November 13, 2007
NL Pickups and Discards
Signed SS-S Ramon Santiago to a one-year, $575,000 contract. [11/11]
While I like this deal more from the Cubs' perspective, it has some merits for the Tigers. Getting Jones in the last year of his deal theoretically provides them a decent lefty-swinging veteran alternative to Marcus Thames in left, while also giving the team another option should Gary Sheffield break down (some would say when). It's only costing them $3 million, and since Jones can plausibly be employed at three different outfield positions, that's really not much to spend for an adequate outfield option. The expense of having Jones around shouldn't be daunting enough in itself if either Cameron Maybin or Ryan Raburn make a solid case early on that they should be playing regularly in the major leagues. If there's a problem, it's with assertions that Jones should be part of a full-time platoon in left-he might be useful in some ways, but as the heavy side of a platoon playing every day as a left fielder, he's a liability. If it's instead a matter of spotting him against right-handers who struggle with any lefty, maybe even against the odd bass-ackwards southpaw, and if he's just a placeholder until Maybin and Raburn earn larger roles, that's fine, but if the Tigers allow Jones to block either of them, it's a small good turn they'll have done the Indians.
As for re-upping Todd Jones and Santiago, given their current constellation of talent, both moves are sensible enough. Until Joel Zumaya proves that he's healthy, they can be forgiven for sticking with what they know for late-game situations. Santiago will probably get kept as Edgar Renteria's infrequently-used defensive replacement, and if that spares them from ever revisiting their relationship with Neifi Perez, so much the better.
Claimed RHP Chris Resop off of waivers from the Angels; designated RHP Chad Paronto for assignment. [10/25]
As much as I liked this trade from the Tigers' point of view, I also really like it for what it does for the Braves. On the big league side of things, moving Renteria provides a pain-free way of turning the job at short over to Yunel Escobar. Matched with Kelly Johnson at second, the Braves can boast a talented middle infield combo that compares nicely enough to some of their division rivals-the better-hitting Phillies pair currently in their primes, or the more defensively dubious duo employed by the Marlins. There's also the money saved by moving Renteria, which no small thing when the Braves need to shop around for some help in the rotation this winter.
On the broader, organizational level, the deal provides additional benefits, in that Jurrjens might be part of the solution to their immediate need for starting pitching, but if he isn't now, he will be soon. He's only 22, throws reasonably hard with excellent touch and solid command, and off-speed stuff that only seems to be getting better with age. He managed 7.5 strikeouts against only 2.2 walks per nine at Erie, and 1.5 groundball outs to flyballs, and he pitched with the moxie that major league teams like to see during his stint in the Tigers' rotation last spring. Getting him doesn't obviate the need to find an alternative to Mike Hampton and Buddy Carlyle, and it doesn't silence the drumbeat to bring back Tom Glavine for one last spin, but it does provide them with the nearly-ready depth that they'll need once Glavine and Hampton disappoint them. It's pretty easy to envision an in-season scenario where Jurrjens lands in the fourth or fifth slot by August, and helps keep the team in contention down the stretch, should they get that far.
On the longer-term side of things, the Braves also get Hernandez, as exciting a speed/center field/leadoff prospect as you'll find in the lower minors. The young Venezuelan only turned 20 after the conclusion of the Midwest League season, and he delivered a .294/.344/.391 campaign in his full-season debut, spiced with 54 stolen bases in 65 attempts. He didn't pick up the power some hoped for, but at his age and given his other gifts, it's okay if that lags behind; if it never shows, we're still talking about a prospect with the potential to be a good everyday player in center in the major leagues. It isn't hard to get excited about a future Braves outfield that might feature Hernandez between Jeff Francoeur and Brandon Jones, something we might see by the end of 2009. If the Braves had gotten financial freedom and Hernandez alone, it would have been a good trade, but credit new GM Frank Wren for getting Jurrjens-he's provides real meat to this deal every bit as much as Hernandez does, so I wouldn't refer to anybody involved as mere gravy.
