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December 19, 2007

Transaction of the Day

AL Central

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Non-tendered UT-R Andy Gonzalez and LHP Heath Phillips.

No, really, that's all. The outfield Nazi says no center fielder for you! And you wonder why Kenny Williams sounds sullen these days...

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Acquired INF-R Jamey Carroll from the Rockies for a PTBNL; designated RHP J.D. Martin for assignment, and later outrighted him to Buffalo (Triple-A).

Mission Accomplished? Carroll might not be the sort of great-fielding shortstop that the Indians could use as a defensive replacement for Jhonny Peralta, but he can pick it at second and third, and if they decided to have Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera trade places, Carroll would still be a nifty d-rep until Peralta adapts or proves to be Knoblauchian in his limitations at the keystone. Also, considering that the club has Casey Blake at third (pending something going right for Andy Marte), and Blake's about as nimble as your average love seat, there's some obvious utility for Carroll there as well. As far as offensive value, there's none, beyond his ability to drop a bunt now and again. That's not the worst thing for a d-rep to be able to do, mind you-if a game's tight enough that a manager's worried about the fractions of benefit you get swapping in a Jamey Carroll, it's probably also tight enough that a late-game sac bunt might do you some good. Carroll's not all that good, but he has his uses; bench design can be a highly subjective matter, where different managers derive different value from different skills. He's more useful than Mike Rouse, for example, and Eric Wedge didn't exactly put Rouse in a lot of situations where a game's outcome depended on using him.

What Else Might Santa Bring? Not an outfielder to replace the departed Trot Nixon, certainly. Even with Shin-Soo Choo out for much of the year after elbow surgery, you've got David Dellucci and Jason Michaels looking like a reasonable proposition as the left field platoon (Javid Dellichaels?), with Franklin Gutierrez in right, and Ben Francisco somewhere in the picture. Brad Snyder's also in the wings, but between his continuing problems making contact, his struggle to come back from a thumb injury at the tail end of the year, and a pretty crummy AFL campaign, it seems safe to consign him to Buffalo for the immediate future. The pen's pretty well set, the rotation has its Cliff Lee versus Aaron Laffey... all in all, the Indians can leave the flue shut, leave the jolly elf on the roof, and save the cookies for themselves.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Acquired 3B-R Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins for CF-R Cameron Maybin, LHP Andrew Miller, RHPs Dallas Trahern, Eulogio de la Cruz, and Burke Badenhop, and C-S Mike Rabelo; acquired RHP Denny Bautista from the Rockies for RHP Jose Capellan; re-signed LHP Kenny Rogers to a one-year, $8 million contract; signed RHP Francisco Cruceta to a one-year contract; acquired OF-S Freddy Guzman from the Rangers for 1B-R Chris Shelton; outrighted OF-L Timo Perez to Toledo (Triple-A), and then re-signed him to a split one-year contract; non-tendered RHP Chad Durbin.

Mission Accomplished? Credit Dave Dombrowski for doing the same thing he did in 1996 and 1997, because this sort of trade isn't just about the simple acquisition of talent-delightful enough as that is-it's about building a ballclub that can beat the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Indians, or anybody else in however many short October series it takes to bring more than a pennant to town. (Three, actually, but you knew that.) They were already a good team, and already gifted with a good offense (good enough for second in the AL, behind only the Yankees). Their farm system's gotten to the point that they could make this sort of deal (although the Fish got far less than I would have expected), but wasn't so good that they could rely upon it to propel a veteran team repeatedly into the World Series picture. Dombrowski made an outstanding call, leveraging promise for young star players coming into what should be their prime seasons. You don't just win now with a guy like Cabrera (and perhaps also Willis), you win into the future. To put it another way, Willis is only a little more than three years older than Miller, Cabrera just shy of four years older than Maybin, and there's no guarantee that Maybin and Miller will be players you can win with in three or four years, let alone now.

Having upgraded at one lineup slot by swapping out Sean Casey for Edgar Renteria, there weren't a lot of places where the Tigers could upgrade their lineup in anticipation of things like Gary Sheffield getting older. Ivan Rodriguez is on the last year of his deal, and catchers aren't easy to come by, so the other easily-identifiable place for an upgrade was third; swapping in Miguel Cabrera for Brandon Inge obviously makes a big difference, although the positional flexibility that Cabrera affords the Tigers means that if they have injuries at short, first, or the outfield, they can switch things around to play Inge at third, and Cabrera at first or left. Signing Cabrera long-term would be a good idea, of course, but that might anticipate cuts in pay or the end of relationships with Pudge or Rogers, or not re-signing Renteria or Todd Jones.

