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December 23, 2007

Transaction of the Day

AL East

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Acquired OF-L Luke Scott, RHPs Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate, LHP Troy Patton, and 3B-L Michael Costanzo from the Astros for SS-R Miguel Tejada; signed C-R Guillermo Quiroz to a one-year contract; claimed RHP Greg Aquino off of waivers from the Brewers; designated RHP Cory Doyne and Roberto Novoa for assignment, and then re-signed both of them to minor league contracts.

Mission Accomplished? As much as Tejada's value is on the wane, this just doesn't look like all that much to have gotten for him, and that's despite the fact that I think all five guys who came over from the Astros have value. Scott's a mere placeholder, a guy who will turn 30 during the course of the season, and while the interesting thing about his performance is that he had a massive home-road split last year, leaning towards hotel living (.305/.400/.593, against .208/.305/.422 in Non-Carbonated Fruit Beverage Ballpark), although that was the opposite of what he did in a partial season in 2006. Consider all of that interesting, but not necessarily reason to believe Scott will hulk-smash his way through the AL.

So, Scott's the showy big leaguer who will wind up in the Opening Day lineup (in left field), out where the disgruntled season ticket holders can see him. What else did they get? Albers and Patton both throw hard, and both have good breaking pitches; Patton adds a nice change, while Albers generates a good number of ground-ball outs. They're both good pitching prospects, as much as there is such a thing, but of the two, Patton's the one with upside, because of his age (only 22 next season), command, and left-handedness, balanced against Albers' getting pasted for 18 homers in 110 2/3 IP, a problem that wasn't a product of pitching in Houston. They're arms with talent, but neither one of them is so good that they'll radically alter the franchise's fortunes. Sarfate's your basic filler reliever in the making, a guy with a good fastball and no real lasting success with anything that involves a true off-speed pitch. He could be useful, but he's also been wild enough to make even that an uncertain proposition, with 45 unintentional walks allowed in his 61 2/3 IP at Nashville. Which leaves Costanzo, the former Phillies farmhand who wasn't an Astro long enough to get fitted for his Houston uni, and a player I like for the same reasons now as I did in November, when he was a key part of the Brad Lidge deal. I'd like bringing him in just fine, except that the Orioles already did a nice job of providing a Mora alternative at third by snagging Scott Moore from the Cubs in the Steve Trachsel trade, and like Costanzo, Moore's a lefty bat with some sock. Maybe getting an aspiring collection of Aubrey Huffs-to-be is a plan, but eventually, you run out of corners to stick them in.

So the Orioles get three arms of some indefinite value, a third base prospect who might be ready to unseat Melvin Mora by the end of the year (which would be a full season before Mora's absurd contract extension runs out), and a filler player for left. For two years of Miguel Tejada, and $26 million saved? I think that's a terrible package, but that's in part because I'm not buying the proposition that Tejada must move off of short right now this instant, not when several defensive metrics (RZR, John Dewan's plus/minus, and Dan Fox's SFR all suggest that he's still perfectly adequate at short. Essentially, this was a matter of Andy MacPhail making noise to show that he could still shake his noisemaker, and what little shot the deal has of delivering value depends upon what the Orioles can make of some gifted but hardly exceptional pitchers, whether Costanzo can stick, and how well they employ their cost savings.

Among their other moves, I like snagging Quiroz and Aquino well enough. Quiroz might still prove to be a solid catcher in the major leagues, but you should also know that Quiroz is one of those guys who enjoy my particularly stubborn faith, and that there's every chance that my optimism after being wrong about him year after year, sort of like taking Joe's upbeat assessments on Tony Armas Jr. at face value. We all have our blind spots, and Quiroz is one of mine; I guess I keep thinking he could be the next Bo Diaz or something, which isn't exactly a compliment, but Diaz managed to overcome a slow start to his career to eventually, briefly become an adequate starting catcher. If Quiroz delivers, the O's will be able to shop Ramon Hernandez, and that could bring some talent-ideally, more than Tejada did, but let's not get our hopes up. As for Aquino, he throws hard, and while he's been wild and eminently paste-able, he's the sort of guy it's always worth taking a flier on if you have the 40-man roster space.

