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August 1, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Deadline Day Wrap-Up

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Sent LF-R Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers; sent OF-L Brandon Moss and RHP Craig Hansen to the Pirates; acquired OF-R Jason Bay from the Pirates. [7/31]

However much this wound up being a hail mary or an anticlimax, for the Red Sox, it's a straightforward good move. As improbable as it may or may not be that Bay outproduces Ramirez for the balance of the year-as he has already this season, with an EqA of .319 to Manny's .306-and as much chemistry gets either washed out or restocked or put in the right beakers or whatever metaphor you can torture on behalf of clubhouse amity, this can be seen as a straightforward case of addition by addition. Bay's six and a half years younger and as productive right now, as PECOTA's MORP projections for both men reflect, and in the immediate future there's every reason to expect Bay to be worth what you'd wind up paying and fulfill what you need from a mid-lineup bopper in left; Manny, not so much. As great as Manny's past was, does anyone think he's going to slug .600 again? Because if he doesn't do that, you've got a player doing a lot of the same things Bay does, only with considerably more drama and expense, and with considerably worse defense, however much Red Sox Nation might have been inclined to trot out the standard "but he plays the Wall well" defense that has been a prop for bad-fielding Red Sox left fielders for decades.

That last element matters that much more with David Ortiz back from the DL, because whatever the personality issues in play, the Sox can no longer hide Manny's being Manny in left once their starting DH was back in the lineup. Add in the open question of how enthusiastically Manny would be Manny with a glove on one hand, and you can understand how Theo Epstein and company decided it would be best to just get the entire mess out of their hair with a certain celerity. If not with an assist from the Marlins to swap out Jason Bay, then enlist the Dodgers, but for any god's sake, just get it done already.

The financial benefits of the exchange cannot be understated. Bay's already locked in at $7.5 million for 2009, and will even then be a year short of eligibility as a free agent, meaning that the Sox have him under control in his age-30 and age-31 seasons, at which point they can probably afford to let him go wherever he wishes. Although they're paying Manny to be a Dodger for the remainder of 2008, that's a commitment already made, so in terms of expense, they're only taking on the balance of Bay's salary this season, and against that they're no longer in the position of having to decide whether or not to pick up Ramirez's $20 million options in each of the next two seasons. In terms of what they save, even if the Sox are out roughly $2 million still owed to Bay this year, add that to Bay's salary and they're realizing a savings of at least $10 million for 2009, and perhaps that much again if Bay only costs them roughly that much because of arbitration in 2010. That's a lot of money saved, and add in the $17 million coming off the books because of the expiration of the deals with Curt Schilling and Jason Varitek, and I think it's safe to say that not only did the Sox make a move that doesn't affect their status as players in the playoff picture this year, this trade helps make them even bigger players in this winter's free agency market. This could prove especially important because, whoever else is available, if Yu Darvish gets posted, the more money you have to bring to that auction, the better.

So, in short, Theo Epstein and company did it. The "prospects" they surrendered were filler players in danger of being crowded out of the 40-man, and Manny was the thorn in the franchise's side who'd long since become infectious. As this proposition goes-lancing that wound, saving perhaps more than $20 million over the next two years, not hurting the lineup now while almost certainly helping it in the next season or two to come-taken together the benefits of the trade provide a range of outcomes to keep everyone happy: fans, statheads, bean-counters, and even player-development types worried about the Rule 5 draft. Consider this nothing short of a brilliant achievement, and the product of an inspired effort.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired OF-L Ken Griffey Jr. from the Reds for 2B-L Danny Richar and RHP Nick Masset. [7/31]

Getting Griffey cost the Sox nothing that they'll miss, so on that level, this is a great deal. Setting aside where he'll play for a moment, a team counting on a notoriously fragile player like Jim Thome could use an extra bat in case the DH breaks down, or if Jermaine Dye has another one of his catastrophic injuries, or should plunk-happy Carlos Quentin run one risk too many hanging over the plate and taking one for the team that he should have ducked. Strictly as a matter of depth, it's a good pickup. As a way to take Paul Konerko out of the lineup now and again, it also makes sense, sort of, but keep in mind that Griffey really isn't hitting well, having only delivered a pretty pedestrian .277 EqA (the position's average is .271), with his best feature being a park-aided .261/.373/.452 against right-handers (while disappearing against lefties), but that immediately invites a reference to his hitting only .237/.347/.411 outside of the Rhineland bandbox that the Reds call home. If that's more along the lines of what the Sox might expect, you can reasonably wonder if they weren't better off just accepting that kind of production from a person named Dewayn Wise instead of one named Ken Griffey.

