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January 8, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Breaking in the New Year

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Purchased CF-S Chris Roberson from the Phillies; designated OF-L Jeff Fiorentino for assignment (and subsequently lost him on waivers to the Reds).

Adding a third wheel to the competition between Jay Payton and Tike Redman for playing time in center field is all well and good, but wouldn't getting somebody good make more sense? I suppose the good news is that Payton's bat might play better in center, but Tike isn't going to hit .315 again, he's going to move back into that pool of fifth-outfield types of indistinct virtue, where you can hook the next Nook Logan on an as-needed basis. Indeed, that's exactly what the Orioles just did, and while strength in numbers might make for a better shot at rediscovering the proverbial lightning in the proverbial bottle, they're really already sort of asking for a refill in Redman's case, and there's no special reason to get worked up about Roberson's Brand X alternative, not when he's been getting slower and a bit more powerless with age.

Let's face it, a "rebuilding" team doesn't have Payton or a 31-year-old like Redman playing for it, any more than a rebuilding team has Luke Scott in a corner as he turns 30. Roberson's 27, but just because he's younger than the old guys doesn't make him part of a real rebuild. He's already a finished product, and it's not one you turn into a regular center fielder. Suffice to say this doesn't help or hurt the Orioles. It's great for Roberson, who was entirely crowded out of the Phillies' outfield picture.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired OF/1B-S Nick Swisher from the Athletics for LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Fautino De Los Santos, and OF-L Ryan Sweeney.

To be blunt, this was the perfect move for Kenny Williams to pull off as a matter of taking his club's near-term chances seriously. It doesn't rate with Dave Dombrowski's achievements in this winter's Hot Stove League, but it's up there. Swisher's the sort of young veteran that the Sox can contend with now and several years into the future, he gives a heavily right-handed lineup some extra lefty sock (against right-handed pitching, of course), and he's a pull hitter from both sides of the plate coming to a park that has two friendly corners for him to take aim at.

The important thing to remember is that this isn't a player Kenny Williams has to worry about re-signing. The deal really only gets better when you get into the financials and consider his age. Swisher is entering his age-27 season, and he's signed through at least 2011-or the next four seasons-for a little more than $25.5 million, and just under $35 million if they pick up his 2012 option, which would be his age-31 season. Sneaking a peak at Nate's 2008 PECOTA cards and the MORP calculations, Swisher's productivity should be in the .300 range in EqA through 2012, with OBPs around .370 and slugging over .490 all the way through; that's good for about $58 million in value. Remember, no arbitration, no negotiation, and making that call right now, here in January, you're talking about acquiring a key piece for a contending lineup at a price any team that takes the 'c'-word seriously should be able to afford for five years. And because of the great likelihood that Swisher will deliver that value through the next five seasons, this is not at all like retaining Jermaine Dye or trading for Jim Thome-it's about trying to put a solid club on the field for those five years.

Indulge me as I make an unfair comparison. The Royals just spent $36 million for three years on an older, worse player-Jose Guillen-essentially just to get themselves taken seriously when they're ready to get all grown up in a few years. That's not an apples to apples comparison, of course-last spring, Swisher effectively traded two years of free agency for right-now financial security. Where this is an apples to apples comparison is that after losing out on the free agent market, Kenny Williams wound up doing something better than buying a top-shelf free agent-he acquired a player who will deliver better than most of this winter's premium free agents for a fraction of the cost.

In terms of what this does to the club's roster shape, somebody politely said that this creates a competition between Carlos Quentin and Jerry Owens for outfield playing time, with Swisher playing either center or left. On a purely offensive level, it's a no-brainer; Owens is just the latest product from the fifth-outfielder assembly line that makes you wonder why it was built. Unfortunately, there are those pesky real-world defensive considerations, and Swisher's not exactly a quality center fielder. Obviously, a solution that involves three at-bats for Quentin per start and late-game switches that put Owens in the game wouldn't be all that novel; heck, Ozzie Guillen could even make a point of pinch-running for Konerko with Owens if he reaches base in his fourth at-bat, game situation permitting, and optimizing his defense's alignment from there. However, the interesting mix of limitations and virtues that Swisher brings to the mix in picking an alignment lends some credence to the subsequent rumors about a potential deal with the Angels, where Paul Konerko might get sent to Anaheim while the Sox would potentially get Chone Figgins (and something else, of course). This would put Swisher at first, Figgins in center, and address in a pretty proactive manner any concerns about Konerko's near-term decline.

