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January 25, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Scanning Shields, and Nailing Down Rocks

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Agreed to terms with OF-R Juan Rivera on a one-year, $2.025 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

Lest we forget, Rivera's still around, another name to add to the Angels' list of "outfielders who should play instead of Little Sarge." Assuming that Vlad Guerrero and Garret Anderson get to divvy up most of the playing time devoted to the DH, Rivera should be the guy who gets to employ his arm to effect handling the playing time in right field, with Reggie Willits presumably doing good deeds as the primary reserve behind Anderson in left and Torii Hunter in center. I know, it won't really play out that way-Willits has an option, and with the risk that Anderson's bat goes slack again, making Gary Matthews Jr. simply go away isn't all that likely, even if it were possible.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed RHP Lance Cormier to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

Along with NRI lefty journeyman Craig Anderson, Cormier has a shot-albeit a slender one-at sticking. A lot of that opportunity depends upon a decision to deal Erik Bedard, and then whether or not Adam Loewen's really healthy and ready to win back a rotation slot, but if both or either is out of the picture, then the journeymen are battling with guys like Matt Albers and Troy Patton for spots at the back of the rotation. Still, as a ground-ball pitcher who makes way too many mistakes up in the zone, I leave it to you to decide whether or not that's really a good thing.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Signed RHPs Dan Kolb and Dan Miceli to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed RHP Octavio Dotel to a two-year, $11 million contract; consummated signing UT-L Alexei Ramirez to a four-year, $4.75 million contract; designated RHP David Aardsma for assignment.

While there's quite a bit about how the Sox's winter has worked out that I like, giving Dotel this kind of money and that sort of guarantee is simply insane. He'll overpower more than a few hitters when he's healthy, but that won't be very often, and even if he's in operating order, he can still get creamed by guys with the strength and bat speed to sit dead-red. Put that in a park where the corners provide an extra penalty on a mistake, and it's a lousy investment pretty much any way you slice it. Keep in mind, Dotel hasn't delivered a full season since 2004. Much as it may be the case that Kenny Williams has money left to spend after his early missteps in his pursuit of one, some, and almost all of the big-ticket free agent center fielders (which is more than forgivable in light of the subsequent deal for Nick Swisher), spending it on Dotel's just not a great idea.

The more interesting move is the decision to bring in Alexei Ramirez. The Sox have questions at second and one outfield slot, and Ramirez is notionally able to play either middle infield slot or center. Adding him to a competition for playing time between Carlos Quentin, Danny Richar, and Jerry Owens would give Ozzie Guillen a decent spread of options, offensively and defensively. The real question will be if the selection is driven by past performance and scouting, or if the Sox will just keep their noses in a spreadsheet and reward the hottest hands in spring training performance. Whichever comes into play, it'll be interesting to see how they sort it out. An offense-minded solution that puts Nick Swisher in center and puts Quentin in left every day would provide the best lineup, but much as I love Swisher, covering the gaps isn't one of his better virtues, and the Sox rotation is shaky enough as is.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Rafael Betancourt to a two-year, $5.4 million contract with a $5 million club option for 2010, avoiding arbitration.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed RHP Brett Tomko to a one-year, $3 million contract; designated RHP Brandon Duckworth for assignment.

It wasn't cheap, but I guess if all of the cool ideas and all of the kids falter, there's little harm in having a guy like Tomko around to make starts for a team like the Royals. You gotta play the games, after all, and mechanical solutions, while cheaper probably wouldn't go over too well, not when fashion Nazi Bob Watson might fine it and you for failing to wear a regulation cap or something. That said, Tomko's about as robotically capable of delivering hittable offerings; any suggestion that this might hurt human beings and violate any of the three laws gets into the somewhat more abstract issue of whether or not creating heartache and disenchantment in the greater Kansas City area qualifies as injury or harm, when that's been generally endemic to the human condition of Royals fans for a generation now. Suffice to say that Tomko's going to scrupulously observe the third law, do his job/wreak havoc, and move on to his next souvenir-generating assignment with the reliability we've come to expect from all units of his general stamp.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Signed RHP James Shields to a four-year, $11.25 million contract, with consecutive single-season club options for 2012-14.