Playing Griffey also comes with risks, unless of course he dons a glove and plays a bit of first. That's because Griffey in the lineup could also involve the risk of their employing Thome at first base, or Griffey in center, and of those two options, the former's a potentially unacceptable risk, while the latter simply is an unacceptable risk. As Marc Normandin noted in anticipation of the deal, three-fifths of the Sox rotation is made up of fly-ball pitchers, and while they've survived Nick Swisher's game efforts in center, running Griffey back out there might test those hurlers beyond a defensive breaking point. If, as rumored, Griffey only agreed to the deal in return for a guarantee that he'd start in center, you wind up with a player demanding and getting something he shouldn't have asked for if helping his new team was on his agenda, and worse yet getting it from a team that should know better, especially when it should be focused on taking its best shot at a division title.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired RHP Jhonny Nunez from the Nationals for SS-R Alberto Gonzalez; designated C/UT-R Chad Moeller for assignment; recalled RHP Chris Britton from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [7/31]

Nunez's results between relief work in Double-A and starting in High-A have been pretty mixed (90 strikeouts and 27 walks in 89 IP, but 12 home runs allowed), but I guess I look at this as a case where a live arm's a live arm, and that's the sort of something you can turn into an asset when it's still only 22 years old. Compare that to trying to make a shortstop who can't, doesn't, and won't hit into a hitter, and you may as well start a school to help everyone teach their horse to sing if you have the kind of confidence that you can make a hitter out of someone already on the short list of men most likely to wind up as an Orioles' shortstop by the very virtue of his inoffensiveness at the plate.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired RHP Gaby Hernandez from the Marlins for LHP Arthur Rhodes. [7/31]

A nifty little move, in that Rhodes needed to be repurposed, and Hernandez is a pretty good return for the veteran specialist. Before a demotion to Double-A earlier this month, Hernandez had to deal with getting knocked around in Albuquerque when he wasn't on the DL for a month with an intercostal strain. However much the injury fed into the struggling, Albuquerque (and the PCL in general) is not a great place to pitch for a kid who only turned 22 in-season, and he fared better in his work in the Southern League this month. The basic repertoire doesn't scream stardom-low-90s heat and command of four pitches-but it does give you a good candidate for a back-end rotation slot, and to get that for Rhodes has to be taken as a pretty tasty exchange, to say the least.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Acquired 2B-L Danny Richar and RHP Nick Masset from the White Sox for OF-L Ken Griffey Jr.

Griffey had moved into an area where he was no longer a significant asset, not at the plate, and certainly not in the field, so you can understand the motivation to move the man. The question is whether or not it was worth the money-since the Sox and Reds wound up splitting the cost of the balance of Griffey's 2008 salary and the $4 million buyout of his 2009 option-because they didn't exactly get much in the way of talent. Masset's your basic big guy and well-traveled young veteran with a decent fastball and an employability in spot-starting, mopping up, and long relief. Richar's more interesting than that, in that he's a lefty-swinging infielder with some sock, having hit .268/.345/.459 off of right-handed pitching in Triple-A, and in an organization bereft of middle infielders of almost any stripe, he has some value as another sacrificial offering to the increasingly Reds-streaked altar of the team's shortstop curse. If Jeff Keppinger or Jerry Hairston Jr. can play short, after all, perhaps Richar can as well. Add in that he's 25 and has already had a small taste of the position down at Charlotte, and it's possible that he has value to the team as a utility infielder.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Activated RHP Anibal Sanchez from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Taylor Tankersley to Albuquerque (Triple-A). [7/30]
Acquired LHP Arthur Rhodes from the Mariners for RHP Gaby Hernandez; optioned MI-R Robert Andino to Albuquerque; transferred RHP Burke Badenhop from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/31]