Of course, there's still the problem of who's going to pitch for this team, but maybe the Sox have another masterstroke up their sleeves. Unfortunately, they don't have a whole lot else to deal, having already traded three of their four best prospects. The rules prohibit their dealing the fourth until next summer, and there's not much else left of value that any other team would want. So they are left with the challenge of re-purposing one of their key components, like Konerko, in a deal to strike a better balance between offense and defense. Because right now, as fun as that offense should be, the Sox are still short of being contenders, essentially because of a pitching staff that has three guys they can count on and a couple of dozen question marks.

Finally, on a more personal level, I'm excited, in that Swisher's a lot of fun to watch hit, and now that I'm in Chicago, seeing him play in person as opposed to on the screen that much more often will be that much better, certainly. But as I say below, I'm also a wee bit disappointed on the level of my being an A's fan: seeing Swish play here will be a bittersweet thing.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed RHP Hideo Nomo to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; designated INF-L Jason Smith for assignment.

I don't really think Nomo's got much left. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel that the simple pleasure of watching the man pitch, not the results, but just the sight of that rolling, springy wind-up and delivery that Nomo's given us for years... maybe your mileage varies, but that's just always been good fun at a ballgame. Watching Nomo give it one more shot after ghastly 2004 and 2005 seasons and then losing most of 2006 and 2007 to elbow injuries and a general indifference among teams is just a little bit inspiring, and if he manages to stick with the Royals, he might just deliver that extra bit of joy tickling you in your mind's eye scanning the odd boxscore.

As for Jason Smith, this is basically his lot, as a utility infielder who can't play short while providing only so much power. His DFA is the product of the Royals' addition of Miguel Olivo to the 40-man, but this shouldn't be the end of the road. Last I checked, the Phillies and Marlins still need third basemen.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Signed RHP Scott Strickland and LHPs Heath Phillips and Billy Traber to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

While Joe Torre's gone--and I generally think the best situation for a NRI guy to break in is with a new manager who isn't already sifting through his mental crowd of favorites and preferred filler guys, because all bets are off as far as who might win that last spot or two with the team--this isn't quite so happy a scenario for this group. Joe Girardi's already pretty familiar with the club from his years around it as a media squawker, and Joltless Joe might very well prefer some of the players he already knows to the Scranton-bound types. However, both Phillips and Traber have the advantage of being left-handed in an organization that so far hasn't signed a situational southpaw and doesn't already have one on its 40-man roster. Neither represents a great choice-Traber was so one-sided last year that he represented an instant delivery of runs to right-handers-but it's kind of neat to think of the Yankees as being undiscriminating and beggy in finding somebody for the role.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Traded OF/1B-S Nick Swisher to the White Sox for LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Fautino de los Santos, and OF-L Ryan Sweeney.

I may be coming at this the wrong way, but I hate this deal for the A's. Not because of what it represents-hey, they're rebuilding, we get it-but because of what they got. I know Gonzalez and De Los Santos were the best the Sox had left to offer. I guess I just start off with the assumption that any group of pitchers involves casualties and risk, and that makes me squeamish. Gonzalez or De Los Santos? Both have promise, both are very young, but as a matter of odds alone, it's as if you have to start with the assumption that one of them's going to bust something before the A's ever get a good look at him. Of course, with Jose Rijo on the Hall of Fame ballot, I'm also reminded how very exasperating an unfinished talented pitcher can be-not so much that I welcomed the deal for Dave Parker, though.

So, De Los Santos has explosive velocity and a power curve, and he'll have to see what he can do against the Cal League and if he can master a changeup. That's the best of the lot. Then there's Gio Gonzalez; he'll be up sooner, certainly, but is he any more promising than, say, Dan Meyer was? I say that as someone who really, really likes Gonzalez, but again, we're talking about a guy who could make it up this year, and who might be a solid rotation starter. Admittedly, that costs more to find and keep in the face of the pressure of the open market than the A's would have paid Swisher, so that could turn out well. The problem is the 'could' and 'might' parts.

Finally, there's Sweeney, who's seen as something more than a throw-in. I'm not unsympathetic to that opinion: Sweeney will only be 23 this season and already has considerable upper-level experience, can play all three outfield positions, and did hit International League right-handed pitching at a .285/.358/.458 clip. Maybe if you decide to be optimistic, that's a guy who turns into the new Todd Hollandsworth, minus the dopey BBWAA vote; a solid fourth outfielder with power who you can plug in every day for a couple of weeks at a stretch, or carry as a regular if you're getting a ton of runs from your infielders. Call me skeptical, but I don't really care for the likelihood of those possibilities, although I can understand how somebody could see them and get interested, especially when you're looking for that extra body to flesh out a deal. It doesn't balance it out, though.

