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November 7, 2007

Transaction Analysis

AL Pick-me-ups and Discards

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Noted the loss of RHP Chris Resop on a waiver claim by the Braves. [10/25]
Outrighted RHP Marcus Gwyn and OF-S Tommy Murphy to Salt Lake (Triple-A); both refused the assignment and became free agents; noted the loss of OF-R Nick Gorneault on a waiver claim by the Rangers. [10/29]
Purchased the contracts of RHP Nick Green from Salt Lake (Triple-A) and SS-R Sean Rodriguez from Arkansas (Double-A). [11/2]

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Released RHPs Jaret Wright and Victor Zambrano. [10/1]
Outrighted C-Rs J.R. House and Gustavo Molina and RHP Rob Bell to Norfolk (Triple-A); House and Bell refused the assignment and became free agents. [10/3]
Claimed RHP Roberto Novoa off of waivers from the Cubs. [10/16]
Outrighted MI-S Eider Torres and OF-Ls Val Majewski and Adam Stern to Norfolk. [10/18]
Purchased the contracts of RHPs Fredy Deza and Bob McCrory from Bowie (Double-A). [10/23]
Announced the loss of LHP Kirt Birkins on a waiver claim by the Rays. [10/29].
Declined to pick up their 2008 option on RHP Kris Benson. [11/1]

A lot of this the upshot of a convenience store lifestyle, when you have to fill out a 40-man roster with various free talent snacks with little or no nutritional value to make up for the lack of a full, regular diet of homegrown goodies. (Let's face it, in recent years I suspect that not even the French could get their fill living on even expertly-prepared baby Orioles.) So Torres and Stern didn't really work out, but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth taking fliers on either, and so the declining fortunes of in-house projects like Birkins and Majewski are reflected by their absence. Is that cause for dismay? Not too much-the Orioles have a lot of work to do, and this sort of turnover is no different from the similar filler-minded pickups of warm bodies at the major league level. The real keys are how well guys like Nick Markakis, Erik Bedard, and Garrett Olson or Daniel Cabrera pan out (or not), and whether or not prospects like Matt Wieters, Jake Arrieta, or Radhames Liz develop into solid major leaguers.

The real problem is that while the O's have been slowly upgrading their player development process, they haven't really seriously helped themselves through the other avenues of player acquisition. They've thrown a lot of money at free agents, but when their successes are the bittersweet contributions of Miguel Tejada or Ramon Hernandez, it isn't too long before you start trying to spin the benefits of the annual heartbreak that goes with employing Corey Patterson. By trade, they added Melvin Mora in 2000 (as part of a package for Mike Bordick); that wasn't very recent, obviously. Given the amount of veteran dreck they've been given to employing, they just as obviously haven't done a good job of flipping it for value-until now, hopefully, as Scott Moore and perhaps also Rocky Cherry should improve that record.

Free talent pickups are a little more variegated-Brian Burres is adequate, Jeremy Guthrie something more than that. If you wanted to count Jay Gibbons, you come up against his being a Rule 5 pick all the way back in 2000; his value to the Orioles has run its course. Luis Hernandez is your basic warm-body shortstop, and not really a solution as much as a placeholder should they really plug him in and rotate Tejada to third and Mora to the outfield. Fernando Cabrera and now Roberto Novoa are the sorts of guys they should be on the watch for; better to snag relievers with live arms than to pay top dollar for essentially nondescript veterans, which was last season's dim bulb bright idea. I'm more gung-ho about the decision to add Cabrera than Novoa, but that's a matter of potential; Novoa's still only 28, and if he's sound after losing a year to shoulder problems, he could be a cheap source of middle inning heat out of the pen.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Claimed LHP Jay Marshall off of waivers from the A's; designated LHP Daniel Haigwood for assignment. [10/15]
Purchased the contract of C-R Dusty Brown from Pawtucket (Triple-A); designated SS-R Royce Clayton for assignment. [10/29]
Exercised their 2008 contract options on RHPs Julian Tavarez and Tim Wakefield; acquired OF-S Sean Danielson from the Cardinals to complete the Joel Pineiro trade; outrighted C-R Kevin Cash to Pawtucket (Triple-A); he refused the assignment to become a free agent. [11/2]
Re-signed RHP Curt Schilling to a one-year contract. [11/6]