Three options years, and a four-year base? That seems pretty inspired, and a great way to leverage a team's control with a young pitcher. If, for the sake of argument, Shields devolves into a merely adequate strike-thrower and league-average starter, then the Rays really aren't out all that much money; spending less per year than four consecutive Kip Wells contracts for 2008 is pretty cheap by market standards, and this worst-case Shields scenario should still be better than that if he's merely adequate. If the Rays' rotation cup starts running over because the Hellicksons and the Prices and all the rest pan out (unlikely, but let's pretend), then the Rays can barter with other teams by adding Shields' cost certainty to the menu of trading options perhaps even more easily than they could with any of the non-Kazmir kids; everybody likes cost certainty. However, if Shields just keeps throwing strikes with aplomb, he'll be a bargain through 2011, and if they ever get that retractable-roof bay-front stadium, as a fly ball pitcher who sees a few more souvenirs come of his style, he might be especially aided by working in the relatively open air, and remain a bargain through those subsequent option years. Similarly, if he's avoided surgery up to that point, the Rays will have a nice problem on their hands, but if he breaks down, the money they're tied into is relatively minor over the scope of four seasons.

Just for the record and in case there's any confusion, this is not the same James Shields who demanded satisfaction from Abe Lincoln and was subsequently almost replaced by him in the U.S. Senate, and who was later credited with beating Stonewall Jackson. However, demonstrating that some things remain the same, Shields had to overcome nativist nattering to win his seat in the Senate-twice-in the first place.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Agreed to terms with RHP Rafael Soriano on a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Michael Wuertz on a one-year, $860,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Signed LHP Jeremy Affeldt to a one-year, $3 million contract.

The deal's heavily laced with incentives related to his panning out in a starting role, which telegraphs what the Reds think he might be able to do for them. That might seem like a strange decision, given that it seems as if Affeldt only just established himself as a reliever with the Rockies. It might seem stranger still when you notice that he's delivered only 11 quality starts (counting two blown by Tony Peņa's slow hook in 2003) in 48 career starts, which isn't exactly promising. But let's face it, coming up with the Royals couldn't be easy, not when he almost never had a major league-caliber shortstop behind him, and not when his role seemed to flip from starter to closer to guy they didn't know what to do with from month to month.

So, setting aside a performance record that's as all over the map as Royals' decision-making was during the Baird regime, you can instead focus on what Affeldt does, which is throw low-90s heat and mix in a still-effective curve. He's always been too talented to stuff into a situational role, and doesn't particularly struggle to throw strikes against right-handers, and his unintentional walk rates for both 2007 and his career is a little more than nine percent. All in all, as experiments go, this isn't too terrible an idea; he could wind up taking Matt Belisle's slot in the rotation if both Homer Bailey and Edinson Volquez win spots of their own, or insure against a spring flop by either prospect. The Reds don't really have a shortage of lefty help for their bullpen (Bill Bray and Jon Coutlangus are in the house, and they've still got a year's worth of Mike Stanton to pay for), but even if Affeldt can't cut it as a rotation regular, given the absence of another lefty in the rotation, it isn't too hard to see him still being able to contribute a southpaw change of pace from Belisle, Bailey, and Volquez, all three of whom might be expected to have trouble pitching deep into games next season.

All in all, a good signing, with upside variants that can help this staff in a couple of different ways. It's a more creative single-season solution than inking any of the still-dead deadly vets floating around in the free agent pool (say, signing Josh Fogg for the same sort of money), with one potential downside being that if Affeldt earns his keep as a starter, he'll probably scoot for a bigger compensation package in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark next winter. But that can be left for the future, and given the extensions given to Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, it would be premature to write off the Reds' ability to retain players.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Signed SS-R Troy Tulowitzki to a six-year, $31 million contract, with a $15 million club option for 2014.

This is what we might term a VLE, for "Very Large Extension." It has more pizazz than 153 minutes with Jodie Foster under cover of darkness, and ideally comes without some metaphysical baloney mouthed by Matt McConaughey. Just as with McConaughey on the silver screen, silence in all matters involving Tulo's contract status is literally golden, where Dan O'Dowd has sensibly invested in the player best-prepped to be the club's signature player over the life of the deal. Tulowitzki is the linchpin of one of the game's best defenses, a similarly critical cog into the best Rockies lineup ever. Now there's no danger of any arbitration-related acrimony, and if that option gets picked up, he's signed through his age-29 season-or the entirety of his most-likely most-productive portion of his career. As "inactive" as some see the Rockies' winter to have been, it's moves like this or coming to some sort of terms with Matt Holliday and Aaron Cook that rated as the truly important deeds, with the equally sensible decision to let Kazuo Matsui leave their orbit to crash with the Astros ranking as their canny non-deed. Flogging them over the uninspired decisions to re-up Mark Redman or Yorvit Torrealba or Matt Herges would be excessive, and the only move you could call an unqualified mistake might be signing Kip Wells. As far as the things they have control over, whether or not the Rockies contend again will depend as much upon the break-outs of hurlers like Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. Beyond that, they can hope that the Dodgers somehow screw up again, the Padres' latest collection of patches don't keep them going, and the Snakes' crew of young hitters doesn't improve enough to support a strong staff. Taken on their face, none of those are all that unlikely as propositions go, so there's no reason to expect the Rockies to fade dramatically, not when they're doing the truly important things-like committing to Tulo in this way.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Agreed to terms with RHPs Geoff Geary ($1.125 million) and Dave Borkowski ($800,000) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Scott Proctor on a one-year, $1.15 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed OF-L John-Ford Griffin to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Signed INF-S Abraham Nuņez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