Now, I admit, there's a chance here that Sweeney just needs some extra instruction, and will get massively better if he works with somebody who helps him improve pitch identification. I doubt it, but let's move on. Maybe four years from now, Gonzalez and De Los Santos will be two-fifths of a very good rotation. It could happen, sure. You believe all that, balanced against the much greater certainty that Swisher's going to be an underpaid key to his team's bid for contention for years to come, and think it equals out? Me neither.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Signed OF-L John Rodriguez to a minor league contract.

I mentioned him last week, so I may as well bring up that he's here now. A good pickup for the Durham Bulls, and not somebody I think we can expect to see in a Rays uni past March until the first Rocco Baldelli injury. Last year was sort of strange for him, with some talk of allergy problems, but if he's physically capable of playing, I don't see why he couldn't still chip in some OBP in a pinch. That said, this is his age-30 season, so it isn't like he's got a ton of tomorrows.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Agreed to terms with OF-R Reed Johnson on a one-year, $3.275 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed LHP John Parrish to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

This seems like a strange choice by Parrish-the Jays already have two good lefties on the big-league roster in Scott Downs and Brian Tallet, the pen might have to make room for Gustavo Chacin once he decisively loses his bid for the rotation, and then there's B.J. Ryan's return from Tommy John surgery to put a fourth lefty in the bullpen mix. Maybe this was the best deal he was offered, but this looks more like a summer pre-booked for Syracuse.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired RHP Ryan Meyers and OF-L Corey Coles from the Mets for OF-S Angel Pagan.

There's an element of irony here, in that Pagan wound up being a bit of a lend-lease ballplayer, going from the pretty piece of flesh purchased from the Mets to returned to sender in this minor exchange. Coles, a bit of an organizational soldier at 26, was just a throw-in. The real value here, such as it is (we're talking about a Pagan exchange, after all), might be Meyers. He's a tall kid, only 22, drafted in 2003, and works in relief with a passable curve/fastball mix. He's probably just going to be an organizational arm, but did I mention it only took Angel Pagan to get him?

CINCINNATI REDS
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Claimed OF-L Jeff Fiorentino off of waivers from the Orioles; signed RHP Jim Brower, LHP Adam Pettyjohn, UT-R Jolbert Cabrera, INF-R Andy Green, and 1B-R Andy Phillips to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

It wouldn't be surprising if one or both of Fiorentino and Phillips wind up in a Reds uni at some point, and doing something with the opportunity. That's true for just about anybody who hits and gets the benefit of playing time in the Gap, of course, but both of them have modest sock, and major league careers have been sustained with less. Fiorentino in particular is semi/sorta interesting as an outfield reserve, in that he hit Double-A right-handers at a .303/.352/.497 clip, and also managed a strong finishing kick by slugging .577 in the second half. A skeptic would note he was probably beating up on call-ups from High-A at that point, and that he'll be 25 in April, but there's no harm in Wayne Krivsky's showing a little bit of curiosity about him.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Signed INF-Rs Jorge Cantu and Jason Wood, OF-R John Gall, OF-Ls Alexis Gomez and Jorge Piedra, C-R Paul Hoover, RHPs Tim Corcoran, Marcus Gwyn, Bobby Keppel, Joe Nelson, and Doug Waechter to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

Well, I know and you know and they know that Cantu can't really field well enough to closely resemble an adequate third baseman, but he's a cheap alternative for a position that is otherwise as completely unmanned as center field. Wasn't Rae Dawn Chong in something just about this terrible? Quest for... center field help? Could you make it to the end? It seemed to go on for about as long as the Marlins' search for a center fielder, and like the paying customers in Miami, you can understand an impulse to turn it off and go read a good book.

Ah, so, Cantu. He's had obvious problems getting on base, but despite his past track record for delivering power, it isn't because his strikeout rates are exceptionally bad. His line-drive rates haven't dropped, so there's no hidden mystery here; he's just not as good as his tasty-seeming counting stats from 2005 might lead you to believe. There's a chance that he'll deliver a .300 OBP and slug .450 if he's plugged in and left alone. There's also a chance that the pitchers on the staff might mutiny if they're asked to endure a full season with Cantu and Hanley Ramirez manning the left side of the infield. While I'm inclined to buy into Bryan Smith's argument that the Fish have a plan for schooling their pitchers, I'd buy into it a little more charitably if I saw that one key element of the plan, the one that would prove helpful to their young pitchers' survival to see the day when the Marlins would matter again: some good defense. Cantu popping a few empty homers might help Jorge Cantu a whole bunch, and it might briefly make Larry Beinfest and Michael Hill look like savvy shoppers in the off-season dollar store, but I'd be more impressed by an effort to help themselves develop their pitching talent.

