February 17, 2008
Designated CF-R Chris Roberson for assignment, and subsequently outrighted him to Norfolk (Triple-A) with a spring training NRI; signed RHP Steve Trachsel to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.
Are the Orioles really rebuilding, or not? I ask because wherever Steve Trachsel goes, times stands still. You might think the organization would want to get familiar with the future or the distant past, as opposed to revisiting recent ignominy, but this is actually a decent little move. Admittedly, I'm biased, in that Trax is a personal favorite of mine, and not because he's the hero of beer vendors in both major leagues and any circuit he might make a rehab start in. For myself, I admire that he's the game's great answer to equally idiosyncratic time-wasters like Mike Hargrove or Nomar Garciaparra, but I also relish having him around because he remains unapologetically proud of his efforts. Why not? Whether or not you call him the modern Alibi Ike-I have-it's worth remembering that the guy's one of the few hundred best human beings on the planet if your standard for achievement is being able to start games regularly in the major leagues. What's the point of that, if you're supposed to apologize for that in a way that people take your apology seriously? In a world that is overstocked with insincere poor-mouthing and reporters reliably Pavlovian in their capacity to repeat it as history, Trachsel's seemingly unbreakable faith in his ability is refreshing. Besides, the Orioles lack a single reliable established starting pitcher, Trachsel's willing to work for a living wage, and heck, if somebody does something as dumb as throw Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry at you for employing him for five months, more power to Andy MacPhail and his lot for taking this particular move out for another spin, and at the no-cost, low-risk stakes of a non-roster invite.
Agreed to terms with 1B-R Kevin Youkilis on a one-year, $3 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed 1B-L Sean Casey to a one-year, $800,000 contract; signed OF-S Bobby Kielty to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.
Everyone loves the Greek God of Walks if they work for BP, right? I guess I'll have to be the nattering nabob here, and point out that Youkilis will be 29 in a month, and as outstanding as his ability to reach base is, he's a low-wattage first baseman in the power department. That's not an issue as long as all the key components of the lineup are cranking, but what happens when Jason Varitek and David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell realize that they're all getting up there in the tree rings department?
It's pondering those sorts of considerations that help explain why I'm not really impressed with the low-stakes signing of Casey. Maybe the chumminess value that Casey's rumored to provide makes a big difference to his clubs. It didn't seem to help the Reds or the Pirates, or really help the Tigers go anywhere, but let's just give the Sox the "pal factor" on its face. Equally superficially, I like the idea of bringing in a lefty bat to spot for Youkilis, or Lowell, with Youk moving across the diamond and keeping his hot corner skills fresh. The problem is that Casey doesn't really add much-he doesn't get on base (posting only a .335 OBP against right-handers last year), and his power evaporated the day he left Cincinnati in his rear-view mirror. He's not a slick glove man, and despite repeated assertions that Casey's going to be in shape this year or next or just really very soon, take it from this former Kenny Stabler fan-when the guy's in his second decade of making those kinds of promises, it's time to stop listening. Maybe this is the red flag, but Sean Casey's no Sam Horn, and if he's supposed to provide insurance against a Youkilis (or Lowell) injury, the problem with this sort of insurance is that you're guaranteed to regret having him once you have to use him. The Sox would have been better off relying on their Chris Carter, or inquiring after Chad Tracy or Scott Hatteberg in four weeks.
In contrast, more power to them for hauling back Ronald McDonald. Kielty's days of OBP-derived prospectdom are long gone, but he can play an adequate corner and, if healthy, probably still put the hurt on lefty slop. He might make a very capable backup for J.D. Drew in right, and perhaps also as a sometime DH on the days David Ortiz decides (sensibly) that he doesn't want to face Scott Kazmir or something.
Some might see this as a bit of overpaying for Granderson on the basis of his seeming career year, but I wouldn't be so sure about that. While it would be easy to simply forecast standard regressions and all that sort of thing, and pick on his frustrating inability to do much of anything to left-handed pitching, I guess I see a guy who keeps radically exceeding expectations and ratcheting his game up to a new level year after year. When he was initially picked, he was seen as a tweener, but now he's an outstanding center fielder. Some felt his power wouldn't translate, and it didn't; it got better. Some didn't think he ran that well, except he's now merely outstanding on the base paths. At this point, I think betting against Granderson's ability to improve is a losing proposition-he's far more gifted athletically than he was initially seen to be, and he's got an established pattern of outstripping expectations. It's impossible to dislike that kind of player, and while the flinty-hearted analyst in me might harbor some doubt that he'll get that option picked up, as routinely as he shines on the field, it's hard not to root for that to happen on top of all the things he does on the diamond.