What Else Might Santa Bring? A shortstop would be lovely, because Luis Hernandez would be a really, really bad idea, for everybody but Luis Hernandez. There are the ongoing rumors about that Brian Roberts and/or Erik Bedard may yet be dealt, but there again, we have to hope those are deals consummated with organizations with better prospects and for worthwhile prospects than working with the Astros entails.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Re-signed RHP Mike Timlin to a one-year, $3 million contract; non-tendered RHPs Matt Clement and Brendan Donnelly, C-R Doug Mirabelli, SS-R Royce Clayton, 4C-L Eric Hinske, and OF-S Bobby Kielty.

Mission Accomplished? Nothing to see here, no Johan Santana, no liberation of Coco Crisp, nothing. So, there's not much to talk about, not unless the decisively undramatic drama of whether or not Timlin would stick around was the sort of thing you were worrying about; for me, it held all of the drama of watching Tombstone for the zillionth time-sure, it's easy to get sucked in one more time, in no small part because Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday is impossibly fun, but you know it isn't really history, nor is it going to turn out any differently. Actually, if there's anything, it's that Mirabelli's departure should open up a shot for either Dusty Brown or George Kottaras for the backup spot, and since both had opportunities to gain at least some exposure to the knuckleball playing on teams that had Charlie Zink on them in 2007, either might fill the bill for designated receiver for Tim Wakefield quite nicely.

What Else Might Santa Bring? A rope down the chimney for Crisp so that he can be delivered to some other team? An explanation for why Bryan Corey is on the 40-man? That's great for Corey, but it just seems a bit strange to carry a 34-year-old right-hander who's almost the definitive Quadruple-A reliever. Santana would still be swell, but it doesn't seem likely to happen before Christmas Day, and as long as Theo Epstein manages to suck up Twins GM Bill Smith's time pondering offers that don't quite do it, that contributes to running some successful interference on any Yankee bid for the ace; regardless of whether or not a deal gets done, you can consider this a way of trying to guarantee that the Yankees don't land that staff ace who might help them reclaim the division title.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Re-signed 3B-R Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275 million contract; re-signed C-S Jorge Posada to a four-year, $52.4 million contract; re-signed RHP Mariano Rivera to a three-year, $45 million contract; re-signed C-R Jose Molina to a two-year, $4 million contract; re-signed LHP Andy Pettitte to a one-year, $16 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year, $3.5 million contract; acquired RHP Jonathan Albaladejo from the Nationals for RHP Tyler Clippard; designated 1B-R Andy Phillips for assignment; non-tendered RHPs T.J. Beam, Darrell Rasner, and Matt DeSalvo and OF-L Bronson Sardinha.

Mission Accomplished? Sure. A-Rod decided to choose wealth, glory, and no need to pack instead of just wealth and glory, and who wouldn't make that choice? Pettitte for one year and Rivera for three both seem reasonable enough, although some sticker shock over Jose Molina might be understandable.

Because the Yankees and Red Sox essentially get measured against one another in every way imaginable, it's easy (or lazy) to see the Posada deal as sort of the pinstriped variant on the Red Sox' similar extended commitment to Jason Varitek-the market's nasty and more than a little light on catchers, and in the Yankees' case, what's wrong with retaining a premium offensive performer at a bit of a premium? Admittedly, at 36, Posada's going to be hard-pressed to keep his value at the end of the deal, but let's assume he loses more than last season's 60-point spike in batting average over his 2006 performance; that's still an incredibly valuable hitter at catcher. Say he drops down to his 2005 or even '99 levels... and that's still an incredibly valuable hitter at catcher. Posada's line-drive rates last year were higher than in the previous seasons captured in Dan Fox's nifty BIP Chart utility, so it's safe to assume that there's going to be some decline right there, without even getting into his age. Perhaps signing up Molina gives the Yankees a useful-enough backup backstop who allows them to cut Posada's games behind the plate down into the 120-game range, and maybe that helps him retain value further into the future.

