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January 21, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Dodging the Arbitrator

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Team DT Cards | Team Articles | Team Statistics
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Agreed to terms with LHP Javier Lopez on a one-year, $840,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Agreed to terms with 3B-R Joe Crede on a one-year, $5.1 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Agreed to terms with LHP Bobby Seay ($780,000), 3B-R Miguel Cabrera ($11.3 million), and OF-R Marcus Thames ($1.275 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Agreed to terms with 1B-L Ross Gload on a two-year, $3.2 million contract with a $2.6 million club option for 2010, and with LHPs Jimmy Gobble ($1.3125 million) and Jorge De La Rosa ($1.025 million) and C-R John Buck ($2.2 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with all four; signed RHP Brian Lawrence to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; announced that INF-L Jason Smith accepted his assignment to Omaha, as well as a NRI to spring training.

Making a long-term commitment to Gload might seem an odd choice, but he's always had a good reputation in the clubhouse, and the money's next to nothing. If anything, rewarding a modestly gifted bit player with this kind of security can be a motivational tool for any aspiring scrubeenie in the organization. Also, while I don't want to overstate my enthusiasm for the decision to bring in the man who helped sink the Mets last season, hauling in Lawrence is a decent enough low-risk gamble to see if there's some shot at reaping an outsized reward. Last year was his first back from blowing out his shoulder and missing all of 2006, and while I wouldn't bet on him, he still throws strikes, and put him in front of a solid defense, and maybe he pans out as filler at the back end of a rotation.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Juan Rincon, 1B-L Justin Morneau ($7.4 million), and OF-L Jason Kubel ($1.3 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Agreed to terms with INF-S Wilson Betemit on a one-year, $1.165 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Agreed to terms with RHPs Joe Blanton ($3.7 million) and Huston Street ($3.3 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration; signed RHP Kirk Saarloos to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

Yes, there's a chance that Saarloos could crack the Opening Day rotation, and yes, the less said about that the better. Maybe he's still got his old unis, and they can save money on employing him or avoid risking running out of vowels to stitch on other people's jerseys. In another couple of weeks I'll be reviewing the NRIs in everybody's camps, to see who might be found among the inevitable Opening Day roster surprises; I wouldn't count Saarloos among the surprises, not when two penciled-in rotation regulars (Chad Gaudin and Justin Duchscherer) are coming into camp recuperating from presumably repaired hurts, and when a fifth is Rich Harden, Oakland's answer to the questing beast in terms of almost hopeless quests.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Agreed to terms with LHPs Horacio Ramirez ($2.75 million) and George Sherrill ($980,000) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Acquired 2B/3B-S Willy Aybar and INF-L Chase Fontaine from the Braves for LHP Jeff Ridgway; agreed to terms with 1B-L Carlos Peņa on a three-year, $24.125 million contract, and also with LHP Scott Kazmir ($3.785 million), RHP Dan Wheeler ($2.9 million), and DH-R Jonny Gomes ($1.3 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with all four.

The really big news is the Peņa deal, which I hope works out for all concerned. His career has been anything but predictable, but some of that was a matter of rubbing people the wrong way early on in his career, and somehow becoming a non-person to Jim Leyland in camp in the spring of 2006-for a team that needed hitting help at first and DH, and would equally peremptorily discharge Dmitri Young later on that same season-created an odd lost season that year. Ideally, last year represents the blossoming of a player people have believed in going back to when he was the tenth overall pick in the 1998 draft. It's also necessary to note that he's managed to blow his opportunities in the past, and while guys like Leyland or Billy Beane or Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman or Dave Dombrowski have all made mistakes in the past, it's interesting that they might all be responsible for a mistake where this one player's concerned. In each case, there were reasons why they gave up on him at the time, some more explicably than others, but it will be interesting to see if he and the Rays have the last laugh. If nothing else, this represents one of the best free-talent finds in recent history, and a credit to GM Andrew Friedman and the rest of the front office crew.

I've been an Aybar believer for a few years, going back to before his substance abuse problems derailed his career for a year, so as risks go, I like what the Rays have done here. He's a solid option at second base in case Akinori Iwamura can't cut it at the keystone, and effective enough filler at third in case Evan Longoria's inevitable ascension to the job at the hot corner hits a spring snag. If he's got his issues ironed out, I think Aybar's still thoroughly capable of hitting something like .280/.360/.420 if he was playing everyday, outstanding production for a second baseman, adequate at third. That's worth something, and certainly worth picking up from the Braves in a generous mood. The handicaps here aren't negligible, even setting aside Aybar's past history: on the bench, he's out of options, and that becomes even more problematic in a utility role, because he can't handle short, meaning Ben Zobrist will probably also have to stick, chewing up another roster spot. These things aren't the end of the world, but it does make for relatively limited in-season flexibility, especially if Aybar gets rusty on the bench or struggles in part-time role.

