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December 17, 2007

Transaction of the Day

AL West

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Non-tendered 1B/3B-L Dallas McPherson.

Mission Accomplished? Take that, McPherson! I'm sort of sad about this, because Mac had his uses as a lefty bat who can help out at either infield corner, but the hot corner's got no shortage of players to play it in Anaheim, what with Chone Figgins decisively crowded out of the outfield, plus Maicer Izturis, "Double-B Q" Robb Quinlan (why isn't Burger King calling?), and Brandon Wood all having their assorted virtues. Quinlan and Izturis have their uses at other positions, of course, while Wood's still flailing, in the Mexican Winter League at the moment.

However, it's a thoroughly sensible move; McPherson missed the year with back trouble, and he seemed to find ways to fall out of favor before the back became an issue. He was never a particularly good third baseman, but that increasingly hasn't stopped many teams from playing a guy at third these days. The real issue is that McPherson isn't even playing winter ball, and without landing with another organization, doesn't seem likely to. The Giants have been rumored to have some interest, and McPherson would make a nice add-on there as an option at either corner.

Skroo-Uppz©*: Perfection may not be my middle name (believe me, I changed it), but I committed a noteworthy error in my initial take on the decision to sign Torii Hunter. I suffered from the delusion that the Angels would employ Gary Matthews Jr. in center, because failing that, he's the world's most overpaid fourth outfielder (at least as long as the Dodgers insist on playing Juan Pierre in left). Instead, we can take the decision to start Hunter in center and reduce Matthews to part-time play as a sensible bit of adaptation. The money spent on Matthews is already spent, so why turn his contract into a suicide/murder pact? Suicide/murder? Isn't it usually the other way around? Well, keep in mind that it was self-destructive to give him the deal in the first place, but playing him regularly from here on out could prove deadly. There's a mini-dynasty in the AL West to launch, so it's probably best to just safely limit your Matthews usage if you find yourself locked in with him.

As is, the Angels have a half-dozen starting-caliber outfielders, and only four lineup slots to play them in-the three plus DH. Keeping all six seems a bit of a stretch, but with Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson both becoming something less than perfect outfielders, Hunter might be the only true regular in the group. Guerrero will get the majority of starts in right, but a lot of DH time seems likely. So there's a chance to work in Reggie Willits and Juan Rivera and/or Matthews, but I'm just not buying that they'll still be carrying all six come Opening Day. I suppose optioning Willits back to Utah is an option, but that seems like an unfair distribution of talent; worse guys are starting in center than Willits or Matthews for other major league teams.

What Else Might Santa Bring? How about a factory recall of Little Sarge? He's got too much of some noxious substance in him, lead, fish oil, bauxite, it's something or another-I've been given to understand that it's in all the papers. More pragmatically, the Halos could use another lefty reliever to provide an alternative to Darren Oliver. They might sign a veteran catcher on an NRI deal to provide someone with major league experience as an alternative to the perpetually punchless Jeff Mathis as a caddy for Mike Napoli, but with Bobby Wilson nearly ready, they really don't have to. (Mathis' believers might point out his throwing out better than 40 percent of opposing base thieves with the Buzz; Wilson managed nearly 48 percent in Arkansas, he can hit, and he's only a month younger.)

* Skroo-Uppz© is the copyrighted intellectual property of Jim Baker, and is used entirely without his permission, save for an acknowledgment of his genius.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Traded RHPs Dan Haren and Connor Robertson to the Diamondbacks for LHPs Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland, and Greg Smith, 1B-R Chris Carter, OF-R Aaron Cunningham, and OF-L Carlos Gonzalez; signed RHP Kiko Calero to a one-year contract (after initially non-tendering him, so presumably he got a pay cut larger than 10 percent); signed LHP Lenny DiNardo to a one-year, $900,000 contract; selected RHP Fernando Hernandez from the White Sox in the Rule 5 draft; claimed LHP Jay Marshall off of waivers from the Red Sox, and subsequently outrighted him to Sacramento (Triple-A); designated RHP Jose Garcia for assignment; claimed 1B-R Wes Bankston off of waivers from the Royals.

