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January 13, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Moves from the Week that Was

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed RHP Ryan Bukvich, C-S Ben Davis, C-R Omir Santos, and OF-R Luis Terrero to minor league contracts with spring training NRI.

Three of these four actually have semi-decent shots at making the team. Davis would have to beat out Guillermo Quiroz, but that's doable even if Quiroz doesn't suffer some new rare injury should Trembley take a shine to Davis' catching skills and prefer a switch-hitter with a long swing to another right-handed batter with a long swing behind Ramon Hernandez. The Orioles' pen is a bit of a mess with both Danys Baez and Chris Ray out for much of the 2008 season, if not all of it, so Bukvich has a shot. And while Jay Payton seems like the automatic choice for center field considering his salary, he's also 35 and already in steep decline, so Terrero might get some shot just as a matter of maintaining a pulse.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed RHP D.J. Carrasco, C-Rs Paul Phillips and Ryan Smith, 1B-R Brad Eldred, 1B-L Jeff Liefer, INF-L Michael Rouse, 2B/OF-R Jason Bourgeois, UT-R Royce Huffman, and CF-L Miguel Negron to minor league contracts with spring training NRI.

An interesting crew of Charlotte Knights in the making, although I'm ecstatic at the proposition that the Sox will have Eldred in camp to perform feats of strength-mighty clouts, and perhaps a more frequent mighty wind. There's a larger-than-zero chance that I'll be in Arizona this spring, and I relish the opportunity of seeing the big feller smash some unpolished spring junk in the dry air of the Cactus League. Bourgeois has fallen from his brief status as a prospect, but he's still gifted with a bit of speed and some pop, and as a bench guy who can fill in at second or all three outfield positions, he might yet stick somewhere. Rouse has next to no shot as a utility infielder, not when the Sox have Juan Uribe on the bench, Pablo Ozuna's on the roster, and they've also added Cuban import Alexei Ramirez to the middle infield and center field pictures. There's one familiar face in this crowd-former first-round first-base prospect Liefer is back after a couple of seasons in Japan, but he didn't play much there despite hammering 21 homers in a little more than 300 PA. It's nice that he's still got the quick bat, but he was always a DH type stretched at first or a corner, and at 33, that's not likely to have somehow gotten better with age. The International League should be afraid, because I guess an Eldred/Liefer combo should hurt some unready prospects and Quad-A fill-in starter types.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Signed OF-R Jason Lane to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

It says something about how far Lane has fallen that I don't think there should be any question of whether he should challenge Shelley Duncan for a fifth outfielder role. That's in part because Duncan can also fill in as a first baseman whenever Jason Giambi gets rolled over on his back and gets his belly baked, and mixing Duncan in with Wilson Betemit should give the Yankees a solid 12-player rotation for the lineup where everybody in that dozen should get at least 250 PA, and with only Jose Molina as the only position player who really needs to be restricted to a pure reserve role. Carrying a fourteenth wouldn't really make that much sense, not unless the Yanks want to add another Minky-like "true" first baseman, and that's almost automatically senseless. Betemit's ability to play all four infield positions and hit well enough to replace any of the regulars for short stints definitely helps them here, allowing Joltless Joe to instead potentially carry an extra reliever to absorb some middle-inning work to compensate for the decline of Mike Mussina and the presence of a couple of rookies in the rotation.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Justin Duchscherer on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration; signed OF-R Emil Brown to a one-year, $1.45 million contract; designated OF-L Danny Putnam for assignment.