Fontaine's sort of a prospect and he could be interesting, although he's already 22 years old, and hitting .288/.402/.399 in the Sally League last year isn't really that remarkable for a player who was oldish for the level. There's also concern that his glove might not be good enough for regular middle infield play, as he moved from short to second to third or left in-season, at which point what have you got? A utilityman with on-base skills? That's not a bad thing, but it's also a dicey proposition for a career path for a guy who has to make the jump to High-A this year and avoid any setbacks to reach the upper levels with a shot at real prospectdom.

All told, it's a decent deal made at little cost to the Rays. Aybar and Fontaine both have some upside, while Ridgway's a merely decent situational lefty type as likely to wind up bobbing around the leagues as he is to ever stick for any great length of time.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed RHP Jason Jennings to a one-year, $4 million contract; agreed to terms with C-R Gerald Laird on a one-year, $1.6 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

Give me a choice between Jennings for this sort of money and similar signings like Kip Wells, and I think you have to credit the Rangers for taking a risk on the right one-year rental vet. Jennings needs to deliver the kind of season that can get him back to where he thought he was heading before last season-big money for multiple years-so he needed to find a solid one-year option somewhere. I'm not quite sold that this was the best possible spot for him to land-the DH league? In this park? In front of that defense?-but four million ducats for a bounce-back bid in a tax haven state like Texas has its attractions. I'd bet on his returning to being a solid mid-rotation starter, perhaps leaving him shy of Meche money in a rotation, but good enough to get him a three-year deal next winter after helping propel the Rangers into third place.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Agreed to terms with LHP Scott Downs on a three-year $10 million deal, INF-R Marco Scutaro on a two-year, $2.65 million contract, and LHPs Gustavo Chacin ($725,000) and Brian Tallet ($640,000) and RHP Jason Frasor ($1.125 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with the lot.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Agreed to terms with RHPs Brandon Lyon ($3.125 million), Juan Cruz ($1.9375 million), and Chad Qualls ($1.3125 million), C-R Chris Snyder ($1.85 million), 2B-L Orlando Hudson ($6.25 million), and 2B/OF-R Chris Burke ($995,000) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

Retention doesn't come free-the four players the Snakes just avoided arbitration with cost them only $7.2375 million in 2007, but will cost them $13.1625 million in 2008. True, much of that is the calculated decision to hold onto Hudson for his last year before his first shot at free agency, a reasonable risk. It seems unlikely they'll pay that for Hudson in a multi-year deal beyond 2008, and will subsequently realize some savings if, as anticipated, they turn the job at the keystone over to Burke. However, Burke's a pretty unpredictable commodity, so while it's possible this will work out rather neatly, there's also a chance Burke could flop (again) in a role where he isn't really a regular, and isn't really getting regular enough playing time at any one position.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired LHP Jeff Ridgway from the Rays for 2B/3B-S Willy Aybar and INF-L Chase Fontaine; agreed to terms with RHP Tyler Yates ($800,00), LHP Mike Gonzalez ($2.3 million), 1B-S Mark Teixeira ($12.5 million), UT-R Omar Infante ($1.4 million), and OF-R Matt Diaz ($1.225 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

Not a bad little exchange. Ridgway's a decent third situational southpaw to call upon in case either of the Braves' initial alternatives (Royce Ring and Will Ohman) falter, having embarrassed International League lefties by limiting them to hitting .163/.245/.228 last season. Eventually, they'll be able to add Gonzalez to this mix once he's fully healthy, but in the meantime, having guys with options-like Ridgway-can be handy, and better to go this route than resuscitate Ray King on a contender's watch. On a certain level, you can interpret this exchange as Ridgway for Fontaine, with Aybar's relocation representing a good deed done in terms of giving the troubled infielder a clean, explicable break with an organization that would rather be done with him, and a shot at a fresh start. Unfortunately, it might have been worth seeing if he could have helped the Braves out; with Infante likely to open the season on the DL with a broken hand, the Braves are short on infield reserves, and it isn't like Chipper Jones is rock-steady in terms of reliable health. However, Aybar is out of options, and Atlanta wouldn't get too far into the season before that became a problem. Still, I think this was a bit of overreaction, ditching an infielder they could use now with good offensive upside and a prospect for a guy who, if things go right, will spend the season in Richmond.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Claimed OF-L Drew Anderson off of waivers from the Brewers.

He's on the 40-man for the moment (filling it to the fullest), but I wouldn't get overly worked up about that. He's an organizational soldier making his first step towards minor league journeyman, and with non-roster players like Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto likely to earn a shot to stick, I wouldn't bet on his still being on the 40-man come April, not unless he beats out Chris Dickerson in a bid for a fifth outfielder's slot that might wind up getting erased should the Reds keep both Joey Votto and Scott Hatteberg on the Opening Day roster.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Agreed to terms with LF-R Matt Holliday on a two-year, $23 million contract, and CF-R Willy Taveras on a one-year, $1.975 million contract, avoiding arbitration with both.