There might be some Red Sox fans scratching their noggins wondering why the Sox would go so far as to re-ink Schilling while simultaneously retaining Tim Wakefield. What with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz on the cusp of sticking, why would they need both vets, let alone Tavarez to boot? It would be too easy to cite the fate of last spring's seemingly fully-stocked Phillies rotation, though, so I'm sure most everyone gets that this is about depth, and keeping the three vets on top of having the two kids gives them six quality starting pitchers, and Tavarez as insurance. While the price of Tavarez's '08 option ($3.85 million) might seem a bit pricey for what he is, perhaps you can charitably consider it the flip side of their delightfully cheap option on Wakefield for what he is. Spending only $4 million for a knuckleballing alternative to the hard-throwing kids and Josh Beckett, Schilling, or the vishnu-like arsenal of Daisuke Matsuzaka is pretty tasty. I might sniff about how the Sox could do better than Tavarez with some creative scouting from among the minor league free agent pool, but there again, a cautionary counter-example like the Mets' slow capsizing in 2007 while using somebody like Brian Lawrence sticks out as a reason why you might prefer the near-adequacy you know than the mystery meat on the market.

As for the more minor add-ons, Marshall's not the worst pickup, considering the A's are the ones who footed the service time bill after picking him via the Rule 5 draft; the Sox will be able to send the big side-arming southpaw to Portland or Pawtucket to see if he can be an eventual low-cost casting choice for a second lefty role in the pen. Danielson's just standard minor league cannon fodder, an already-25-year-old semi-patient speed guy and Kansas State product who might make somebody at those aforementioned affiliates forget Adam Stern after their first beer. In other developments, I do hope this quashes the regional fascination with Kevin Cash; he's no more absolutely necessary than Doug Mirabelli is. Brown's got a fine arm and some decent on-base skills as a hitter, and since he caught Charlie Zink in the minors this past year, we might even consider this Zink's most useful gift to the organization so far-helping groom an internal alternative to Mirabelli.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed C-L A.J. Pierzynski to a two-year, $12.5 million contract extension. [9/29]
Outrighted OF-R Luis Terrero and LHP Paulino Reynoso to Charlotte (Triple-A). [10/3]
Outrighted RHP Ryan Bukvich to Charlotte; he refused the assignment and became a free agent. [10/26]
Declined their 2008 club options on 1B/OF-L Darin Erstad and LHP Mike Myers. [10/31]

I'm not sure if losing Erstad will leave the Sox with an overwrought leadership deficit or what, but punting the punter is an act they never should have had to do, had they actually given any thought to Erstad's inability to hit or stay healthy. If non-solutions to the team's center field problem are the objective, why not just save some money and have Kenny Williams suit up again? The farce of having a GM show up in uniform is something the Sox are already familiar with, for anybody who remembers 1986.

However, among the more mundane tasks that Williams is resolving a little less directly is eliminating any question about who's catching for the Sox through 2010. This might seem excessive, but given the paucity of available catchers, Pierzynski's age (he'll turn 31 next month), and that his .263/.309/.403 season was only a little below his projected 2007 performance, I would think that his valuation in those 2009 and 2010 age-32 and 33 seasons won't change too radically, which suggests that this is a pretty sound investment. Near-average offensive contributors with Equivalent Averages in the .250s who can play behind the plate don't grow on trees. His caught stealing numbers aren't amazing, but low-percentage stolen-base attempts are on the decline, and what might be more notable is that the number of attempts while he's behind the plate dropped. Either way, it isn't like we're talking about the second coming of Matt Nokes or something.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Outrighted RHP Mike Koplove and MI-R Luis Rivas to Buffalo (Rivas elected to become a free agent); released RHP Matt Miller. [11/5]
Picked up their 2008 options on RHPs Paul Byrd and Joe Borowski and LHP Aaron Fultz. [11/6]

All told, the bill comes to $13 million for the three of them: $7.5 million for Byrd, $4 million for Borowski, and $1.5 million for Fultz. Of those three, I might only complain about Borowski, because he might not be a great bet to hold his job in 2008, but clearly the pricing for Byrd isn't outlandish for what fourth starter types can get on the open market, and Fultz's price for an experienced lefty situational guy is relatively cheap. I would hope that none of this expense would encourage the Indians to avoid spelunking in the minor league free agent market to see if they can fish out the next Borowski or better-than-Borowski type, and their track record is such that my wish should be granted.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Returned Rule 5 pick LHP Edward Campusano to the Cubs. [10/10]
Acquired SS-R Edgar Renteria from the Braves in exchange for RHP Jair Jurrjens and CF-S Gorkys Hernandez. [10/29]