Brown's recently turned 33 and is widely considered a defensive liability in even left, so this move isn't exactly redolent of upside potential. Anyone else feel nostalgic? I remember when the A's drafted him back in 1994 (in the sixth round), and also remember regretting the fact that the A's had lost him to the Pirates in the '96 Rule 5 draft after he'd lost most of what seemed like a breakout season in the Cal League to a broken hamate. I can't say I feel any special vibe over this reunion, though; this is sort of the left field equivalent of last year's step down from Frank Thomas to Mike Piazza at DH, with Brown playing Piazza and A's fans left wishing he was as good as his predecessor, Shannon Stewart. Thrown into an outfield corner mix with one position open, Brown will contend with a comebacking Chris Denorfia, recent pickup Ryan Sweeney, and perhaps also Snakes prospect Carlos Gonzalez, if he isn't already slotted for center should the A's actually find a taker for Mark Kotsay. It's possible that Brown might make an adequate platoon partner for either Gonzalez or Sweeney, but that's about the extent of the positive.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed INF-R Miguel Cairo to a one-year, $850,000 contract; re-signed RHP Chris Reitsma to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

For better or for worse, Cairo has in his possession almost the same breadth of skills that he had ten years ago-some ability to play second, a little bit of footspeed on the bases, and just enough contact-hitting ability to avoid a perception that he's a punch-and-judy type. That's not great, but if Jose Lopez continues to struggle to get on base or slug and loses ground as a fielder, it isn't inconceivable that Cairo might start filching starts at the keystone. That's not the same thing as an endorsement of the deal, just an acknowledgment that the Mariners have some issues where they might not have thought they had any after giving Lopez a $6 million extension through 2010 last spring.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Signed C-R Mike DiFelice to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

DiFelice is essentially insurance against the possibility that either Dioner Navarro or Shawn Riggans get hurt, or that one or the other has a camp so bad that Joe Maddon decides to make a statement. Again, given the shortage of even adequate reserves, as much as DiFelice might seem to have nothing left to offer, it's always wise to have a spare, and DiFelice is one of the last original Devil Rays left knocking around.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed LHP Eddie Guardado to a one-year, $2 million contract; signed RHP Jamey Wright and C-S Adam Melhuse to minor league contracts with spring training NRI.

Only Guardado's contract is guaranteed, but all three guys have plausible shots at making the team at some point. Fantasy leaguers are no doubt tickled by the prospect that Everyday Eddie could gets saves for the Rangers, and that's reasonable enough, given C.J. Wilson's propensity for putting right-handed hitters on base, but this could turn into a functioning committee situation, where Wilson, Guardado, and Joaquin Benoit all get opportunities to finish games, but all get used earlier than the ninth depending on who's at the plate and which of them is rested. It's not really a move that helps the Rangers achieve third place in the West as much as it theoretically gives Jon Daniels a flippable veteran pitcher to bargain with at the deadline. If Guardado's arm proves sufficiently sound through the first four months, that's going to be worth something to some contender. Wright will return to his previous position-the fringes of the Rangers' rotation picture, rising only if the preferred options falter-while Melhuse might get a shot if the Rangers either make a subsequent decision to move Jarrod Saltalamacchia out from behind the plate (lamentably possible) or deal Gerald Laird to any of the teams that have expressed an interest.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed RHP Chad Fox to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

Yes, the Chad Fox, of the trick elbow that allows him to sometimes contribute as an effective reliever, and which also makes it almost a matter of luck as to when those innings occur-witness his 2003 season, when the Red Sox signed him, got frustrated with his unpredictability, discarded him, and then got to watch him earn a ring with the Marlins later that same season. In case you missed him, don't beat yourself up-the guy's been out of the game since 2005, but apparently took heart from comebacks like Troy Percival's. Fox is the proud product, one of two to ever make the majors (what, you forgot T-Bone Winters? I mean everyone besides you, Goldman) of Tarleton State University. No, Texans did not name an institution of higher learning for a bloody-minded villain and slave monger or this guy, but instead named it for John Tarleton, a man known for his loyal duck. No, really-you can't make this stuff up. Fox will only be 37, and if his elbow permits, who knows if he'll give the Cubs that two dozen good innings he might have left in him? If you can inherit reputations, perhaps Fox gets Rudy Seanez's now that Traction Action's delivered 15 straight seasons of actually appearing in ballgames. It's sort of cool that he's coming back, but it's also not the sort of signing to make anyone ponder whether or not he fits into the Cubs' bullpen plans or not.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Signed 2B-R Marcus Giles to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