Of course, keeping Inge in a utility role makes for a pretty difficult proposition, since he's due to make almost $6.4 million per for the next three years. That also doesn't help them move him, which would naturally help them sign Cabrera long-term. The sooner the Tigers steal a march on the White Sox (who will probably have to wait until spring training before they can choose or move either Joe Crede or Josh Fields) and put Inge in a Phillies uniform, the better.

You also have to like what this means for the rotation. One last spin with the Gambling Man is reasonable enough, but there's hope that getting Willis off of a hopeless team might make for good things. There is the pity of wasting his hitting skills in the DH league, but so be it. Certainly, at face value there's reason for concern when you paste in a guy who let all hitters who weren't pitchers bat .310/.383/.506 against him (all praise Sean Forman, huzzah). I respect the roll of the dice that Dombrowski's made here, that perhaps with a stronger up-the-middle defense behind Willis, and pitching on a relevant ballclub, the hard-working southpaw will snap back. I also like the idea of bringing a power lefty into the Central, where he'll help take division-rival lineups driven by Jim Thome, or Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, or Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau down a peg or two. He did manage 19 quality starts through six innings in his 35 starts (three were subsequently blown), but there's also the danger that he could just join Jeremy Bonderman to give the club a matched pair of pitchers you'd expect to do better who don't.

On the minor exchange front, I love their adding both Freddy Guzman and Francisco Cruceta from the Rangers. Guzman gives the club a backup center fielder who can play the position, someone who can help with the speed he'll provide off of the bench, and somebody who can do some damage against lefties (he hit .304/.376/.478 against them in Triple-A last year). His virtue as a platoon caddy is something the Tigers definitely need to consider if Curtis Granderson wants to keep this Andy Van Slyke-style extreme split going, and go from MVP against the normal-handed to pitcher-flailing-bad against his fellow lefties.

As for Cruceta, the Tigers like his power fastball/forkball mix, and although he was wild down in Oklahoma last season (70 Ks, 39 unintentional walks in 65 2/3 IP), and also had to live down a 50-game suspension for PED use, he should be able to provide them with some depth and value in the pen as a middle-innings type. He could be joined by Bautista; in an exchange of problem pitchers, the Tigers may come out on top, as Bautista's pitching well in the Dominican-almost as dominantly as Cruceta-and still has velocity going for him.

What Else Might Santa Bring? Cripes, you're a greedy lot. How about a fully healthy Vance Wilson? Why that? Because there's just about nothing else in the organization between Pudge and Jamie Skelton down in the Midwest League, the sleeper prospect you might remember from such prospect lists as this one here. Picking up a minor league veteran-someone better than Steve Torrealba-would be a good idea.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed RHP Yasuhiko Yabuta to a two-year, $6 million contract with a club option for 2010; signed RF-R Jose Guillen to a three-year, $36 million contract; signed RHP Brandon Duckworth ($600,000) and INF-L Jason Smith to one-year contracts; acquired INF-S Alberto Callaspo from the Diamondbacks for RHP Billy Buckner; released RHP Colby Lewis and 1B-R Craig Brazell; designated C-R Paul Phillips for assignment; outrighted LHP Paul Mildren to Omaha (Triple-A); non-tendered OF-R Emil Brown.

Mission Accomplished? Guillen's signing is supposed to be this winter's signature move, and it is, in that you can expect him to deliver something in the range of a .280-.290 Equivalent Average, and when you add that to a lineup that should also see improvements out of Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, it starts to become more than just pesky-it starts giving the Royals a lineup that might actually put a dent or two in people's ERAs. There's no special genius to it, not in the way the Gil Meche deal represented a bold stroke that combined scouting and analysis, and then paid off far better than some scouts or some analysts anticipated.

There's also admirable stuff being done in the more minor moves. Yabuta seems like a nice bit of veteran leavening to join last year's Rule 5 surprise, Joakim Soria, in the late innings. As Mike Plugh noted, he's got a nice fastball/forkball power assortment and plenty of high-stakes experience. I love the decision to get Callaspo; setting aside for a moment his need for a change of scenery (and the odious reason why), he's still a guy who can play all over the infield and provide some measure of power and patience, more than you normally find in your standard middle infielder's arsenal. He's an effective enough player that he should make Mark Grudzielanek expendable right now, but he might have to settle for splitting utility duties with Smith. Smith, like Duckworth, gives the team that bit of veteran sprinkling that might help provide working examples for the younger guys in their units, as well as play well enough to earn their keep. The question is how you keep everybody, because Callaspo, Smith, and Esteban German can't all be heavily-used utility infielders.

What Else Might Santa Bring? A first baseman wouldn't be so terrible, in anticipation of Billy Butler being truly doomed to DH-dom. I'm amused by Brad Eldred's potential to be the new Steve Balboni, but I'm probably alone in that. There might be some nostalgia to bring Mike Sweeney back to see if he could handle it, but a clean break wouldn't be so terrible either. Barring that, though, they can just let it ride with Ross Gload and Ryan Shealy, pending some future date when they can afford a real solution. It isn't like signing somebody like Eric Hinske or Robert Fick would really change matters much, after all.