Received back LHP Edward Campusano, a 2006 Rule 5 pick, from the Tigers. [10/10]
This is happy news. You might reasonably hope that adding another guy who can play both middle infield positions might help get Ryan Theriot off of short, even if it involves placing another potential stumbling block in front of Ronny Cedeno. However, center field is now cleared out to make room for Felix Pie, and with the catching job apparently Geovany Soto's to lose, it very much seems that the Cubs are making room for at least two of their three ready-now position prospects. With Theriot, Cedeno, Infante, and Mark DeRosa all competing for playing time, the Cubs' camp should make for interesting watching next spring, and three of them able to play second and short, and all of them having some experience in utility roles, the combinations are interesting, as well as hopefully compelling enough to save Jim Hendry from his unfortunately high regard for free agent Kaz Matsui.
In terms of brass tacks, the Cubs save themselves about $2.5 million (Jones' $5 million, less the pair of mill they had to give the Tigers, less Pie's salary) as well as getting the playing time back; the money's already soaked off by the accelerating contract values of several of the team's core players. However, Infante's a pretty nice pickup in his own right. He'll only be 26 next season, he can play three infield spots well plus center in a pinch, a useful baserunner, and even an occasional power source. While nobody's going to call Lou Piniella a softie, it might also be nice to see what Infante's capable of coming out of Jim Leyland's doghouse. Should he deliver something the lines of .270/.310/.400 and a .250-something EqA off of the bench, that's a quality utility player. If Cedeno can't win the job at short, and should Infante win it away from Theriot, those same numbers would represent a better than replacement-level alternative.
Noted that INF-S Mark Bellhorn, OF-R Jason Ellison, and RHP Kirk Saarloos refused outright assignments and elected for free agency. [10/11]
The Dunn decision was a no-brainer, however much local hysteria and drama seems to attach itself to him, and there's still the opportunity for the club to either keep him and enjoy the benefits in the lineup and the draft picks after he leaves, or to deal him using their narrow opportunity of a contractual six-week window before the July 31 trade deadline to one of the ten teams he designates. Either way, it's a non-gamble, and if Dusty Baker, Dunn, and the Reds can sort of start over and move past the whining about strikeouts and just learn to love their best offensive player, it would be a step in the right direction. I know, Dusty and diplomacy in the same sentence, but I'm trying to stay optimistic that the fine folk of the Rhineland won't have to see the disgraceful spectacle of Darren Baker reprising his role as daddy's human shield at post-tough loss press conferences. Anyone want to offer odds that Darren's asked to keep doing this beyond his eleventh birthday (or, in year three of Dusty's deal)?
Slightly different are the decisions to retain Hatteberg and Valentin, both smart plays in light of what people might cost on the open market. I know, in a reasonably enlightened world Hatteberg loses his job to Joey Votto next spring, and gets dealt to a team still short a first baseman, and easily able to absorb Hatteberg's low, low, low price of $1.85 million. Maybe that team should be the Yankees, maybe the Giants; it doesn't matter. For the money Hatteberg costs, he's essentially a cheap steal for somebody who needs help. The problem is that with Dusty Baker skippering the club, Hatteberg will probably get handed the job, Votto will go back to terrorizing Triple-A pitching, and the Reds won't get any closer to fielding a legitimately good team. Valentin doesn't provide that sort of anguish; he's sort of rag-armed behind the plate, but he's an offensive asset against right-handed pitching, and given the general shortage of worthwhile backstops, keeping a valuable reserve locked up for only $1.35 million is a sensible appreciation of what they might be going for in the hot stove league.
Declined to exercise their mutual option for RHP LaTroy Hawkins, making him a free agent. [10/30]
Outrighted C-R Paul Hoover, OF-S Todd Linden, and INF-R Jason Wood to Albuquerque (Triple-A); acknowledged the waiver-claim losses of OF-R Reggie Abercrombie to the Astros and RHP Jose Garcia to the Athletics. [10/11]
Claimed OF-R Reggie Abercrombie off of waivers from the Marlins. [10/11]
I'm never really going to understand the enduring curiosity about Reggie Abercrombie, but there again, I recently stumbled through the hundreds of pages of Dan Simmons' The Terror in all their overwhelming, grindingly depressing multitude, and I'm totally convinced that certain death in the face of an elemental scourge from the land of unproductive waste is something I'd quickly sign up to avoid. A bass-ackwards center fielder who can't hit breaking stuff? The Astros have obviously chosen otherwise, seeking instead that impossible passage to a land where Abercrombie has value; here's hoping they don't end up having to eat their own shower sandals to survive the decision.