As much as you can say that signing Abraham Nuņez is a good thing, for this sort of commitment, and on this sort of team, it's a good thing. Should Bill Hall struggle during his reconversion to the infield or have any special problem handling third, Nuņez might be worth keeping around as the least-frequently used infield reserve to handle the chores of a defensive replacement, leaving Craig Counsell to do the important stuff that involves semi-regular at-bats, like spot-starting and pinch-hitting. It would be happier if Nuņez was left to do this for Nashville's benefit, since there's a chance the Sounds might have Brad Nelson and maybe even Mat Gamel at the hot corner later on in the season, and it would leave major league roster space open for everybody's current favorite minor league journeyman slugger, Joe Dillon. Dillon's already outlasted career-threatening back woes, Herk Robinson, and a Japanese misadventure in 2006, and none of that has stopped him yet; here's hoping he sticks, because it isn't like Nuņez needs any additional service time.

NEW YORK METS
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Agreed to terms with OF-L Endy Chavez on a two-year, $3.85 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed LHP Ricky Rincon to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

If, two years ago, you had suggested that Endy Chavez would be making this kind of money and that it would be seen as an entirely reasonable decision, you'd have been laughed at with appropriate derision. However, for the Mets, he's an important and useful component, especially in light of Moises Alou's fragility and the seemingly persistent naggy issues that dog Carlos Beltran. It's a more interesting question to wonder if somebody else might not get carried away and see Chavez as the next big thing; if the Mets made a deal in light of their adding the similarly useful Angel Pagan, and dealt Chavez before he just became the latest unhappy ending to Timo Time!, that would be entirely understandable.

Rincon's a nice low-cost, low-risk, modest-upside sort of signing. Even with Scott Schoeneweis and Pedro Feliciano on hand, there's nothing wrong with searching for a veteran spare in case either gets hurt. Pitching coach Rick Peterson even has some direct experience with Rincon from better days, having coached him back in 2002-03, so perhaps he can help the former situational star bounce back and get into that deathless Rick Honeycutt/Jesse Orosco career path. Rincon will only be 38 in April, after all...

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed RHPs Jaret Wright and Hector Carrasco and LHP Casey Fossum to minor league contracts with a spring training NRIs.

There's nothing wrong with trying to mimic the Expos of the '80s and become an organization that successfully scavenges for retreads with some upside, but Wright's about as likely a candidate for a comeback as Aaron Burr, while Carrasco couldn't even convince the Nats to use him after the Angels discarded him. Of the three, I guess I like Fossum best on the level of relative ability, but he's not a pitcher who gets credited with his coachability, and he has more than a few kinks to iron out if he's going to resemble the prospect he was once seen to be.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed OF-L Jody Gerut to a minor league contract.

I'm not sure that the Padres need another outfielder who can't play center, let alone one with knees as problematic as Gerut's, but after he's endured two years away from the game, you can't help but hope that Gerut at least gets to take his best shot at letting his career end on the field instead of in a doctor's office. Adapting to pinch-hitting and irregular at-bats won't make it any easier for him, so even assuming he can still move around well enough in the outfield corners, I'd assume he's a better bet to wind up getting his career back underway in Portland, especially when he's competing with Chip Ambres as well as Jeff DaVanon for a reserve role.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Signed C-R Yadier Molina to a four-year, $15.5 million contract extension with a $7 million club option for 2012.

Given the general shortage of quality catching help, this was a pretty reasonable investment for the game's best defensive catcher. However, he's not just that, he's made a lot of progress offensively, making much more consistent contact, and not getting popped up with anything like the alarming regularity of 2006. Nevertheless, Molina's basically a platoon weapon at the plate, someone who can hurt lefties and poke the odd single against right-handers. That's not too terrible if that's the worst hitter in your lineup, though, and given that he's still only coming up on his 26th birthday, there's ample reason to believe that he'll continue to improve a little bit over the life of the contract. If he continues to develop, that option will be worth picking up, and if he doesn't, that's where the Cards will have hopefully sorted out whether or not Bryan Anderson can take on a larger role-by then Anderson will hopefully have already stuck as Molina's tastefully-chosen lefty-hitting accessory behind the plate.


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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