Otherwise, you'd like to see them add a backup catcher, because guys like Phillips or Matt Tupman are effectively useless. I'm not asking for much, just something of the Humberto Cota variety, although with Johnny Estrada and Miguel Olivo out there, the options as far as getting a Spanish-speaking backstop with some value are certainly present.

Otherwise, I know, some of the kids want a shortstop under the tree-a real shortstop, one who can hit and everything. They could just as easily wish for a pony. I mean, where are you going to keep him, the garage?

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Traded RHPs Matt Garza and Eduardo Morlan and SS-R Jason Barlett to the Rays for OF-R Delmon Young, INF-R Brendan Harris, and OF-L Jason Pridie; signed 1B/3B-L Mike Lamb to a two-year, $6.6 million contract with an option for 2010; signed OF-R Craig Monroe to a one-year, $3.82 million contract; signed SS-R Adam Everett to a one-year, $2.8 million contract; non-tendered OF-L Jason Tyner.

Mission Accomplished? I have to admit, at first blush I wasn't excited about the Twins' dealings this winter, but the more I look, the more I like, and now that we've got a frame of reference to see the pieces that GM Bill Smith is putting together, it resembles a workable plan. That plan might not involve contending in the AL Central in the next year or two, but that's about the shelf life of the building showdown between the Tigers and Indians.

Let's face it, the Twins have young pitching coming out of their ears, so regardless of what they do with Johan Santana, they can still afford to barter with some of it. Garza and Morlan are both promising, and I wouldn't be surprised if Garza wound up in an All-Star Game (not necessarily as a Ray) at some point during his career, but the team's crying need was for young position-player talent, especially with Torii Hunter about to skip town. In making this deal, they can legitimately claim to have replaced Hunter with a player they'll control for five years, through his age-26 season. While his counting stats obscure some weak performance rates, the chances that he's going to slug consistently better than .450 are pretty good, which makes him an effective replacement for Hunter in the lineup at the very least. The problem is that they're setting Young up against Hunter while comparing apples and oranges. Young's a corner outfielder, perhaps one with his share of gifts afield, and an especially good arm; while trying him in center would be interesting, it's also not going to happen, so Hunter's spot still needs filling. While I like the odds that Young will slug more than .450, the Twins needed more than just this in the deal.

In Pridie, they may have gotten it. I'm not predicting stardom, but the guy had a rough 2006 in what was effectively his Double-A debut after missing almost all of 2005 with a knee injury. The Twins liked him well enough in 2006 to snag him via Rule 5, but they wound up returning him to the Rays. He's not really a power source as much as a guy with a solid spread of offensive gifts-some pop (57 extra-base hits between Double- and Triple-A last year), some speed (26 steals against ten times caught), and on-base limitations that don't seem to bother the Twins overmuch (only 33 unintentional walks in 574 PA). He seems to still be able to cover ground well enough in center to engender some confidence that he can play there in the majors, and he also brings a good arm to the table. Add in that he's still only 24, and that while he may not be a star, he's also not Denard Span or Craig Monroe. Adding Monroe as his right-handed veteran caddy is all well and good, but there's a shot that the Twins received two useful outfield regulars in the deal, and that's what they have to be looking for this spring. If Young has to provide the star power to make this deal look good in retrospect, Pridie has it within him to provide the Twins with a thoroughly adequate regular, and getting that in center under contractual control for years is worth something.

The infield now involves a lot of moving parts with discrete virtues that could keep Ron Gardenhire extra-busy as far as mixing and matching. The disaster would be if the Twins wind up with a lot of Nick Punto at second and too many at-bats for Everett at short, but even that latter wouldn't be the end of the world because of what Everett's glove can and should mean for a young pitching staff. I suppose the offense-first solution would be Harris at second, Alexi Casilla at short, and Lamb at third, but Harris can slide over to third to function as Lamb's platoon partner and defensive rep, Casilla might get a shot to settle in as the everyday second baseman, and mixing in Punto in doses at all three positions could work well enough. That's five players and three regular jobs, but given the glaring weaknesses of some of these players-Everett's bat, Lamb's glove, Punto's easy overexposure-there's no reason to make any one of them besides Casilla an everyday player.

What Else Might Santa Bring? Not much. I suppose they could add another center field type, but this might just be Darnell McDonald's big opportunity should Pridie fail. This should probably squelch any talk of moving Joe Mauer to the outfield, but the guy who might have to put up or go away is Jason Kubel; if Mauer has to move out from behind the plate, Kubel had better be earning his keep at DH.


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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