As for the little deal, the Tigers had the roster space on their 40-man to bring Galarraga aboard before letting him slip to waivers, and Galarraga's stuff has always been interesting. If they take a shine to his decent fastball/slider power combo in camp, he could stick in a long relief role, and if he flops, he might be an immediate candidate for a late-spring DFA to make space for a non-roster player who's going to stick. In such a scenario, the timing might work, because that's when he might slip through waivers, but the primary point is to note that he proved himself healthy enough to pitch last season, ideally placing his past shoulder issues firmly behind him, and that makes him a borderline prospect as pitchers go. Not a bad add-on, not at the low, low price of an organizational soldier outfield type.
Agreed to terms with RHP Zack Greinke ($1.4 million) and OF-R Mark Teahen ($2.3775 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with both; signed LHP Mike Maroth to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.
Signed RHP Livan Hernandez to a one-year, $5 million contract.
You might see this as a matter of adding the overdone veteran choice for a kinder, gentler, Ponson-free Twins team. Apparently, you can change seasons and GMs, and still wind up with a token veteran hurler add-on. The distinctions are that Livan Hernandez is five times as expensive and five times as likely to pitch a full season in a Twins uni, and that he's also much the better hitter-a pity that this is a DH-league pickup. However, as superficially awful as this pick-up might appear to be if you leave it at "they brought in a guy who gave up 5.1 runs per nine in the lesser league," consider what adding Livan does do. For starters, it gives the Twins somebody they should be able to get 30 starts out of, and for a season that figures to involve a lot of turnover as young hurlers succeed and fail and shuttle to Rochester and back, that sort of thing isn't entirely without value. The initial rotation should involve Scott Baker and Boof Bonser either earning their keep or losing their hold on their jobs as the Twins' multiple minor league alternatives press their way up, and Minnesota also has to deal with Francisco Liriano's return from injury. That's potentially a good trio, but it's also a threesome where outcomes aren't going to be quite as predictable as anyone might like. So the kids have a shot at one slot for now, and potentially more once the organization gets a sense of whether or not Baker and Bonser have turned a corner and Liriano's healthy. It's also worth noting that Hernandez did deliver 20 quality starts in 33 last year, two of which were blown after the sixth, a risk an innings-muncher like Livan gets asked to run; that sort of ratio is also useful. In a best-case scenario where Livan pitches similarly well enough to help his team and Baker, Bonser, Liriano, and Kevin Slowey all thrive, the way to make space for the next ready-enough kid would be to deal the veteran at the deadline. So, while it isn't a genius move, it'll do.
Signed 2B-L Robinson Cano to a four-year, $30 million contract with a $14 million club option for 2012, and a $15 million club option for 2013, and decisively avoiding arbitration; agreed to terms with RHP Brian Bruney on a one-year, $725,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.
I like the Cano deal, mostly because of the shared risk involved in the consecutive option years. The real question is whether he'll bob along at his current level of slugging stardom, or if he'll reach even greater heights as he comes into the statistically-standard peak of his age-25 through 29 seasons over the next five years. Certainly, it's worth investing the money to find out for the Yankees, because Cano can be almost as much the competitive advantage for the power he provides while playing the keystone that Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have been at their positions.
Signed RHP Keith Foulke to a one-year, $700,000 contract; signed DH-R Mike Sweeney and 1B-R Matt LeCroy to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs; announced the retirement of C-R Jeremy Brown.
So, the Jeremy Brown era re-ends, while Foulke takes another shot. Having been a Foulke fan going back to before the "White Flag Trade" that brought him to Chicago's South Side, here's hoping we get one more chance at seeing him take a Doug Jones turn and underpower somebody with a changeup; we'll see what to make of reports that he's showing decent life on his fastball in camp. Certainly, the price is right as far as giving him a shot, and if he manages to fight his way through a crowd of options in the pen while also sticking it out in his latest attempt to overcome knee and elbow problems, it'll be interesting to see what he has left. Everyone involved seems to believe Foulke's in shape and ready this time around, where he wasn't last spring with the Indians, so stay tuned.
As for the comings and goings of various right-handed hitters who used to catch (some of whom still give it a shot), Brown's latest departure from the organization is a repeat of a sort, as they'd already discarded him in the past, and as Foulke's retirement announcement last February reflects, not even this sort of going-away needs to be the end. The announcement did create this latest opportunity for LeCroy, however, and that's fun in its own way. Nobody should expect the rag-armed beefy backstop to stick, but I'd rather have him around than Sweeney. While Rany Jazayerli's no doubt having a good chuckle over Sweeney joining Emil Brown on the too-large pile of Royals rejects in the A's camp, I guess I'll stick with the facts-Sweeney's a platoon DH who might not be able to hit well enough to merit the role, even in the unlikely circumstance of his being healthy for consecutive weeks, while LeCroy might putter around at first or behind the plate as a third backstop when he wasn't acting as a potential right-handed alternative to Jack Cust at DH. If they're going to use a roster spot on someone like this, LeCroy at least provides a greater range of functions, and whether the A's carry 11 pitchers or 12, that's a lot more useful than an unreliable platoon DH.