The fact that it's not a major league deal reflects that there's no guarantee that Giles can beat out Jayson Nix, let alone stand out in a crowd that should have a number of different-skilled players in the running. Nix is perhaps the most solid blend of modest sock, speed, and defense, while Omar Quintanilla will provide left-handedness and perhaps a wee bit of OBP, and then there's the frustration trio of Jeff Baker, Ian Stewart, and Clint Barmes to sort through. Barmes might stick around as a utility guy capable of playing short, second, or center, and doesn't have much in the way of offensive value. In contrast, Jeff Baker's had some sock, but he's a long way removed from days starring at short at Clemson, and might not be able to handle the defensive responsibilities at the keystone. And then there's Stewart, once seen as a blue-chip prospect; like Baker, he worked out at second base earlier this offseason, but the organization wasn't sold on his play there, so the odds of a Kelly Johnson-like turnaround seems doubtful. The job should be Nix's to lose because of his greater likelihood of providing Kaz Matsui-level defense at second; he has a plus arm, agility on the deuce, and plus range, and that plus the power/speed package should provide enough stuff to turn Clint Hurdle's head. In contrast, Giles has a winning personality that didn't help him win friends and influence people in either Atlanta or San Diego, limited defensive value, and a bat so slack it'll be featured in a Richard Linklater movie TBNL.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Brandon Backe on a one-year, $545,000 contract, avoiding arbitration; signed RHPs Mike DeJean and Carlos Hines, OF-R Victor Diaz, C-R J.R. House, and 1B-R Lance Niekro to minor league contracts with spring training NRI.

A Niekro in Houston? I guess there's a chance he could stick as Lance Berkman's caddy, but I wouldn't bet on it. Somewhat similarly, Diaz and House both make for longshot Crawford Box-oriented bench possibilities. Diaz would be competing with Darin Erstad's still-dead bat and overwhelming charm, as well as Reggie Abercrombie, the man who couldn't provide the answer to the multi-year question mark in center field on the Marlins, so his may well be the best opportunity.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Agreed to terms with LHP Brian Shouse on a one-year, $2 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

NEW YORK METS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Duaner Sanchez on one-year, $850,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

The good news is that Sanchez is throwing again after missing the last season because of a couple of shoulder operations. The bad news is that he wasn't able to get back in action in time to join a team in any of the winter leagues, which means that he'll be reporting to camp with no game experience. Given that his injuries are a little out of the ordinary, there's no way to know what to expect, and the Mets' bullpen situation is already a bit crowded. If he winds up pitching in extended spring training, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. If he's ready to go, however, then we might get to revisit that always-interesting possibility of returning Aaron Heilman to the rotation because, let's face it, there's not a single starter in the Mets rotation you can consider a reliable commodity. Even if they acquire Johan Santana, the potential virtue of returning Heilman to starting chores might be worth revisiting.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed RHP T.J. Beam, C-R Raul Chavez, and UT-R Jose Macias to minor league contracts with spring training NRI.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Signed 1B-R Josh Phelps to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

There may have been worse places for him to sign, but they generally involve toxic atmospheres or gravities that crush you to the size of a crumpled can. Or maybe Phelps just really likes Memphis. Regardless, there's no place for him on the big-league roster, and it isn't like Albert Pujols will even have to learn his name.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Chad Cordero on a one-year, $6.2 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

The money isn't going to help make Cordero any more portable in any further trade talks, and if the shallower power alleys in Nationals Park end up more than compensating for the new stadium's nearness to the open, damp air of the Potomac, this might get ugly. Still, it's only a one-year deal, it isn't like the club's bleeding red ink, and if Cordero adapts, the Nats would subsequently have the freedom of action to explore a multi-year extension. It's wise of them to wait and see.


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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