Setting aside the money spent-it ain't mine, and the players do have to pay New York taxes, after all-strictly on the level of talent I'm just not that excited about the decisions to retain Molina and bring in Hawkins. Molina's not a young player, and his performance isn't really playable over any length of time; just because a guy's better than Alberto Castillo doesn't mean you need to go out of your way to make sure you have a guy better than Alberto Castillo, and if they're going to dedicate seven-figure salaries to a backup catcher, they'd be better served spending it on somebody who can genuinely help out at the plate, and not just behind it. As for Hawkins, I guess I just don't see the value. While he adds a sinkerballer to a staff that could probably use one for middle-inning game-saving grounders, he's no sure thing to pitch better than guys like Chris Britton or Brian Bruney, and the crowd of young pitchers the Yankees should turn to can't all just wind up in the rotation. It's an interesting choice, to be sure, but not one that I'd bet works out all that well, unless collecting relievers run out of Wrigley with pitchforks and torches has some sort of hidden virtue I'm not aware of.

What Else Might Santa Bring? A lot of people might complain that the Yankees have the guy on speed dial, but let's be fair, they don't have a perfect roster. A situational lefty worthy of the title would be a nice add-on, and somebody to mix into the lineup at first base (sparing them Jason Giambi's spavined crab routine) would still make sense. The problem is that they're already familiar with some of the available options-Tony Clark, Doug Mientkiewicz-and they could just as easily wait till spring and see if they might be able to pick up guys like Scott Hatteberg or Dan Johnson for some Pop Tarts and an autographed Ron Guidry 3' x 5'.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Acquired RHPs Matt Garza and Eduardo Morlan and SS-R Jason Bartlett from the Twins for OF-R Delmon Young, INF-R Brendan Harris, and OF-L Jason Pridie; traded OF-S Elijah Dukes to the Nationals for LHP Glenn Gibson; sold RHP Brian Stokes to the Mets; signed RHP Troy Percival to a two-year, $8 million contract; signed OF-L Cliff Floyd to a one-year, $3 million contract; outrighted LHP Jon Switzer to Durham (Triple-A).

Mission Accomplished? Absolutely, although there were a few overlapping missions in play. Shoring up the pitching-and-defense side of this team's equation made all sorts of sense, and while Young was a lot to give up, in their own organization Harris and Pridie were just bodies taking up space on the 40-man. The package received is outstanding, which could make this an uncomplicated win-win deal. Garza's a finished product with an ability to play keep-away from pull hitters while throwing four pitches for strikes, but he's no mere control guy, regularly dialing up consistent heat in the low to mid 90s. Adding him to Scott Kazmir and James Shields at the front of the rotation gives the team a great starting point to allow them to subsequently sort out who to pick from among a half-dozen worthy alternatives for the other two slots. Gifted with a power fastball/slider assortment, Morlan should be able to step directly into the club's pen and have a fine time taking notes from the bench after pitching in the seventh and eighth innings, watching Percival work the ninth.

The part of this deal that I like, even without bringing them a prospect, was getting Bartlett in the deal. He's not a star, but he is a solid defender who will provide the club with a legit shortstop to help them improve upon last season's embarrassingly bad team-wide glove work, while also having enough value on offense to chip in for as long as he's a team-control player (four more years, by the look of it). With Bartlett a proven commodity at short, this should also help make the decision to move Akinori Iwamura from third to second that much easier to handle.

As for bringing in Percival, it's a wonderful comeback story, certainly, but the decision to bring in the former Angel (skipper Joe Maddon's former affiliation), bumping Al Reyes from the closer spot, just underscores what's going on here. It's not a coincidence that Dukes and Young were dealt, and taken in total, this really means that Maddon's power in roster decisions is growing. That's might not look bad with just this group of moves to consider, but what if he starts getting his way on other Angel favorites, like his 2006 winter campaign to bring in Darin Erstad? Happily, Floyd's a better choice as the token veteran to weave into an right field/DH rotation that should have room for the aging slugger, Jonny Gomes, and the ever-recuperating Rocco Baldelli.

