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January 29, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Backup Wheels within Wheels

by Christina Kahrl


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired RHP David Aardsma from the White Sox for RHPs Willy Mota and Miguel Socolovich.

A nice low-stakes pickup, in that Aardsma makes for a fine competitor for the likes of Kyle Snyder or Bryan Corey for a last spot in the pen. Aardsma is still long on stuff and low on reliable results, but the guy throws hard, and that's always a nice place to start if you're changing organizations, instructors, and pitching coaches. Not that this is a knock on the White Sox or on pitching coach Don Cooper; sometimes a guy just needs a change of scenery, and Aardsma's talent has been as exasperating as tantalizing. If this works for Aardsma, that's to Boston's credit more than another mark against the "good guys" in black.

Consider for a moment the Red Sox's options in the bullpen; everyone above the line is a lock, everyone below will have to win their job:


 From the Left                 From the Right
 Hideki Okajima                Jonathan Papelbon
 Javy Lopez                    Mike Timlin
 Craig Breslow                 Julian Tavarez
 Jon Lester                    Manny Delcarmen
                               Kyle Snyder
                               Craig Hansen
                               Bryan Corey
                               David Aardsma

I know, I'm skipping guys like Dan Kolb and Lee Gronkiewicz, and leaving unfulfilled any New England fantasies about Tavarez's disappearance in the kelp beds of the wide Sargasso Sea; let's stick with the most likely alternatives for the moment. Five locks, and perhaps two other slots standing open, with perhaps one going to a lefty, the other to a righty. I'm putting Lester into the pool of southpaw alternatives in the expectation that if he loses his rotation slot to Clay Buchholz, he'd have a shot at the pen, while if Buchholz doesn't win a spot in the rotation, he'll probably open the year in Pawtucket; either way, the loser likely winds up getting the call as soon as one of the veterans hears one joint or the other go "sproing."

From among the two pools, right and left both, there are scenarios in which it's pretty easy to see any one of the competitors winning that coveted last spot. Even if it's a case where Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, and company decide to take a chance on Aardsma or a relatively unknown hurler like Breslow, that front five in the pen pretty much guarantees that anybody who sticks will just wind up in the same low-leverage mop-up role that Snyder's survived in for parts of the last two seasons. That's been swell for Snyder, but the list of guys who can fulfill those sorts of modest ambitions is pretty long, and the reason why the job's there for the taking is Snyder's limited up-side, which, balanced against the potential of a guy like Aardsma or Hansen, might go out of vogue. I know that it's silly to get overly worked up about camp performance, but I also know that it's basic human nature to trust what you see, and if more than one anybody from the bottom ends of these lists has a hot camp, things will get interesting.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Traded RHP David Aardsma to the Red Sox for RHPs Willy Mota and Miguel Socolovich.

Pretty straightforward, in that the White Sox could only really get non-40-man suspects after dropping Aardsma because of an already fully-stocked roster. Socolovich is a Venezuelan stringbean who will be coming into only his third year as a pro, while Mota is a Dominican trying to re-gear his career after an ill-fated four-year run as an outfielder. Mota's already 22, and Socolovich will be, and although neither is really all that much of a prospect yet, you might hope that either has some amount of growth potential.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Matt Guerrier on a one-year, $950,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Claimed OF-L Jeff Fiorentino off of waivers from the Reds; designated RHP Ruddy Lugo for assignment; re-signed C-R Jeremy Brown to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