Mission Accomplished? The rebuild is on, so the real question is whether this is where it stops, or if Billy Beane will still flip Joe Blanton before arbitration makes him a seven-figures earner. Given that there are questions about the health of Justin Duchscherer, Chad Gaudin, and of course Rich Harden, dealing the bulldog might be a starter too far. That's because right now, beyond Blanton, we're at DiNardo and Dallas Braden... maybe Dan Meyer... and Eveland's started a few games, and, um... well, Eddie Rommel throws a nice knuckleball, and those guys are ageless, right? Aside from Rommel being dead, I mean. After that, we get into wondering if organizational soldier Brad Knox might not get a shot at being the rotation's token healthy right-hander.

So the rotation's a bleak picture, but the package received from Haren promises a couple of potential patches on that score. Eveland's driven his organizations to distraction for his failure to keep himself in shape, but lefties that throw in the mid-90s don't grow on trees, and he still has good breaking stuff and a tendency to get ground-ball outs. He's also pitching very effectively in Mexican winter ball, with 69 strikeouts in 61 innings, with only 13 unintentional walks. Maybe he shapes up with the A's and gives them a quality starting pitcher starting now, and maybe he winds up in Sacramento for the extended Dan Meyer-length stay. Of all of the players in the deal, he's probably the closest thing to a wild card; he could wash out or star, or do one then the other, and I don't think anyone would be surprised; it's why he's already on his third organization in a little more than twelve months.

Next up is Smith, a product of LSU who might be able to step into the rotation sooner rather than later. He got a slow start last season because of some shoulder weakness, but pitched his way up through Double- and Triple-A before shining in the Arizona Fall League. He's a deception-dependent lefty who generates a lot of flyballs, so he could also get completely crushed if he's rushed, and there's not a ton of upside to him. Trailing behind them is Anderson, a second-round high school hurler picked in '06 with clean mechanics and solid command if little velocity; last year was his first year as a pro, and he didn't get beaten up too badly upon a promotion to the High-A Cal League.

That's three arms with promise, but the real upside in the deal is to be found among the hitters. Cunningham's somebody I've already discussed as a prospect both exceptionally promising and potentially problematic, while Kevin Goldstein ranked him the eighth-best outfield prospect in baseball as recently as late August. There's a chance that Cunningham could be the worst of the three hitters the A's picked up in this deal, which is no slight. Carter's as promising as he was in the White Sox or D'back organizations, he's just moved from one organization that might have been especially good at helping him polish up his pitch identification to another, and regardless, he's going to get that opportunity in the Cal League. Certainly, the nice thing about moving back to an AL organization is that Carter's defensive problems don't have to stall his career, since there's always DHing to look forward to.

Finally, there's Gonzalez, without doubt the best player in a good six-player package. I can't speak to speculation that he'll really kick it in once he makes the majors, but the abilities he has at his disposal helped rank him third on that aforementioned Goldstein list. Instead, what I reflect upon is that the guy hit .326/.373/.554 against right-handed pitching as a 21-year-old in the Southern League-and some people were disappointed by that. You might anticipate he'll be a right fielder because of his arm, but he might wind up in center in an organization that is willing to stomach Jack Cust in an outfield corner at the major league level. However, with Travis Buck and Nick Swisher presumably established in the corners at the major league level for next season, the center field job is there for him to win once he proves himself ready for the call; the competition is a recuperating Chris Denorfia and what's left of Mark Kotsay. It might wait until a couple of months into the season, but I expect good things, even if Gonzalez isn't the "ideal" walks-drawing fiend the organization is supposed to exclusively employ, and even if Gonzalez might only be adequate in center. The offensive upside remains intriguing, and if he's not the stereotypical "A's hitter," that doesn't mean he's without value, and more power to the A's for never being the kind of rigid club Joe Morgan and the like make them out to be.