Outrighted 1B-R Olmedo Saenz and RHP Roberto Hernandez to Las Vegas (Triple-A); both refused the assignments to become free agents. [10/12]
Outrighted RHP Chris Spurling and OF-L Mel Stocker to Nashville (Triple-A). [10/5]
Letting Jenkins walk might upset the Brett Favre-fan fringe, but it makes thoroughly good sense in light of his platoon limitations, his failure to hit outside of Milwaukee. If they decide to keep the left field platoon in place, they can always just give Jenkins' share of the job to Gabe Gross. The more difficult call might be whether or not to offer Kevin Mench arbitration, since he eventually came around in his platoon production, but they wouldn't be able to cut Mench's pay as much as it should be down from the $3.4 million he was paid in 2007 if they did make the offer, and his performance against right-handers was nothing short of ghastly (.212/.261/.303).
The nicest things you can say about Nelson are that he slugged .503 against right-handers and that he'll only be 25 going into next season, but he only hit .263/.317/.470 overall in the PCL. They played him at all four corners this past season, and you could reasonably expect that he's basically still just a first baseman in an organization that already has Prince Fielder, but he's not a complete slug out there, and his arm isn't terrible. It's sort of the Corey Hart scenario writ small, where he hasn't done well in his attempts to stick in the outfield, but he didn't embarrass himself in his brief trial at the hot corner. Whatever Ryan Braun's eventual fate might be position-wise, the questions that were once asked about Hart can be asked about both Braun and Nelson, and they can't all wind up playing first base or left field. Muddling matters is the question of where Rickie Weeks winds up if he can't stick at second, but after Bill Hall's ugly season in center, a destination-and perhaps even an out-and-out exchange of positions-should suggest itself.
Designated RHP Kane Davis for assignment; released C-R Rod Barajas and INF-S Abraham Nunez. [10/11]
I guess Romero's deal strikes me as a bit odd. Not that I'm not happy for him-he's a rubber-armed lefty who seemed to thrive finally getting used in a manner that suits him once he joined the Phillies, throwing regularly instead of being squirreled away for the silliness of situational obsessions. He's a groundball guy, not just another southpaw in the pen who needs to be handled gingerly, like Mike Myers or something, and entirely hidden away from right-handed people as much as possible. It's a good match between team and player, environment and need. What I think is strange about it is giving him a three-plus-option contract, only scant months removed from his being waiver bait. Sure, it's a reflection of a funny reversal of fortune, and perhaps also a reflection on what figures to be slim pickings on the free agent market.
What I guess it's reminding me of is the Brewers of the last '70s, back when Harry Dalton was giving guys like Jim Slaton and Jerry Augustine monster-long contracts (six and five years, respectively). Then as now, in many respects general managers had financial resources they had never really had to work with before, and then as now, some people go with a "use it or lose it" mentality. Was this where contracts for fill-in pitchers might have wound up earlier, if not for the strike of '81 and collusion? Not really-Dalton's tactic was considered odd at the time. All in all, this is just a very happy thing for Romero, possibly a thing that will look good for a year, maybe two, and probably something that the next Phillies GM will be griping about not too long after Pat Gillick's ridden into yet another professional sunset.
Claimed OF-R Kevin Thompson off of waivers from the Athletics; designated UT-S Matt Kata for assignment. [10/15]
I'm probably as big a fan of jumping on waiver bait as you'll find, but if the Pirates seem to be getting the idea, they aren't exactly picking up the prizes. Thompson's the sort of guy you should only want over the winter on a minor league free agency deal; he's a 28-year-old outfielder with modest pop who can't really handle center, or somebody a lot like Nate McLouth, only right-handed. Collecting aspiring maybe-fourth outfielder types doesn't even resemble progress; it's just activity, devoid of purpose. Dumatrait's more interesting, not that the Pirates may really have needed another lefty without overpowering stuff, but he throws maybe a tick harder than most southpaws, and he seems to be all the way back from Tommy John surgery. This year's success at Louisville (4.1 RA per nine) is a bit mitigated by his still-questionable off-speed stuff, his merely adequate control (3.5 walks per nine), and his questionable durability, getting past the sixth inning only six times in 22 starts, and averaging roughly 5 2/3 IP per start. He didn't mow down lefties, so there's not really a semi-secret "situational ace" agenda in play. He's just left-handed and available for the price of a waiver claim, and that's not really special, not to this organization.