Acquired OF-R Michael Hernandez from the Tigers for RHP Armando Galarraga; signed OF-R Kevin Mench to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI.
The Rangers haven't exactly been stealthy about it, but they've slowly changed from the team where their outfield/DH picture was the kind of polyglot mishmash that Marlon Byrd or Sammy Sosa could claim playing time in. It's now crowded with some interesting guys with checkered records and obvious star potential (Milton Bradley, Josh Hamilton), mid-range prospects they've cultivated themselves or picked up from others (Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, Jason Botts), and then the leftover types, notably Byrd and Frank Catalanotto. It isn't quite cut and dried as far as who plays which positions-Catalanotto and Botts really shouldn't play left, but they can't both DH. Byrd and Hamilton can't both be the regular center fielder, although they might platoon well enough. Like Byrd, Cruz and now Mench can be nifty righty reserves behind guys like Botts and Murphy and Hamilton, but the Rangers can't possibly keep all of them, not in the era of the twelve-man pitching staff.
The real pity is the $6 million (minimum) and the roster spot that the Rangers are condemned to lose as a result of their commitment to Catalanotto. A light-hitting veteran DH is the last thing a club with this many overlapping platoon and injury-fraught possibilities should be carrying. Worse yet, there's even less of a likelihood that anyone else would want to pick up Cat at even a fraction of his contract. Still, setting that past mistake aside, getting Mench to come back to the site of his former, brief glories at this kind of price is exactly right. If Cruz falters (again), Mench should even have a relatively clean shot at a bench job.
Finally, while the deal with the Tigers is pretty small beer-a favor, really, to get first dibs on a guy shunted off the 40-man-Hernandez isn't nothing. As a product of a major college program (Oklahoma State), he probably shouldn't have spent most of his first two full seasons as a pro in A-ball, but he's got decent power if some of the same handicaps in his approach that have undermined Cruz at higher levels. For now, he's organizational filler, but he's 24 and going into what should be a full season at Double-A. If he hits there, he becomes a future dark horse in the sort of outfield roster spot fights the Rangers will be sorting out this spring.
Agreed to terms with RF-R Alex Rios on a one-year, $4.835 million contract, avoiding arbitration.
Agreed to terms with 2B-R Brandon Phillips on a four-year, $27 million contract, with a $12 million club option for 2012; signed RHP Mike Lincoln, LHP Kent Mercker, and 1B/OF-R Craig Wilson to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.
While you might want to look askance at the Phillips deal, to his credit he's not just another GAB-inflated power source, and to put his deal in context, he'll still be cheaper in 2010 than the similarly contractually extended Freddy Sanchez (see more on that below), while being three and a half years younger all the way along. While there's not a lot of consensus in the statistical community on Phillips' value as a defender, he's highly regarded within the industry, and, given that he didn't lose anything in terms of productivity from one season to the next since being adroitly fished out of the Indians' system by Wayne Krivsky, seems like a decent enough fit for the immediate future.
Agreed to terms with 3B-R Garret Atkins ($4.3875 million) and RF-L Brad Hawpe ($3.925 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with both; signed RHP Josh Towers to a one-year split contract with a mutual $3 million option for 2009; signed RHP Victor Zambrano and OF-L Scott Podsednik to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.
You might chuckle over the decision to bring in Towers, but I actually like the potential upside here better than, say, with the decisions to throw money at Mark Redman and Kip Wells. Yes, Towers is hittable, and pitching on Planet Coors might seem like a death sentence for his ilk. However, keep in mind that he's also moving to the DH-less league, that he's a master in terms of locating four different pitches for strikes, and that he'll get the benefit of pitching in front of one of the best defenses in baseball. In terms of usage patterns, we can also probably assume that the Rockies wouldn't be shy about keeping him on the same short hook that served them in relatively good stead with Josh Fogg. Keeping your standards appropriately low while noting that the Rockies survived with guys like Fogg and Rodrigo Lopez, I like the risk/reward tradeoff this deal provides. If Towers wins a job, he'll make $1.8 million, and might provide value on that, while if he doesn't stick, the Rox aren't really out anything. It's a better gamble than taking a final spin with Podzilla, certainly, although that's just fun, however unlikely it might seem that he'll really push Cory Sullivan.
