimed RHP Jeremy Guthrie off of waivers from the Indians; designated RHP Marino Salas for assignment. [1/29]

Agreed to terms with 2B-B Brian Roberts on a one-year, $4.2 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/1]

Signed RHP Paul Shuey to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/2]

Not that Guthrie is a sure thing, but he makes a pretty nifty waiver pickup. Although the former Stanford star hasn't really panned out as a prospect, as a young veteran he gives the Orioles a better insurance policy against an early injury in the rotation than immediately hauling up Hayden Penn, and it beats digging up someone like Kevin Jarvis. He's never really found a way to overpower people consistently despite pretty good velocity, and he can throw his breaking stuff for strikes. Put the guy with Leo Mazzone, and maybe something goes right for him.

As for Shuey, he's coming back from a two-year retirement. Presumably his hip and elbow are well enough for him to take a shot, and while the pen is too crowded for him to anticipate much more than a spring spent in Norfolk, if he shows that he's healthy enough to pitch, the Orioles might be able to flip him in a minor deal, or call him once injuries create opportunities. He was always fun to watch, so here's hoping things work out.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed RHP Todd Wellemeyer to a one-year contract; signed RHP Jason Standridge to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/6]

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Agreed to terms with 1B-L Justin Morneau ($4.5 million), RHP Juan Rincon ($2 million), and OF-R Lew Ford ($985,000) on one-year contracts, and INF-B Nick Punto on a two-year, $4.2 million contract, avoiding arbitration with everybody. [2/2]

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Outrighted RHP Matt DeSalvo to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [2/1]

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Signed LHP Alan Embree to a two-year, $5.5 million contract with a $3 million club option for 2009; released RHP Juan Dominguez. [12/6]

Selected LHP Jay Marshall from the White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft; purchased fellow Rule 5 pick OF-R Ryan Goleski from the Devil Rays, who'd selected him from the Indians. [12/7]

Signed C-R Mike Piazza to a one-year, $8.5 million contract. [12/8]

Non-tendered RHP Jerome Williams. [12/12]

Signed LHP Derek Thompson, 1B-L Erubiel Durazo, and RHP Kaz Tadano to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/21]

Agreed to terms with C-B Adam Melhuse on a one-year, $815,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/5]

Signed INF-R Lou Merloni to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/8]

Agree to terms with INF-R Antonio Perez one a one-year, ~$500,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/9]

Agreed to terms with LHP Joe Kennedy ($2.8 million), RHP Kiko Calero ($1.6 million), INF-R Marco Scutaro ($1.55 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]

Agreed to terms with RHP Justin Duchscherer on a one-year, $1.1875 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/22]

Acquired RHP David Shafer and PTBNL from the Reds for RHP Kirk Saarloos and PTBNL. [1/23]

Agreed to terms with OF-B Bobby Kielty on a one-year, $2.1 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/25]

Signed OF-L Ricky Ledee to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/5]

Mission Accomplished? Priced out of the Big Hurt sweepstakes, the A's landed Piazza as this year's one-year casting choice for the DH role. It's not a move with anything like the same sort of upside signing Frank Thomas did last winter; Piazza is a little more than three months younger, doesn't have Thomas' power or patience, and is coming over to the better league. Last year's .257/.314/.449 against right-handers for the Pads isn't going to play in a DH job. With Barry Zito crossing over the Bay Bridge to enlist with the Orange Menace, they needed to improve their options for the rotation, and dealing Saarloos and adding Embree help that, if indirectly.

What Reason Why? What's the deal with signing Embree for that kind of money? Well, for starters, because it means the team's serious about pushing Joe Kennedy back into a starting role, and with only two or three starters you can ink into the rotation (Dan Haren, Esteban Loaiza, and three if you wishcast complete health from Rich Harden), the time for that may as well be now. For the last two slots, Bob Geren will be picking from among Kennedy, Joe Blanton, Brad Halsey, with guys like Shane Komine and perhaps Dan Meyer (remember him?) as dark-horse possibilities; Jason Windsor is probably an in-season call-up once some of those other five falter. Considering the crowd, dealing Saarloos made sense; the A's showed that he could be useful enough in a utility-pitcher role, but he's also not someone you want to have to count on.

Obscure Good Move: Signing Durazo after his big winter in Mexico is getting some people worked up, and he will challenge Dan Johnson for the job at first base. My hope is that it helps the A's get a bounce-back year out of Johnson, not just because Durazo's likely to flash Giambi-like stiffness with the leather, but because the guy's not a young 32 and he's two years removed from an actual good major-league season.

On a more pragmatic level, I like their adding Goleski and Marshall. Marshall might stick as a side-arming situational menace in the second lefty job behind Embree, while Goleski might end up as Dan Johnson's platoon partner in the lineup after slugging .600 against southpaws between the High-A Carolina League and Double-A Akron. (Nick Swisher could presumably bounce back and forth between left and first.)