What Else Might Santa Bring? They've addressed their outfield and bullpen situations, managed to upgrade their infield defense, and added a potentially outstanding starting pitcher. Their's not even anything left to do at third base with Iwamura's shift, as Santa promises delivery of Evan Longoria in plenty of time for that Opening Day start at the hot corner to round out that infield. Reyes, Percival, and Floyd should also all have some value in trade at the end of July, should the Rays decide t go that route, but they're already chockablock with prospects; it might be fun for them to just gun for the franchise record for wins (70), and see about breaking it with a few weeks to spare.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Signed SS-R David Eckstein to a one-year, $4.5 million contract; non-tendered RHP Josh Towers; released RHP Ryan Houston; selected RHP Randy Wells from the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft; got OF-L Buck Coats from the Reds for future considerations, which turned out to be RHP Justin James.

Mission Accomplished? Back in my college days, I had a friend whose standard for beauty was a bit unconventional. When some other pal would speculate about whether or not this girl or that was attractive, he'd pipe up with the observation that, "She's no [Billy Grabarkewitz]."* Although this was frequently true-there generally aren't a lot of people easy on the eyes on the University of Chicago's campus-what was really sort of funny about it is that the young lady wasn't really very attractive in any conventional sense; if anything, she bore an uncanny resemblance to Big Bird, except in preppy garb (it was the '80s, after all). I always felt that there was something sort of sweet about this, that it reflected an ability to see the inner beauty of [Billy Grabarkewitz]; that, or a frank bit of self-awareness that his interest in Big Bird had moved into an area that most of us would rather not explore. Happily, as time passed, he ceased to have [Billy Grabarkewitz] on a pedestal, and eventually married somebody who wasn't [Billy Grabarkewitz] and lived happily ever after.

I ponder this because in thinking about the Blue Jays' shortstop situation, it seems that the Blue Jays have finally done the mature thing, and found something real to put at the position, as opposed to something or someone who is easy on their eye alone, in a way that makes you question their taste. To be fair, guys like Royce Clayton and John McDonald look like shortstops, and Clayton was once and McDonald currently is to be found among the front rank of glove men at the position. The problem is real lineups require more rounded ballplayers, ones who can do things beyond just field and look good doing it. So signing Eckstein makes perfectly good sense as a practical solution to a need the Jays have had since it became clear that Russ Adams wasn't going to pan out. Although he's not quite as effective getting on base as he was earlier in his career, nor as fast as he used to be at the very least, Eckstein should be a useful offensive contributor. That's something McDonald decisively isn't, and since he's four months older than Eckstein, it's safe to say he never will be.

The challenge is whether or not Eckstein is still up to playing short after spending his entire career looking inadequate while still performing well enough to stick at the position. Last year's season-long back problems seem to have been reflected in a drop in his statistical performance afield by various metrics, but if the decline in range and effectiveness at short is instead where's gotten to going into his age-34 season, then having McDonald around as his defense-oriented caddy could work out quite nicely. Since the Jays don't have anyone else resembling a major league shortstop anywhere close to The Show, they're going to be lurching from one temporary solution to the next, but I think a one-year deal for Eckstein makes McDonald a more affordable roster proposition, and covers them at that spot on the diamond effectively enough for 2008. And if Ray Olmedo shows any progress and Eckstein struggles, they can always lurch in that direction.

* Names have been changed to preserve the identity of the innocent. Except for Billy Grabarkewitz.

What Else Might Santa Bring? Maybe a better option than Coats to serve as the club's utility outfielder, but the man with the porn star name should be serviceable enough in the role, and since he's optionable, they could afford to put him on the Syracuse shuttle a few times, as in-season roster needs warrant. Good health for B.J. Ryan and Gustavo Chacin would be nice, for different reasons-Ryan, for what it would mean for an otherwise-complete slate of relievers, and Chacin because it would provide the club with a solid alternative in the rotation should anybody break down or Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, or Jesse Litsch flop early. On the other hand, if all of the kids are sound, the Jays would then have an experienced lefty starter they could peddle; you'd have to expect that somebody would be interested should he prove sound of shoulder after getting his labrum repaired.


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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