NEW YORK METS
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Acquired OF-S Angel Pagan from the Cubs for RHP Ryan Meyers and OF-L Corey Coles; agreed to terms with Duaner Sanchez on a one-year, $850,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

A solid little move of sorts, in that Pagan's a good bet to wind up as a spare part in their outfield and on the bench, providing a little bit of everything, and more generally sparing them from having to rush Carlos Gomez back up should they have multiple outfield injuries again. It should make for an interesting overlapping competition in camp-Pagan versus Marlon Anderson versus Ruben Gotay and Anderson Hernandez, because at most they'll keep three of them, and perhaps only two, and with Damion Easley and Endy Chavez already fulfilling the primary reserve roles in the infield and outfield (respectively), Anderson's utilityman uses won't necessarily give him that much of a leg up on the alternatives. We'll see who Willie Randolph decides he likes having around.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Sold CF-S Chris Roberson to the Orioles; outrighted C-L Pete LaForest to the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Triple-A), but with a NRI to spring training.

Well, that was awfully nice of them. Not that Roberson should be a regular, but it's generous of the Phillies to have given him the opportunity on somebody else's team now that their own outfield is relatively crowded.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed RHPs Adam Bernero and Elmer Dessens to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

A good example of guys who need the jobs more than the team specifically needs them to do those jobs, but in Dessens' case, there might be some modest upside where he does just well enough to flipped at the deadline or claimed on revocable waivers in August or September.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed 1B/C-L Robert Fick, OF-S Jeff DaVanon and LHP Mike Megrew to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

This doesn't seem like a good fit for Fick; he can't really catch, playing him in an outfield corner is cause for an appeal that his field be considered automatic ground-rule double territory, and Adrian Gonzalez played all but 22 of the team's defensive innings at first base. Maybe he likes Portland, or roses. In contrast, DaVanon's choice seems relatively inspired, because this is a great spot for him to be in. He may or may not be spry enough for regular play in center field anymore, but the Pads outfield has Edmonds and Brian Giles winding down in two slots, and Scott Hairston knocking around in the other. Put those three in the same pot and you've got a recipe for a lot of playing time for a fourth outfielder. Even if Kevin Kouzmanoff winds up moving to left whenever Chase Headley proves ready to take over at third, he's going to need somebody to spot him against tough right-handers, for baserunning, and for defense. These are all things DaVanon can do pretty well, so don't be surprised at all if he finds a way to slip onto the major league roster.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Signed RHP Matt Clement to a one-year, $1.25 million contract with a $8.75 million club option for 2009; re-signed MI-S Aaron Miles to a one-year, $1.4 million contract.

An interesting variant on the Jon Lieber deal the Yankees signed the control fiend to a few years back, in that Clement's going to try to prove that he can contribute this year, and if he's back towards anything like his value during his Cubs heyday, he'll already be locked in for a cheap (by market standards) deal for 2009. The suggestion so far is that he'll be ready to go in spring training, but allowing for the lost time, even if he's back to work by May Day, there's a chance he could provide value. This is a more promising move than last year's pickup of the lamentable Kip Wells, and I liked that deal at the time, hoping that Dave Duncan would teach another veteran how to do something new with his pitches and get some magical new improvement of the sort that doesn't get Henry Waxman worked up into a tizzy. The money's chump change, and if Clement only bounces back to his 2005 level, allowing for age but also for his moving to a pitcher's park in the weaker league that's still 100 percent DH free (in DH-less games), I could see a useful mid-rotation starter emerging out of this. It's better than getting too worked up over Joel Pineiro's boom-boom room act on the mound, certainly.

As for re-signing Miles, I guess I wish they'd randomly hand out seven large to some more worthy cause than the Aaron Miles retirement fund. He can't play short well at all, so you're basically getting (or reacquainting yourself with) a second baseman who doesn't run all that well, field any better, or put any runs on the board. But beyond that, I'm sure he's a swell guy. For a team that has no established worthwhile starter at either middle infield position, and needs to find two, why would you want to staple on an already-dead branch to your decision tree?


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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