It wasn't a no-cost pickup, but the Marlins can consider their getting Rhodes for a young pitcher who'd have been hard-pressed to crack their staff as a win-win proposition. Rhodes is still struggling with his command, but he's still icing lefties, and if in the abstract it would be nice to see if Tankersley could take on the role, getting Rhodes to cover the situational lefty duties is a reasonable proposition for a team that needed to find somebody who could do it.

Yeah, that's all there is. We can leave off the dissection of the deal that wasn't, because it never happened, and the notional benefits they would have received in terms of media play for adding a celebrity/doofus to the roster can be left to the same realm of fiction inhabited by all the Fourth Estate types who got punk'd on this non-event.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Claimed RHP Alberto Arias off of waivers from the Rockies. [7/31]

Because there's nothing in the rules that says they can't, and they matter, dammit. Really. There's a press release saying so if you're entertaining any doubts.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Acquired LF-R Manny Ramirez from the Red Sox; sent 3B-R Andy LaRoche and RHP Bryan Morris to the Pirates. [7/31]

The nicest way to look at this move is that it gives the Dodgers a financial no-cost upgrade to an outfield hobbled by Ned Colletti's consecutive center-field mistakes; put Manny in left, reduce Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre to expensive spectators, and roll on to the division title. A sensible plan, no? It's possible, probable even, and benching Jones might even represent a bit of wish fulfillment mixed with a good dose of reaction formation. Even so, somehow I can't shake the feeling that they'll struggle to bench Pierre for being exactly what you should expect him to be, and that the speedster will filch a few starts from Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, on the days when he isn't starting for Ramirez because the big bopper's got an owie to massage or a sulky jag to ride out.

That aside, it's an obvious improvement to a lineup that needed the help, although the problem is whether or not this means that the Dodgers will wind up picking up the 2009 or 2010 options. If they have to or had to to get his Mannyness to agree to the trade, a deal that doesn't cost them anything now financially will end up becoming a bit of a millstone, since they'll be stuck with an increasingly fragile lead-gloved old man in left, and if that's what they wanted for their stretch run, why not just keep LaRoche and sign Barry Bonds?

It's worth asking that question, because while the immediate financial expense is negligible, where this deal costs the Dodgers right now is in talent, talent that they need now, and will need far into the future. LaRoche could wind up being the best bet to be the Pirates' token All-Star for the next five or six years, and not simply because a Pirate has to go, but because there are few better bets to star at the hot corner in the years to come. Having dealt him, future Dodgers squads will have to find their third baseman on the free-agent market-with the man who gave you Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre doing the shopping-lest they have to return to Blake DeWitt. Neither of those things have as much to offer a team as LaRoche, so in terms of measuring the full cost of what adding Manny does for this team, you've got to throw that onto the scale; signing Barry Bonds would not have cost them Andy LaRoche, and it would have involved no more (or less) of a distraction than Manny being Manny will, no matter how star-struck and craven the local media may be during its first exposure to the man. LaRoche was expensive enough, but Morris isn't chopped liver; although less developed, having pitched in Low-A after missing all of 2007 after Tommy John surgery, he's also talented enough to come back to haunt them.

I don't know why this particular vibe struck me, but for some reason the Dodgers getting Manny reminded me of the Angels' trade with the Pirates in August of 1985, when the team that was even then playing in Anaheim but was calling itself California brought in former famous people John Candelaria, Al Holland, and George Hendrick while sending the Bucs an outfielder seen as promising at the time (Mike Brown), a lefty reliever of less note (Pat Clements), and a PTBNL that proved to be Bob Kipper. It was a terrible trade for the Pirates, so it's not really comparable, except in that the Angels were bringing in a group of guys coming in from the scandal-tossed Pirates clubhouse; the Pirate-centric Curtis Strong drug trial, which revealed considerable cocaine use in the major leagues, was about to become national news the following month, and Holland would be one of the players who was punished by Commissioner Peter Uebberoth.