In the same way that I think we're all anticipating a masterstroke by Dan O'Dowd and Troy Tulowitzki in the hours or days to come, I very much like the decision to commit to Holliday exactly this far into the future. This ties Holliday up through his age-29 season, and I'd accept at face value an assertion that he'll be able to reproduce production levels like those from the last two years in the next pair. Beyond that, though, it made sense to avoid getting into real money, like five years and annual compensation north of ten mill per. Although he's much more athletic than your standard "old player's skills" guy and seems a decent bet to age relatively well, we're talking about somebody who, in his age-27 season, was a merely very good hitter away from Coors Field (.301/.374/.485), not a MVP-caliber bopper. A short-term commitment as a reward for last season makes sense, just as it will to wish him well and let him walk away after the 2009 season if he's expecting a premium, long-term pay package similar to those of the game's best sluggers. He's not to be found among their number, whatever he does in Denver.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Agreed to terms with RHPs Kevin Gregg ($2.5 million) and Sergio Mitre ($1.2 million), C-R Matt Treanor ($705,000), and UT-S Alfredo Amezaga ($945,000) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Agreed to terms with 3B-R Ty Wigginton on a one-year, $4.35 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Yhency Brazoban ($540,000) and OF-R Jason Repko ($487,500) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Agreed to terms with LHP Chris Capuano on a one-year, $3.75 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

NEW YORK METS
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Signed UT-S Jose Valentin to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

Mets fans may choose to disagree, but I like this move, if only because I've been fond of Valentin going all the way back to the days when he was a key component of the deal that made Gary Sheffield a Padre. Valentin's always been an extraordinary player-not a great one, just one who has always been anything but ordinary. He had significantly more power and speed than most shortstops or utilitymen, a strong if inaccurate throwing arm, and an ability to contribute significantly to a lineup against right-handed pitchers. It's not that likely that he's got all that much left in the tank at 38, but I'd rather see him go down fighting than pack it in, and the upside is that you wind up with a utilityman who can fill in at six positions and slug .400 or better against righties, a handy weapon to have on a bench.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Agreed to terms with RHPs Brad Lidge ($6.35 million) and Ryan Madson ($1.4 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Agreed to terms with LHP John Grabow ($1.135 million), 1B-L Adam LaRoche ($5 million), 3B-R Jose Bautista ($1.8 million), and OF-R Xavier Nady ($3.35 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

Setting aside the unhappy, almost spiteful addition of Matt Morris and the $10.5 million (his 2008 salary plus the million it'll cost to buy out his 2009 option) to the club's bottom line, as well as the million it'll cost to employ Chris Gomez as the team's utility infielder, the Bucs have seen their payroll expand by $7 million from last year through arbitration and expand values on previous multi-year deals, and that's before they go to the mat with Freddy Sanchez over his compensation this year. While GM Neal Huntington's pointing out that the roster's "young," that's not really the case-this is a team whose regulars are already veterans. Jack Wilson and Sanchez will be entering their age-30 seasons; Jason Bay and Nady will be 29, LaRoche 28. The "kid" in the lineup is Nate McLouth, who's already 26 years old. This isn't a young team, it's a crew that's about as good as it'll ever get. This isn't to bash on Huntington-he isn't blind to the problem, and he's sensibly not going to discard guys just to give the impression of progress through action. As noted yesterday by John Perrotto, the best thing to be done in this situation is try to hold on for now, and deal later on in the season when the Pirates might be able to extract maximum value from some pennant-hungry contender, value that might spike if any of the Pirates' players rips off another season like the ones that Sanchez and LaRoche had in '06.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Agreed to terms with LHP Wil Ledezma on a one-year, $620,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Brad Hennessey on a one-year, $1.6 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

Perhaps when Brian Sabean's asked to explain spending this kind of money on Hennessey, he'll take a fifth.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Agreed to terms with OF-L Rick Ankiel on a one-year, $900,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

Not really that much to note here, I'm just sort of amused by the averted mayhem of what would have been a pretty extraordinary arbitration case. Although he made his big-league debut in '99, because of his travails and amphibian-like career switch, Ankiel only has a little more than four years of service time. Who would his agent compare him to? Who would the Cardinals? Would the knuckleheads on the panel even understand how meaningless those comparisons would be, for a player whose career is already pretty singular in the modern era? The most Ankiel made in annual compensation in a season as a pitcher was $400,000, setting aside any question of amortizing his $2.5 million signing bonus back in 1997, so getting nearly a million as an outfielder with less than 200 PA as a big-league hitter is sort of equally unusual circumstance. Admittedly, this is just payroll jollies, but it's a nice footnote in an already entertaining and unique career path.


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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