Designated RHP Marcos Carvajal for assignment, and subsequently outrighted him to Albuquerque (Triple-A), with a NRI to spring training; outrighted LHP Chris Seddon to Albuquerque, but gave him a NRI to spring training.
Agreed to terms with RHP David Bush on a one-year, $2.55 million contract, avoiding arbitration.
I've previously discussed my disdain for Little Armas, in contradistinction to Joe Sheehan's appreciation for him, but this is one situation where I might come around to Joe's way of thinking. Becoming a Met provides Armas with a nice combination of little things that might add up to a big difference. There isn't a team in baseball more Latin-friendly, and if he sticks it would initially be in a low-leverage role, one where he might get a few pointers from any one of several veterans on the club and figure out how to avoid a few of those cookies he serves more readily than Mrs. Fields. After the Mets' successes or semi-successes with Oliver Perez, Orlando Hernandez, and Jorge Sosa, I don't think it's implausible to suggest that Armas could slip into the fight for the fifth starter's slot with a good camp and a (perhaps predictable) injury to any one of El Duque, Perez, or Pedro Martinez. As for signing Saenz, I suppose it's an absolutely perfect bit of fulfillment, if the order was to find someone about as handy as Julio Franco to do the right-handed pinch-hitter and elder statesman thing.
I really like the decision to take a chance on Benson. Let's face it, nobody outside the friends and relatives can afford to be a true believer in Adam Eaton, Kyle Kendrick seems a likely candidate for a particularly nasty sophomore slump, and for backup alternatives, the Phillies suffer from what a Republican might call "too many Durbins." Benson's not all the way back yet from his shoulder surgery, and might not be ready by Opening Day, but given the previous commitments already in place (and to be regretted eventually), the Phillies don't need him to be. They really only need for him to be geared up by the end of May or whenever it is that they start despairing of what Eaton or Kendrick or even Moyer are doing to them in the standings, and if they don't flop or Benson doesn't bounce back to a level of usefulness, there's no real damage done. It's a flier worth picking up, and the Phillies decided to be the ones to take that chance.
Agreed to terms with 2B-R Freddy Sanchez on a two-year, $11 million contract, with a $8 million club option for 2010, decisively avoiding arbitration; signed 1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; outrighted LHP Sean Burnett to Indianapolis (Triple-A), and gave him a spring training NRI.
That option for a player like Sanchez seems a bit ridiculous, especially since he's already 30, but you can probably liken it to standard operating procedure with football contracts-it's a feel-good big number for the player and his agent, but money the team has little or no intention of ever actually spending. The real value to the deal is that it creates cost certainty for a mediocre second baseman, and should a contender feel the need to deal for Sanchez, it would be free of the burden of any pending arbitration considerations. If, on the other hand, the Pirates really do wind up paying $8 million for a player who, by then, may well have declined from the middle third of second basemen to the last, this could end up looking an awful lot like a decision made by either of the previous two regimes.
Agreed to terms with SS-R Khalil Greene on a two-year, $11 million contract, avoiding arbitration; agreed to terms with C-S Josh Bard on a one-year, $2.2375 million contract, avoiding arbitration; claimed RHP Enrique Gonzalez off of waivers from the Nationals; signed 1B-S Tony Clark to a one-year, $900,000 contract; designated OF-L Drew Macias for assignment.
I'll be intrigued to see if Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley have any better success getting Gonzalez to throw some sort of change of pace that would help him stick as a starter by providing him with a weapon he might use against lefty bats. Failing that, even Petco might be hard-pressed in its capacity to keep his mistakes in play. Given that he's a pitcher on the short and chunky side of the spectrum, a future in the bullpen as a low-leverage middle reliever isn't all that improbable, so it's not a terrible use of a spot on the 40-man.
Less useful by far is the decision to sign Tony Clark, a player who's managed to linger even this long on the twin benefits of hitting in the Snakepit and his brief 2005 renaissance. Without the benefit of calling Banking Behemoth Ballpark home, you're left with a guy who has major contact issues, relatively feeble power, and not enough patience or speed or defensive value or any other virtue to make having him around in San Diego a plausibly good thing. You can consider him the anti-Branyan, a slugger who, unlike the TTO star, actually can't hit for power anywhere, and doesn't deliver enough of two of the three true outcomes to be worth a roster spot for anything more than solid citizenship. The Pads would be better off making space for Chase Headley and letting Kevin Kouzmanoff take up his future in left field while spotting for Adrian Gonzalez at first now and again.
Signed LHP Katsuhiko Maekawa to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; acknowledged the loss of RHP Enrique Gonzalez on waiver claim by the Padres.