What's Left to Do? Not a lot. Picking the back of the rotation and bullpen will be interesting to follow, especially as we watch Geren run his first camp. Will he favor any of the guys who played for him in Sacramento for jobs at the back end of the roster? Seeing how the outfield corner and first base playing time gets parceled out among Johnson, Durazo, Goleski and Kielty should make for equally fun camp drama.

Summary: Billy Beane might deserve criticism for not reaching a quick accomodation with Frank Thomas, but if the guy really wanted to explore the market, there wasn't much Beane could do about that, and let's face it, the gambit paid in spades for the Big Hurt.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Released RHP Jorge Campillo. [12/1]

Signed RF-R Jose Guillen to a one-year, $5.5 million contract with a mutual $9 million option for 2008; designated LHP Bobby Livingston for assignment. [12/4]

Acquired LHP Horacio Ramirez from the Braves for RHP Rafael Soriano; purchased RHP Sean White from the Pirates. [12/7]

Non-tendered RHP Joel Pineiro; lost Livingston on a waiver claim by the Devil Rays (and later, the Reds). [12/12]

Signed RHP Miguel Batista to a three-year, $25 million contract. [12/14]

Acquired 2B-B Jose Vidro and cash from the Nationals for RHP Emiliano Fruto and OF-L Chris Snelling. [12/18]

Signed 3B-L Sean Burroughs to a minor league contract. [1/3]

Signed RHP Chris Reitsma to a one-year, $2.05 million contract with a $2.7 million club option for 2008. [1/5]

Agreed to terms with LHP Horacio Ramirez ($2.65 million) and 1B-L Ben Broussard ($3.55 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/6]

Signed RHP J.J. Putz to a three-year, $13.1 million contract with a club-option for 2010; signed LHP Matt Perisho to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/17]

Re-signed or signed C-R Luis Oliveros and RHPs Jesse Foppert, Jorge Campillo, Juan Sandoval, Renee Cortez, Aaron Small, Carlos Alvarado, and Justin Lehr to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/23]

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

Signed LHP Jim Parque to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/2]

Signed RHP Jeff Weaver to a one-year, $8.325 million contract; designated RHP Yorman Bazardo for assignment. [2/3]

Mission Accomplished? Tired of all those non-King Felix homegrown starters? Looking for a DH better than Carl Everett? Need a right fielder to cement Ichiro's move to center? Love or hate the results, Bill Bavasi achieved all of these things, making over the rotation by adding Batista, Weaver and Ramirez. Unfortunately, the positives of achieving these goals weren't quite that positive. Guillen is a fragile crank, and PECOTA thinks he's turned the wrong corner, about to head into the dark alley downslope of his career, which doesn't really help the Mariners realize as much offensive value from making Suzuki a center fielder and Jeremy Reed a fourth outfielder as they could have. Vidro is a porcelain singles hitter better left in the china cabinet, and taking on the lion's share of his contract was an act of generosity that shouldn't have additionally left the Nats two prospects richer.

What Reason Why? I'm probably surprised by the extent to which I like the Weaver move, but that's because it wound up being less expensive in blood and treasure than getting Ramirez and Batista were. His PECOTA valuation for 2007 ($6.3 million) isn't hopelessly lower than his salary, and if he doesn't work out, it's just one year. The real problems are with the other two. First, there's the decision to wishcast Ramirez into a reliable starting pitcher, when he might not really be an improvement on Cha Seung Baek or Jake Woods, while giving up a quality relief arm to go get him. Then there's the big money for Batista, which admittedly reflects the nature of this winter's market mayhem, but the guy's a 36-year-old utility pitcher and junkballer, and while that might fly for an innings-munching fourth starter after a strong front three, that isn't the Mariners. To his credit, he managed 17 quality starts in 33 (one blown) with the Snakes last year, and ten in his 16 BOB-free starts, coming over to the DH league will probably balance that out.

Obscure Good Move: I'm delighted to see Jim Parque back. That's not the schadenfreude of an avowed A's fan, just the fact that I always liked watching the spry little lefty battle relative titans at the plate. He's been retired for even longer than Shuey (he hung up his spikes in June of 2004), but he's six years and a major shoulder surgery removed from his last good season. At least he's left-handed. I admit, "good" is pretty relative here, but I know I'll be following his performance in camp.

On a more sensible level, I like that they've brought in Rhodes, Burroughs and Lehr, all of whom were worth taking a flyer on. There's nothing at stake, and if Lehr becomes a useful big-league swing man, Rhodes summons up some shadow of himself on the site of his former greatness, and Burroughs starts hitting balls with more authority than his past struggles to bruise fruit, Bavasi will deserve some credit.

What's Left to Do? Not really all that much, although sorting out the bullpen is going to be a bit involved. After all of the talk of trading Richie Sexson, the Mariners still have him, which makes you sort of wonder if they really have the roster space to carry Broussard Reed, and Mike Morse. Mike Hargrove likes to carry seven relievers, after all. Happily, I think this is where Willie Bloomquist's value as a space-saver and Morse's past play in the infield should actually allow them to stand pat and keep everybody.