In the face of the questions about Carlos Guillen's ability to stay at short over the life of his new deal, and with the club's long-standing problems at first base over several years, you can admire Dave Dombrowski's solution. He's picking up one year guaranteed and a 2009 option on Renteria, a productive hitter at shortstop coming off of a pair of outstanding seasons in Atlanta, years that rival his peak seasons as a Cardinal in 2002-03 in terms of productivity at the plate. Dombrowski's more than familiar with Renteria, having signed him all the way back in 1992, when the Marlins weren't even really fully extant (and in the face of rumors over whether or not Renteria had changed his age to be old enough to sign, and was possibly only 15).

To shoot a fish in barrel, he's an offensive upgrade on Sean Casey-the regular he's replacing-but that really shouldn't be the standard in play. The real question is whether or not Renteria's going to keep putting up seasons with Equivalent Averages over .280, where he's about as productive as your average first baseman, or if he's going to retreat back into that thoroughly adequate .250-.260 range that seems to be his more-frequent performance pole, and the sort of production that produced panic attacks across New England in 2005. Dombrowski's bet only really works if Renteria stays at his peaks, and away from those valleys; otherwise, he could have just as easily gone out and added an average offensive first baseman or better, and taken the chance that Guillen can handle short for the next year or two, the same length of time that Renteria is Tigers property. That would have been a risk-Guillen's defensive numbers at short are pretty poor by any number of metrics.

Coming up on his age-32 season, the quality of Renteria's defense at short is admittedly closer to adequate than excellent, but it doesn't hurt that he'll be flanked by Brad Inge (a top defender at third, worthy of a Gold Glove) and Placido Polanco (not the best second baseman in the AL, but a good one). As the Indians showed with Jhonny Peralta, a defensive question mark at short isn't really something that can cost you a division title, not by itself. If the Tigers make gains at first base as a result of employing Guillen there, they might net a defensive gain as well as the obvious offensive one.

The question of whether or not the price was worth it depends a lot on context. The Tigers dealt from strength, dealing a live arm and a center fielder, two things they actually have in relative plenty. Although Hernandez hit an impressive .293/.344/.391 as a 19-year-old regular in the Midwest League, and also stole 54 bases in 65 attempts, there's the question of whether or not he would have ever been able to push his way into an outfield that should feature both Curtis Granderson and Cameron Maybin for years to come. Of the three, Hernandez was the most easily available, the furthest from the majors, and arguably the one with the lowest ceiling. That last point is more to Granderson's and Maybin's credit than a slam of Hernandez; flychaser leadoff types with Hernandez's talent don't grow on trees. Jair Jurrjens is a good pitching prospect, but not one with the same upside as Andrew Miller, and if he was still around, Kevin Goldstein would rate him behind Rick Porcello, and perhaps a few others besides.

So, this was depth they could afford to deal, but was it the right deal? There aren't a lot of shortstops available who might also make for solid offensive contributors, and Renteria's almost certainly better than an available option like Jack Wilson. There's no money free agent first baseman on the market, not unless you want to give a one-year deal to an old-timer like Luis Gonzalez or Mike Piazza on the basis of their sporadic play at first. So if you go the "new first baseman" route, you're effectively in the same boat as you were in as far as getting Renteria-trying to swing a deal. Maybe you find a way to get Adam LaRoche from the Pirates, or Adam Dunn from the Reds (moving him out of left, naturally), or maybe even take a chance and try to get Jim Thome from the White Sox. But getting Dunn would involve a lot of snarly negotiations to get through or buy out the various stumbling blocks and no-trade provisions in his deal, and those other options aren't really any better than Renteria, and they certainly don't get you any closer to addressing Guillen's fielding problems at short.

