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November 3, 2008

Transaction Analysis

AL October Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Released LHP Adam Loewen; outrighted RHPs Randor Bierd and Rocky Cherry, UT-L Brandon Fahey, OF-L Jeff Fiorentino, and C-R Omir Santos to Norfolk (Triple-A). [10/20]

BOSTON RED SOX
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Claimed RHP Dewon Day off of waivers from the White Sox; designated RHP Chris Smith for assignment. [10/17]
Attempted to outright Smith to Pawtucket (Triple-A), but he elected instead for free agency. [10/22]
Outrighted SS-R Gil Velazquez to Pawtucket. [10/23]
Claimed RHP Virgil Vasquez off of waivers from the Tigers. [10/28]
Exercised their $4 million contract option for 2009 on RHP Tim Wakefield. [10/31]

Wakefield's rolling $4 million option is one of the great bargains in sports. He's one of the most reliable bets to give you 30 starts, generally do decent work and wind up contributing a SNLVAR around 4.0, and basically give the rotation a fourth starter you can count on. With Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka already locked in for the front three slots through at least 2010, and with Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden to pick from for the fifth slot, the Sox are in the happy space where their rotation is one of the areas where they really don't have to go shopping. The big three are obviously the key to that, but Wakefield's steady utility helps the club afford the occasional health concerns of Beckett and the annoying shorter outings that Dice-K puts up once in a while.

That sort of stability might leave you wondering why the Sox bothered picking up Vasquez, but I'd chalk this up as a sensible bit of giving Pawtucket some love by giving the PawSox a rotation workhorse who might be able to fill in as an occasional fifth starter should the prospects struggle or somebody else need a turn skipped. He's not a prospect, generating a lot of fly balls (and souvenirs) with a fastball that sits at 87-89 mph, and mixing in a slider, curve, and change as show-me pitches. In short, he's sort of like Devern Hansack-useful as a bit of organizational depth, but ideally not somebody you want to fish out of the system to rely on for an extended period of time.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Outrighted OF/2B-R Jason Bourgeois and C-Rs Donny Lucy and Paul Phillips to Charlotte (Triple-A); activated LHP Andrew Sisco from the 60-day DL and outrighted him to Charlotte. [10/17]
Signed 2B-R Jayson Nix to a one-year contract. [10/28]
Declined their 2009 club options on OF-L Ken Griffey Jr. and C-R Toby Hall. [10/30]

Some people might be worked up about the Griffey thing, but paying $4 million to avoid having him slog around in center seems like a worthwhile decision, and given that Kenny Williams got him from the Reds for what seemed at the time a nondescript package, I guess the interesting follow-on development to my way of thinking is that the Sox have given the perennially punchless Nix a big-league contract. Not that the Sox should regret dealing away Danny Richar, but the spectacle of Juan Uribe playing regularly at the hot corner shouldn't be a thing that any team tolerates, let alone a contender, but once Chris Getz went down with a season-ending injury, upper-level infield depth became a bit of a noticeable problem. (Admittedly, some of that was self-inflicted; Ozzie Guillen's picking Uribe for defense over Josh Fields was a bit silly.) With Orlando Cabrera, Joe Crede, and Uribe now outbound free agents, that question of depth becomes that much more of a problem-while it's already anticipated that Alexei Ramirez will move across the bag and take over at short with Getz slotting in at the keystone, sorting out who's on third rates pretty high on the team's to-do list, and Nix at best represents a defensive replacement and erstwhile platoon partner that Getz may not really need. Fields seems likely to get first shot at the hot corner, but I wouldn't bet against the Sox importing a veteran utilityman capable of soaking up playing time if Fields struggles. Someone like Craig Counsell would be nice, but the Sox being the Sox, would a decision to bring back Pablo Ozuna shock anybody?

Meanwhile, discarding Hall's about a year overdue; the organization needs to find a better backup catcher to provide something resembling insurance against an injury to A.J. Pierzynski, and there are guys available worth picking up: Mike Redmond, Henry Blanco, Gregg Zaun, or David Ross would all offer the Sox some platoon-worthiness. Ross might be the one from that quartet who isn't going into the market with hopes of landing a starting job, and he might also be the sort of right-handed power source suited to exploit the Cell.

Which leaves one final matter: what to do about center field. Frankly, I think "nothing" works fine as a proposition. Nick Swisher's going to have to get at-bats somewhere, and maybe this makes for a useful role for a guy like Jerry Owens (as well as continued employment for Brian Anderson as a defensive replacement). Relative to shoring up the infield and picking a better brand of backup catcher, I don't think hunting around for an expensive center fielder makes much sense. Maybe-and I'm just throwing this out there-maybe it makes sense to go slumming for an unwanted guy in the last year of his deal, say Andruw Jones if the Dodgers eat most of the money, but I don't think the Sox need to really work themselves up over that sort of thing. If it falls into their lap, it's worth a look. If it doesn't, skip it.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Acquired OF-L Michael Brantley from the Brewers to complete the Sabathia trade. [10/3]
Outrighted RHP Brian Slocum to Buffalo (Triple-A); noted that RHP Bryan Bullington was claimed off of waivers by the Blue Jays. [10/28]