Summary: Everything didn't go perfectly well this winter for their division rivals, so as frustrating as some of Bavasi's moves might be in isolation, this isn't an irredeemably terrible ballclub. If Guillen and Vidro play well and stay healthy, if the now-veteran rotation does adequately, and Hargrove picks a good pen beyond the Putz/Reitsma/George Sherrill trio, they'll put a scare into the rest of the division, and far more plausibly than last summer.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Signed 1B-L Carlos Pena and C-B Raul Casanova to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/1]

An interesting pair of pickups, each for his own reason. Between Pena and Hee Seop Choi, the D-Rays will have their options at first base when it comes to picking from former prospects, and it's certainly better than another go-round with the inimitable Travis Lee. From Pena, Choi, Greg Norton and Ty Wigginton, I'd almost certainly pick Pena while leaving Norton and Wiggy in utility roles, but whatever their poison, it seems likely that Durham's going to have an ex-famous person at first base. And wow, Papo Casanova... seems like only yesterday when he and Deivi Cruz were big things coming up in the Tigers' organization, and now here he is, 34 and playing out the stretch. In retrospect, it seems clear a few too many people got worked up over his age-22 season, hitting .340/.403/.552 in Ranch Cucamonga.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed OF-R Marlon Byrd to a one-year contract. [12/8]

Re-signed RHP Vicente Padilla to a three-year, $33.75 million contract with a $12 million club option for 2010. [12/9]

Signed OF-L Kenny Lofton to a one-year, $6 million contract; non-tendered RHP Mike Wood, making him a free agent. [12/12]

Signed RHP Eric Gagne to a one-year, $6 million contract. [12/19]

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

Signed C-R Guillermo Quiroz to a one-year contract; signed RHPs Mike Wood and Willie Eyre to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/28]

Signed UT-R Jerry Hairston, Jr. to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/5]

Acquired C-R Chris Stewart from the White Sox for RHP John Lujan; designated INF-L Drew Meyer for assignment. [1/12]

Agreed to terms with RHP Joaquin Benoit on a one-year, $1.05 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]

Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with RHPs Akinori Otsuka ($3 million) and Rick Bauer ($730,000) and OF-L Brad Wilkerson ($4.35 million), avoiding arbitration with the trio. [1/16]

Announced that INF-L Drew Meyer cleared waivers and was outrighted to Oklahoma (Triple-A), but was perhaps mollified him with a spring training NRI. [1/22]

Signed RHP Jamey Wright to a $900,000 minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/25]

Signed DH-R Sammy Sosa to a $500,000 minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/30]

Signed LHP Bruce Chen to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/6]

Mission Accomplished? Arbitrage seems to be the name of the game, inspiring sensible decisions like taking a chance on Gagne or preferring a one-year experiment with Lofton over a five-year investment in Gary Matthews, Jr. (perhaps with Byrd as his right-handed defensive replacement and sometime spot-starter). Like a lot of the winter pitching deals, the money for Padilla might seem insane, but the money actually makes a goodly amount of sense to PECOTA's way of thinking, and guys who throw 19 quality starts in 33 for the Rangers don't seem to grow on trees. What I'm a litle more surprised about is the trade for McCarthy, because a flyball-prone right-hander seems to be about as likely to survive in Texas as a Santa Anna comeback, and Danks has considerably more upside.

What Reason Why? Sosa and Wright both seem like bad ideas with little or no potential for value. There's a point at which the answer to Jimi Hendrix's age-old question "Are you experienced" becomes Matt Helm's "Have you had your shots, baby?"

Obscure Good Move: There are a few to choose from. Is Quiroz a good bet to bust another lung or to become the new Rod Barajas? Or both? He's out of options, which might help explain why he got a big-league deal, but it's worth taking a peek to see if he's ever going to sort things out. Salvaging Chen from his always-unfortunate relationship with Leo Mazzone might yield something worthwhile.

What's Left to Do? Find a right fielder. Sosa isn't the answer, but Nelson Cruz might be, and with a fully healthy Brad Wilkerson, outfield production might not turn out so badly after all. Still, Frank Catalanotto's not a high-impact bat, either in left or at DH, and Hank Blalock really needs to show something, or they'll be a weaker-than-expected offensive ballclub. A utility infielder better than Hairston (who can't really play short or third) or Meyer would be nice, but the Rangers might be able to scare one up off of waivers in early March.

Summary: It winds up looking like a somewhat weird, disjointed sort of winter. Some moves seem like interesting dares--like trading for McCarthy, or seeing what's left of Gagne's greatness, even bringing in Sosa to some extent. On the other hand, there are some very real question marks, like Lofton's play in center, who's in right, and whether Catalanotto's bat will provide all that much value. It won't take too many gambles failing to put this club decisively in the basement.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Signed RHP Victor Zambrano to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/30]

Agreed to terms with OF-Rs Alex Rios ($2.535 million) and Reed Johnson ($3.075 million) and LHP Scott Downs ($1.025 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with all three. [2/2]


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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