Claimed INF-S Luis Rodriguez off of waivers from the Twins; released OF-R Brady Clark. [10/4]
Should the Pads manage to carry Rodriguez on their 40-man through the winter, I like this as a minor-key move. He plays a pretty good second and third, he's not entirely useless as utility infield-level hitters go-hey, he switch-hits and everything-and on a roster with an unsettled second base situation and a relatively execrable third baseman in Kevin Kouzmanoff, he could be useful. That said, he's also easily outrightable and replaceable should the crunch of roster space or free agent pickups demand an extra slot, so if he doesn't stick, that's also not exactly the death knell of Padredom as we know it. Just a sound little pickup that, depending on events, might stick.
While some might decry the expense, given a generally young rotation and sufficient statistical evidence that Vizquel's value on defense remains unimpaired by age, keeping Little O makes sense. If having a reliable shortstop in 2007 and 2008 helps Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Jonathan Sanchez blossom into full-fledged acedom, you can sort of squint and see the outline of a plan not too unlike the Atlanta's turnaround in the early '90s, back when the Braves put a very similar faith in the powers of Rafael Belliard. However, even in his decrepitude as a hitter, Vizquel's still more of an asset than the Belliards-or Adam Everett, or John McDonald, or the Tony Pena Jr. types some GMs are turning to. The problem is the length of the holding pattern that they're going to have to maintain while scraping together a post-Bonds offense, which seems likely to extend for years. Unlike the mid-'80s, when Al Rosen and Roger Craig took over a mismanaged collection of talent, or the retooling that Brian Sabean did to re-mold a team around Barry Bonds in the late '90s, this is just a flat-out bad situation-a lineup bereft of any real power, and an infield with Vizquel and three question marks.
Released LHP Mike Maroth. [10/23]
Outrighted RHPs Winston Abreu, Jason Simontacchi, and Chris Booker, LHPs Mike Bacsik and Arnie Munoz, and OF-L Brandon Watson to Columbus (Triple-A). [10/10]
One of the nice things about sifting through fungible free talent is that you can pretty much let it slosh in and out of your organization as you busily sluice for the occasional nugget, so while there are a bunch of potentially useful reserve bits from among the Nats' discards-Bowie as a situational lefty, Watson as somebody's fifth outfielder-it isn't like losing any of them will haunt them for years to come.
The happier news is to be found in the additions to the 40-man, reflections on the slow progress the organization is making in improving its talent base. The two pitchers are both add-ons from other organizations. Down in the AFL, Mock's having a nice bounceback campaign from an injury-plagued 2007, showing unimpaired velocity and a healthy knee. He might be finally primed to have the breakthrough scouts have been wishcasting for him for years. Somewhat less promising, Jones at least improved during the course of the season, but he's still not especially proven coming back from shoulder surgery; the former Twins prospect will have to do a lot better than allowing more than 5.2 runs per nine in a High-A assignment to recapture his former promise.
In contrast, the two position players are holdovers. Since signing with the Expos back in 2001 (back when it was Jim Beattie's beat as GM), Bernadina's a guy I've followed for a while-how many Rogearvins are there in baseball? Bless the Dutch Antilles-and he has solid command of the zone, excellent speed afield and on the bases, and provides a good glove in center. While the organization's understandably interested in finding a center fielder better than Nook Logan to start on Opening Day in the new ballpark, they might also already have a better alternative than Logan for a reserve spot. A 2003 sixth-rounder (so also technically an Expo, but an Omar Minaya pickup) Whitesell had a good repeat season at Double-A, improving his numbers to .284/.425/.512 overall, and doing particularly well against right-handers (.300/.451/.546). Unfortunately, he was already 25 years old, so going into camp next spring on the cusp on his 26th birthday, he's getting into now-or-never territory.