Brantley's an odd sort of prospect, someone who played center, left, and even a bit of first base for the Brewers' Double-A affiliate at Huntsville. While you never really like to see a guy on the Lee Mazzilli merry-go-round, the organization had an outfield rotation on the Stars, and Brantley didn't really help himself and provide all that much stability with his play afield. In short, he's not really a center fielder, playing sloppily, picking bad routes, and showing a lousy throwing arm. So what makes him a prospect? The fact that he might make a decent leadoff man, for starters: Brantley runs well and makes good contact, and while he has little to no power, he also walks a bit (45 unintentional walks in 479 PA) for a young hitter; with a .319/.395/.398 line in his age-21 season. His translated peak Equivalent Average clocked in at .278, which is promising but short of stardom. If he can pan out in center, he becomes a pretty nifty prospect; if he doesn't, he might nevertheless become a pretty decent tweener who winds up with a career, maybe something out of the Kerry Robinson/Chris Gwynn suite. Given his youth and the fact that, with Grady Sizemore patrolling center, the Tribe can take their time and see what he grows up to be, he's a nice add-on to cap the Sabathia deal.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Declined to pick up their $11 million option on SS-R Edgar Renteria for 2009, buying him out for $3 million; outrighted RHP Gary Glover and C-R Dane Sardinha to Toledo (Triple-A). [10/30]

The Kitties are saying they're interested in revamping their defense, and having been on the receiving end of that bad season that so many people have been expecting from Renteria in recent years, you can understand their readiness to discard the veteran and put that $8 million back in the bank. Given that they were burned by going the trade route (Jair Jurrjens alone makes the deal worth it for the Braves, but Gorkys Hernandez should be cause for heartburn as well), I wouldn't expect them to make a play for available veterans of Jack Wilson's stripe. The availability of well-regarded glove men at a variety of price points should militate against giving anything up from in-house: Rafael Furcal and Orlando Cabrera at the high end, Alex Cora in the middle range, and perhaps someone like or Adam Everett if Dave Dombrowski prefers a bit of risk.

As for Renteria, it's hard to see what happens next for him. I don't think anyone expects him to be an everyday shortstop for much longer; it isn't impossible to see him making a Tony Fernandez-like move to third base, but he'd have to get on base much better than last year's .317 clip to make that a worthwhile choice for a team. A move to center would be interesting and risky, and might make him a bit more employable; it'll be interesting to see where he winds up on a diamond in winter league action. Regardless of whether or not he invites these kinds of position switches this winter, he's going to be in a tough spot in terms of signing for anything more than a fraction of what he'd been under contract for.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS
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Purchased the contract of RHP Rafael Rodriguez from Arkansas (Double-A); outrighted RHP Darren O'Day to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [10/20]
Exercised their 2009 options on RF-R Vladimir Guerrero ($15.5 million) and RHP John Lackey ($7.3 million); bought out their 2009 option on LF-L Garret Anderson ($3 million). [10/28]

Had it been picked up, Anderson's option was for $14 million, leaps and bounds beyond his value as a defensively questionable, platoon-worthy worst-starting-outfielder-in-a-good-outfield type. That the Tony Reagins essentially cut through the binding ties to an all-time Angel and basically insinuated some financial reason to the process might seem a bit un-Angel-y, but it's a credit to the organization that they decided to risk the veteran's ire, even if they're interested in potentially bringing him back on much more manageable terms. If they wind up saving $5-7 million, that's a solid chunk of change that you might think will get thrown into the "Keep Mark Teixeira" fund, not to mention the pending arbitration-influenced dealings with Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis, and Robb Quinlan. However, keep in mind that already-extant contracts outside of any arbitration-related raises will already be adding almost $7 million to their payroll in 2009. It will be interesting to see if this kind of tactic presages a subsequent willingness to eat a few seven-figure chunks from the remaining three years on Gary Matthews Jr.'s deal to essentially buy back some payroll and roster space, dealing Little Sarge to some center fielder-less team while helping themselves afford all of the other, more meaningful moves they'll need to make this winter.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Outrighted RHPs Julio DePaula and Oswaldo Sosa, C-R Ryan Jorgensen, and INF-R Sergio Santos to Rochester (Triple-A). [10/24]

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Named Jack Zduriencik their new general manager and executive vice president. [10/22]

I'll admit, like a lot of people I was really rooting for Kim Ng to get this opportunity, but you cannot fault the Mariners for making a fundamentally outstanding choice. Without question, Zduriencik ranks among the best judges of talent in the game today, and for a long-term rebuild of the organization from the bottom up, there may not have been a better candidate in the industry, above and beyond the people who were available to be hired. Zduriencik had long since earned this, and as if the game's short stack wasn't already interesting enough because of the other three teams, it's now that much more interesting still. Mariners fans should feel very, very good about this. The question might now be who Zduriencik tabs as his manager; will he go the route another player development-type GM, Jim Hendry, has and pick an experienced manager? Or will he groom his own partner, someone who's equally inexperienced, with White Sox coach Joey Cora representing an obvious and potentially popular choice? Following the choices Zduriencik makes with picking a skipper, the 40-man, and whether or not he gets active in the Rule 5 draft, these are all really interesting individual elements to how he'll initially turn things around, but I'd suggest that nobody rush to judgment. It's going to take several drafts and a lot more than just these easily-observed high-profile winter activities to get a read on the Zduriencik regime, and while M's fans may not want to hear an appeal to their patience, this represents the best news the team has had in years; enjoy it as such.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Activated LHPs A.J. Murray and John Rheinecker from the 60-day DL, and outrighted them to Oklahoma (Triple-A); outrighted LHP Bill White and RHP Brian Gordon to Oklahoma. [10/1]


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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The Week in Quotes: Oc... (11/03)
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