Finally, on the spin-doctoring side of things, it's always refreshing to see a GM who doesn't consider "rebuilding" a dirty word. There's certainly no way the A's should try and dress this up as "retooling"-the Angels are easily the class of the division, and the Mariners are the team with the better near-term shot if anybody has one. As an analyst, the sense of it is sound, if somewhat grim in the short term, and as a fan-because some childhood loyalties never wane-I can relate to my fellow A's fans who are buckling in for another extended dose of Codiroli-era ugliness. As a business development issue, it's especially sound-why not focus on putting together the team that moves into Fremont and becomes the Bear Flag Republic A's, the South Bay A's of San Jose's General Vicinity, or Jessie's Boys? I say we liberate 'California' from the Angels, since they're not using that particular expression in their overly broad geographic arsenal, because that's about the only thing the A's might steal from them in the near future.

Oh, and the other stuff: Bankston's not my first choice for a way to use a roster spot. He doesn't exactly have a future when Daric Barton's already up, he's flopped in trials at third and the outfield, and he hasn't really built on a promising second half in Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2005. Maybe he gets fixed here, and maybe he helps bring a PCL pennant to Sacramento. And in case you missed it, they briefly lost but now still have Jay Marshall, one of last year's Rule 5 picks. Having added Jerry Blevins in the Jason Kendall deal, they're already better-equipped in the side-arming lefty department, but there's no rule against keeping another around, if he has promise.

What Else Might Santa Bring? Health for the aforementioned trio of Duchscherer, Harden, and Gaudin? A healthy Bobby Crosby? Eric Chavez? Do I detect a trend? Okay, setting that stuff aside, how about something useful in exchange for Mark Ellis from some needy contender short a second baseman? Not that I want Ellis to go away, but if Kevin Melillo has a good camp, no harm in looking at him and Donnie Murphy at second while letting Ellis play someplace where the playoffs are in the picture. For what? Well, one of the nice things about being out of it is that you can take almost anything on a 'best player available' standard, figuring that you can make it work later on.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired INF-L Tug Hulett from the Rangers for 1B-L Ben Broussard; non-tendered LHP John Parrish; selected RHP R.A. Dickey in the Rule 5 draft.

Mission Accomplished? Getting Broussard out of the way of Adam Jones and perhaps also Wladimir Balentien's all to the good to start off with. I like getting Hulett, although it isn't the sort of deal that's going to shock people because he or the other guy wins the MVP award someday. Hulett's essentially a second baseman with some experience at third and short, he runs well, and he has some platoon value hitting lefty, having hit right-handers at a .283/.373/.428 clip. That's a nice enough blend of virtues to make him the exact opposite of Willie Bloomquist in a useful bench role, but there's a little bit more than that at stake here-Hulett could make for a worthwhile alternative to Jose Lopez and Yung-Chi Chen at second, especially when Lopez is struggling to fulfill his potential as a power source. Add in that Hulett didn't have to be added to the 40-man-saving the Mariners another space for some other purpose-and it's a nice little move. Should Shin-Soo Choo not pan out, this might boil down to a nice way to first get a useful year and a half out of Broussard, then convert that into an infielder they could use.

What Else Might Santa Bring? Not Hideki Kuroda, so barring the acquisition of another starting pitcher, the Mariners are left with Cha Seung Baek, Ryan Feierabend (a man who lived up to his name last year by lighting up a few too many evenings), and Dickey, the aspiring knuckleballer seeking a career rebirth. Hence the persistent rumors that Bill Bavasi is trying to flip some of his system's blue-chip goodies towards the Orioles to acquire Erik Bedard, a move that would certainly help make the case that the M's aren't just going to settle for a second-place life in the West. However, they're sensibly keeping their irons in other fires, not that Freddy Garcia or Kyle Lohse would represent much more than another standard-issue mid-rotation righty to use while waiting for Felix Hernandez to blossom into true greatness. That's why the Bedard angle is so tantalizing-he'd notionally provide the Mariners with that second starter to put up front with King Felix, with Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, and presumably Horacio Ramirez trundling along behind. That can get better still if the current fifth-man crowd gets to compete with Ramirez, winner take all.