Fiorentino had been DFA'd to make room for Jeremy Affeldt, so he's now on his third organization of the last month or so. Given the odd collection of choices the A's already have for the job in left field, for reasons I previously expressed as far as his potential lot with the Reds, I don't think it's inconceivable that he might beat out guys like Ryan Sweeney, Chris Denorfia, and Emil Brown at some point next summer, and wind up getting a few weeks' worth of starting to earn his keep. It's either that, or settle for battling Danny Putnam in Sacramento for attention from the all-seeing eye of Billy Beane from its base in the shadow of Mount Diablo. But that's assuming the GM's lidless gaze isn't consumed with the prospect of the impending conversion of Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Rich Harden, and all the others who might once have been counted fair and mighty among the A's of old to full-fledged roster wraiths. The AL West may have moved into a new age, but just as Morgoth or Connie Mack may have been the original comeback kids (each in their own way), we can expect the A's to return once they have raised up the walls of their new fortress/venue/stadium. Not that Sauron had to worry about the delays involved with filing a wetlands impact report about a new and improved Barad DŻr out of concern for the well-being of the Sea of Nýrnen, although that may explain a few things about why he always seemed preoccupied, not to mention cranky.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Signed RHP Scott Munter to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Outrighted 1B-R Chris Shelton outright to Oklahoma (Triple-A), but mollified him with a spring training NRI; designated RHP Armando Galarraga for assignment; signed OF-R Jason Ellison and RHPs Elizardo Ramirez and Franklyn German to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Signed C-R Rod Barajas to a one-year, $1.2 million contract with a club option for 2009; designated MI-S Ray Olmedo for assignment.

Bringing in Barajas for less than it would have cost them had he shown the good sense to take last year's two-year deal brings an element of kismet to the reunion of the two, but as much as you can say signing Rod Barajas is a good thing for any team, for the Jays, it works. Much as I may still have some hope that Curtis Thigpen pans out as a major league catcher, he's not the best-throwing backstop around, so he's particularly ill-suited to be the substitute for Gregg Zaun, he of the noodly appendage. While Robinzon Diaz is perhaps the anti-Zaun, a player who is in every respects Zaun's opposite, offensively and defensively, he's also probably not going to be ready for The Show at the start of the season. As a result, you might have been able to envision scenarios where a NRI like Sal Fasano might stick, because he's right-handed, has some sock on his best days, and is a decent receiver, but Barajas represents a slightly better version, with much more ability to deter the running game. I'm not arguing that a Grogg Zauajas combination behind the plate is anyone's ideal catcher, but in the absence of a true All-Star or a ready, worthy prospect, it's a decent combination for less than $5 million. A critic might also note it's symptomatic of the Jays, paying a pretty penny for adequacy, but that's the hallmark of the Ricciardi regime until the GM gives any reason for anyone to believe otherwise.

As for the decision to discard Olmedo, it's not the end of the world. Once the organization had made its commitments to David Eckstein and John McDonald and traded for Marco Scutaro and retained Joe Inglett after claiming him on waivers last September, it wasn't like they had an endless supply of roster spots to devote to light-hitting infielders. If he goes unclaimed and takes the assignment to Syracuse, no harm done, and if he moves on to another organization, it isn't going to make the difference for the Jays' immediate fortunes. Olmedo's going to be 27 at the end of May; if it doesn't happen soon, it never will for him.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed LHPs Mike Myers and Tom Martin to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

The Dodgers only have one established lefty on their 40-man (Joe Beimel), and among their non-roster invites they only had brought in Brian Shackelford so far. As a result, while signing Myers and Martin seem relatively perfunctory and inclusive of card-carrying members of the International Brotherhood of Left-Handed Relief Workers (or "Ibblies"), there's actually a much-larger-than-zero chance that one of them sticks as the token second left-hander that Joe Torre's heard of at the bottom of his bullpen.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Re-signed OF-R Alex Escobar to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.

Even though the Nats' outfield is already liable to wind up listed on Overstock.com, I like this move. Heck, I like this move even though Escobar was "healthy" enough to make it into all of 14 games across three levels last year (in June and July) between coming back from a shoulder injury and then returning to the DL with a bum ankle. Why? Probably for the same reason Jim Bowden does-everyone can see that Escobar is (or was) immensely talented, and if the guy wants to keep trying, why not let him?


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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