The long and short of it? Dombrowski pulled off a solid deal that's obviously a win-now move, he improved the team afield and possibly on offense, and he did it without seriously harming his organization's talent base. As far as putting pressure on the Indians, you can consider this a first sound improvement.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Outrighted SS-S Andres Blanco to Omaha (Triple-A). [10/31]
Claimed RHP Colby Lewis off of waivers from the Athletics. [11/2]

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Outrighted OF-Rs Lew Ford and Josh Rabe and UT-R Tommy Watkins to Rochester (Triple-A). [10/5]
Outrighted MI-S Alejandro Machado and C/1B-R Matthew LeCroy to Rochester (LeCroy refused assignment and became a free agent). [10/11]

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Noted the official opt-out of 3B-R Alex Rodriguez, making himself a free agent. [10/30]
Exercised their 2008 option on OF-L Bobby Abreu. [11/2]
Announced that LHP Andy Pettitte has declined his 2008 player option, making himself a free agent. [11/5]

So, the people who can leave are, and someone like Abreu, who didn't have the option, won't. I'm not really wrapped up in the melodrama of the prospective implosion of Yankeedom. I wouldn't take myself out of the A-Rod bidding, understanding that with their crew of outstanding young pitchers, they really should be in the business of putting together another potent lineup, and if they can retain a premium hitter like A-Rod while digging up a solution to their hole at first base, they're still in business, regardless of whether or not Joe Torre's getting a tan. The real challenge is whether or not the organization really wants to place a Steinbrennerian ukase on all things A-Rod in a pointlessly imperious tantrum, or if they want to be pragmatic. If they stay in the bidding, they can still simultaneously retool and contend. Or they can cede second place to the Jays for a year and just retool, but my concern is that if, in a post-A-Rod environment, they feel they should spend the money just to spend it, they really wind back up in the situation when they settled for guys like Dave Collins or Steve Kemp.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Outrighted LHPs Ron Flores and Brad Halsey, RHPs Shane Komine and Jason Windsor, C-S Adam Melhuse, INF-R J.J. Furmaniak, and OF-L Dee Brown to Sacramento (Triple-A). [10/5]
Claimed RHP Jose Garcia off of waivers from the Marlins. [10/11]
Lost LHP Jay Marshall on a waiver claim by the Red Sox. [10/15]
Outrighted RHP Connor Robertson to Sacramento; noted the loss of OF-L Chris Snelling on a waiver claim by the Rays. [10/25]
Announced the loss of RHP Colby Lewis on a waiver claim by the Royals. [11/2]

Some A's fans might quail over the losses of Snelling and Marshall, but both were contingency-dependent pickups in the first place. Marshall needed to do well to guarantee his place as a second lefty; he did not, and they acquired the even more talented Jerry Blevins at the deadline. So, keeping a spare future-oriented second lefty type on the 40-man over the winter wasn't a luxury Billy Beane decided to afford himself; no biggie, although there is the opportunity cost of the roster space and time invested in carrying Marshall on the active and 40-man rosters for an entire season, and that's not without value.

Losing Snelling might seem even more unpalatable, but there's less and less reason to believe he's ever going to be healthy for an extended period of time, at which point he might grow up to be, what, le grand Orange: les annees doré (better known as 1981-1985)? If Daric Barton's set at first base next year, then Nick Swisher's presumably going to be manning one outfield corner or another on a daily basis. Nobody thinks Snelling can play center, and he's no longer a prospect that rates with Travis Buck; while it might be interesting to keep him on the possibility that he might challenge Jack Cust for playing time, that's an expensive proposition, and since he's not a right-handed bat, he doesn't make a lot of sense as a reserve in an A's outfield already well-stocked with lefties. So, he came off of the 40-man, while someone like Chris Denorfia-who is right-handed, might play a bit of center, and doesn't have Snelling's rep for fragility, a missed 2007 season aside-gets kept. It happens, but I don't think you have to be a fan of one team or another to hope that Snelling makes the A's join the Nats and Mariners in the world of regret should he finally shine as a Ray.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Outrighted RHP Jorge Campillo and 2B-R Nick Green to Tacoma (Triple-A). [10/24]
Declined to pick up their 2008 options on RF-R/Charmer Jose Guillen and RHP Chris Reitsma. [11/2]

There isn't a lot to say about their decision to forgo the pleasures of employing Guillen; he's not an offensive asset, he's got a well-earned reputation for being trouble in cleats, and Adam Jones has to get an opportunity at some point, and Wladimir Balentien can't be too much further behind. If the Mariners want to get serious about themselves instead of employing the same veteran mediocrities that Bill Bavasi seems to have committed himself to time and again-first in Anaheim and now here-this certainly represents a step in the right direction.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Claimed OF-L Chris Snelling off of waivers from the Athletics; released RHP Jay Witasick. [10/25]
Claimed LHP Kurt Birkins off of waivers from the Orioles; designated C-S Raul Casanova for assignment. [10/29]
Outrighted RHP Shawn Camp and MI-R Jorge Velandia to Durham; both rejected the assignment and became free agents. [10/31]