Me, I'd rather see the Mariners make Jose Vidro disappear, give most of the DH at-bats to Raul Ibañez, and play Balentien and Jones in the outfield. Sure, that might seem like a near-lock to finish behind the Angels in 2008 and might reflect a lack of ambition, but for 2009 and beyond, that's a pretty interesting team. The decision to try and get Kuroda-no spring chicken at 33 next season-to sign a three-year deal was a reasonable calculation, and if they keep that core of young homegrown talent and settle for a veteran starter with some upside-think Chief Garcia over the likes of Lohse or Carlos Silva-on a similar short-term deal, that might be enough to make a run on the Angels until they can shop for a better class of free agent pitching talent after the Richie Sexson, Vidro, Ramirez, and Kenji Johjima contracts can all come off of the books after 2008.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Acquired 1B-R Chris Shelton from the Tigers for OF-S Freddy Guzman; signed OF-S Milton Bradley to a one-year contract; non-tendered RHP Akinori Otsuka; acquired 1B-L Ben Broussard from the Mariners for INF-L Tug Hulett; signed RHP Kazuo Fukumori to a two-year, $3 million contract with a club option for 2010; designated OF-R Nick Gorneault for assignment.

Mission Accomplished? Yes, thrice over. By signing Bradley, they found a better outfielder than Brad Wilkerson to give them some lefty sock, although they're still running the risk of employing a particularly fragile player in a key offensive role. Bradley's their instant headliner in a group that has Nelson Cruz, Frank Catalanotto, Jason Botts, Marlon Byrd, and David Murphy all wrestling for playing time in the outfield and at DH. It would be nice to count among 2008's positive developments that Cruz or Murphy or Botts establish themselves as worthwhile contributors to a lineup that already gets value out of its infield and should get runs from Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. Cruz, Botts, and Murphy aren't kids; the first two are already 27, while Murphy's 26, so if any one of them is going to have a future in the majors, the future's already here. Murphy's got a better chance, not simply because of youth, but because I don't know if anybody believes that the Byrd is the word in center fielde for any length of time, and there's no other rival for playing time in that spot.

Then there's the solution at first base, as Jon Daniels effectively slapped together the equivalent of a Quonset hut on the spot by picking up both Shelton and Broussard. Maybe that winds up as a platoon, and maybe one of them nicks some playing time at DH from Botts. It isn't hard to envision either of them slugging .450 or better in regular playing time. Broussard isn't cheap, and will no doubt get an arbitration-related compensation package somewhere in the $4-5 million range, but at least they know what they're getting, and if Shelton makes a comeback having gotten back out of the Tigers' organizational doghouse, it would make for a nice turn of events.

Finally, there's essentially exchanging Otsuka and Fukumori. This might strike some people as strange, because it might seem like Otsuka only just got here, but his arm's enough of a risk that it deterred potential trading partners, and he's going to be going into his age-36 season next spring. Fukumori arrives with questions about his elbow, but at 31, he's younger, and he arrives with some closing experience after rattling around the rosters of Yokohama, Kintetsu, and most recently Rakuten. The price seems to be a reflection over general concerns about the elbow, but if he's sound, he could help turn the Rangers' pen into a committee situation, where everyone gets used as a matter of in-game need, and the saves just go to the last man used. That might cost C.J. Wilson a few tens of millions if he's expecting saves-driven paydays in another year or two, but that's only really material to him; if the Rangers win more games by being flexible, more power to them.

What Else Might Santa Bring? Maybe a veteran reliever; the rotation has no shortage of candidates, and I think the lineup's stocked well enough. I wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers saw themselves as effectively done, barring somebody cheap and hard-up for a place to play coming their way in January or early February. That really takes us out of Santa territory, though, and puts us more properly into areas where we'd have to express gratitude to la Befana, or maybe Dr. John as the embodiment of Mardi Gras.


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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