Before that happened, however, the formerly famous guys from the Pirates did their best yet not enough to propel the Angels into the playoffs, as they had to settle for a second-place finish to the eventual World Champs, the surprising Royals. (That Angels squad was already overstocked with the formerly famous-the lineup was littered with Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Doug DeCinces, and Bob Boone.) I guess it was the combination of scandal and potentially pointless moving around that tickled the memory bone.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Traded OF-R Jason Bay to the Red Sox; acquired 3B-R Andy LaRoche and RHP Bryan Morris from the Dodgers; acquired RHP Craig Hansen and 1B/OF-L Brandon Moss from the Red Sox; assigned Morris to Low-A Hickory; optioned MI-R Brian Bixler to Indianapolis (Triple-A); designated CF-L Chris Duffy and RHP Franquelis Osoria for assignment. [7/31]

If the trade with the Yankees was a tentative sort of thing involving the exchange of veteran mediocrities for an off-blue, chambray sort of blue-chipper and three nondescript upper-level hurlers, and the sort of thing that might have caused alarm, Pirates fans can take solace in this deal. This time, Neal Huntington and company got two much better prospects, better than anything they got from the Yankees, not to mention a pair of useful-enough filler types for an organization that needs bodies in every shape and size. While it cost them Bay, it brought them their new best player on the team, because LaRoche will be an All-Star-caliber hitter at third base now that he's free of a Dodgers organization that wasn't treating him at all fairly. Morris is a nifty add as well, a 2006 first-rounder coming back from a 2007 Tommy John surgery who's done good work with the Loons in Low-A, flashing low- to mid-90s heat, a new sinker, an improved change, and a nasty curve. He's been on a workload almost as monitored and structured as Clayton Kershaw's in his comeback, averaging less than five innings per start, but with 72 strikeouts and 31 walks in 81 2/3 IP and a GB/FB ratio of 1.7, he's flashing a live arm, and as a 21-year-old stripling, that's something to take an interest in.

The ballast from the Red Sox doesn't hurt, either. Hansen throws hard and heavy, and maybe an escape from the franchise that promoted him too aggressively will get the former St. John's closer his best shot at carving out a career for himself. Moss should make a nice enough fourth outfielder type on a team that should now be promoting Andrew McCutchen to take over in center, providing the pitching staff with the added benefit of getting a quality center fielder in place while shunting Nate McLouth to a corner and the defensive chores he's better equipped to deal with.

Again, to recap, if getting Tabata was a matter of taking a chance, then getting LaRoche is a case of swapping out an expensive, aging outfielder for a quality everyday player just at the start of his big-league career at a position of organizational need. Morris may well be the second-best prospect he acquired between the two deals, they added some elements of cost control by shedding Bay's contract, and perhaps more fundamentally they addressed their defensive inadequacies by bringing in a better third baseman and making room for a better center fielder (once McCutchen's up). That's the sort of broad-stroke improvements you have to tip your cap to when they're achieved. Huntington warned people off about his not making deals just to make them over the winter-having made this trade, it was clearly worth the wait.

Thanks to Kevin Goldstein and Bryan Smith for their observations.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Acquired SS-R Alberto Gonzalez from the Yankees for RHP Jhonny Nunez. [7/31]

Perhaps you can take this as a sign that the Nats are valuing no-hit middle infielders in an entirely different game, one where we don't understand the stakes, or what it takes to win; I half expect Stan Kasten or Jim Bowden to call out "royal fizzbin!" Here in the simpler, more practical world, why you'd want Gonzalez on top of the decision to go get Emilio Bonifacio beggars rational explanation. Slick-fielding middle infielders are neat to watch, but players who will struggle to post .300 OBPs are not, and that's Gonzalez as well as Bonifacio. Ideally, big-league ballclubs should not be run as re-enactment societies-sure, we all want to see what Tinker to Evers to Chance looked like in the flesh, but does it really make sense to acquire the appropriate stand-ins when you play in a league where the games count?


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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