I already touched on my feelings about the Snelling pickup in the A's segment; it's a worthwhile low-risk pickup, although keeping him on the Rays' 40-man roster is going to be hard as their prospective add-ons in homegrown talent crowd aboard to avoid Rule 5 pilfering. As challengers to Jonny Gomes go, he makes for a more interesting option at DH than Rocco Baldelli-whose value if he isn't afield seems pretty doubtful-or bringing back Greg Norton. As is, should the Rays receive that tasty offer for Carl Crawford that makes them pull the trigger on a deal, they'll have another possible in-house fallback option. Birkins is semi-interesting, in that he did good work as a situational lefty in the majors in 2006, but struggled to get his fellow southpaws in 2007; however, he was still very effective against lefties in the International League this season, holding them to .145/.252/.242. For this franchise, that's the sort of thing worth taking a chance on with a waiver claim, rather than spending seven figures on the free market to find an alternative to the perpetually exasperating Jon Switzer.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Outrighted RHP Mike Wood, C-R Chris Stewart, and OF-R Kevin Mahar to Oklahoma (Triple-A). [10/15]
Outrighted C-R Guillermo Quiroz to Oklahoma. [10/18]
Claimed OF-R Nick Gorneault off of waivers from the Angels. [10/29]
Agreed to terms with RHP Joaquin Benoit on a two-year, $6 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [10/31]

Gorneault seems like a pretty odd add-on-what do the Rangers want with yet another strong-armed right-handed corner outfielder with OBP problems? He's older than Nelson Cruz, older than Victor Diaz, and somebody who hits .261/.346/.437 overall while calling Salt Lake home (and .249/.323/.405 in the PCL parks outside of Utah) had better play a great center-and Gorneault doesn't. A decidedly strange pickup, and one that might be wiped away this month when teams set up their 40-man rosters.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Claimed LHP Mike Gosling and SS-R Pedro Lopez off of waivers from the Reds; outrighted RHPs Jordan DeJong, Lee Gronkiewicz, and Jamie Vermiliyea to Syracuse (Triple-A). [10/26]
Signed 1B/OF-L Matt Stairs to a two-year, $3.25M contract. [11/2]

Claiming both Gosling and Lopez addresses a pair of areas where the Jays could use some depth. Among the lefties who can start on the mound that they might carry across the winter, both Brian Tallet and Scott Downs are a season or more removed from their days as utility pitchers instead of relievers. Gustavo Chacin and Davis Romero are both damaged goods, and even prospect David Purcey (a 2004 first-rounder) hurt his elbow and missed significant time. That's really about it as far as upper-level lefty pitching help, so nabbing Gosling was a sensible enough move, not too dissimilar from the low-stakes pickups of Downs (as a discarded Expo free agent) and Tallet (in a minor swap with the Tribe). Gosling throws hard for a lefty, and he did throw seven quality starts in 13 down at Louisville; he was also signally effective against left-handed batters at the level (.195/.253/.234).

As for Lopez, he's not a great prospect, but he does play short well, and he did hit .284/.346/.368 last year in Triple-A, and despite moving to his third organization without really graduating from the minors, he'll only be 24 next year. Given the profound weakness the franchise has endured at the position since it became clear that Russ Adams couldn't cut it, another body can't hurt. The real problem is that however talented Lopez is, it might not matter. Having overpaid for John McDonald, the Jays might punt that slot in the lineup and promote him to everyday play.

Nevertheless, having Lopez or fellow Reds refugee Ray Olmedo around as alternatives might help the Jays improve from last season's miserable finish as the AL's fourth-worst lineup. They might reasonably hope for rebound seasons from Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay, and to get something more from their left fielders (more likely Adam Lind than Reed Johnson). However, you can line up those pegs in your wishcast, but then you have to get around to acknowledging that last year's weak overall offensive production was heavily dependent on the always-fragile contributions of Frank Thomas and Troy Glaus; reliable OBP machine Gregg Zaun's going to be 37 next year. Signing Stairs doesn't help tip things in the right direction, but it does mean that a native Canadian's sticking around, and Stairs does represent sensible roster insurance at first, left, and DH, where the Jays have to deal with ongoing questions about performance and reliable availability. As re-ups go, it makes sense, but it doesn't really address the club's major lineup issues.


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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