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December 5, 2008
Signed LHP Billy Traber to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/1]
The Pedroia deal is the major news item here, at least as far as baseball at the highest level is concerned. By inking their recently minted MVP to just beyond his 31st birthday, they should have guaranteed themselves not having to worry about arbitration or finding another second baseman until 2015, they locked in what should be his best years, and they got him for what is essentially a below-market price through what would have been his pre-free agency (counting his $1.5 million signing bonus, a back-loaded $20 million over four seasons), then $10 million apiece for what would have been his first two years beyond the Red Sox's contractual control, and then the option with the remarkably cheap buyout. (That last is a nice touch-they've given Pedroia financial security, and they got back a very easy out if they don't want him for that last year.) I wouldn't get too worked up on the specifics of how much of a bargain this is relative to last year's MORP on his PECOTA card-that valuation should improve because of his exceeding his baseline projection this past season by hitting for so much more power, but will also be affected by a few tweaks to the replacement level that will be incorporated into the model for 2009. Keeping in mind my not being counted among BP's sharper knives, my guess is that means his MORP values will drop as the replacement level goes up, but last season's value of $76.2 million through 2014 before the improved performance should give you a pretty healthy hint as far as how much the Sox did a great job of leveraging their control over the next four years into a bit of mutually satisfying security for the organization and the player alike.
As for the decision to go get Tazawa, you can be excited if you wish, but I think the appropriate responses are regret or indifference. So, Theo Epstein gets the credit for being baseball's latter-day Commodore Perry. Wheeee. I don't mean to beat up on Theo-if it wasn't him, it would have been somebody, just as there were previous efforts to open up Japan in Perry's age. I also don't mean to get all maudlin and Dances With Samurai, Tom Cruise-style on you, but Tazawa's scouting reports seem mixed at best. Why then junk a decades-old relationship with the Japanese leagues for a middling prospect? It isn't like that djinn's going back in the bottle-once/if Tazawa flops, it isn't like the majors can shrug, send Japan a fruit basket, and claim that it'll never ever happen again. This bit of baseball imperialism marks an important turning point in the relationship between the leagues, with the very real danger that the NPBA slips into a baseball backwater, sort of like a new iteration of the Mexican League. We shouldn't be naïve, of course-this is the way baseball's been doing things for more than a century, and I guess it's remarkable that the gentlemen's agreement that MLB wouldn't chase Japanese amateur talent lasted even this long. So, we get treated to this spectacle and frenzied interest in a middling Japanese amateur, and zotz it up a bit with some free-market rhetoric, and dispose of a historic relationship because of the basic "but I want it" buyer's instinct. I feel proud and all patriotically shopper-y, don't you?
Released DH-R Randy Ruiz. [12/3]
Signed 4C-L Russell Branyan to a one-year, $1.4 million contract. [12/3]
What can I say, as a long-time Branyan believer, I love this signing, not simply as a question of getting to enjoy his TTO goodness in the majors, but as an outstanding union between a team with overlapping needs and a player with the right collection of gifts to help address some of them. Whether it's a question of giving the team some lefty pop at any one of five lineup slots-the four corners and DH-Branyan's playable enough, and signing him lets Jack Zduriencik go into the Winter Meetings with plenty of flexibility. Someone wants to offer a ton for Adrian Beltre after they don't win the bidding for Casey Blake? Now the Mariners have an admittedly lead-gloved alternative who will provide power at the position. Rather than waste time on the non-Teixeiras on the market at first base, the Mariners can stick with some much more straightforward, development-minded choices: if Bryan LaHair doesn't stick, and if they want to leave Jeff Clement behind the plate when he isn't DHing, they can still play Branyan at first. If they want to put in a lefty bat in left to spot for Wladimir Balentien, play Branyan, of if they can get Ichiro Suzuki to agree to spot-start in center, play Branyan. When Clement isn't DHing... you know the drill.
The savings in roster space by having a multi-positional reserve who, while he isn't much of a defender at any of them, at least helps them run a viable lineup out there, has the additional benefit of potentially letting Zduriencik carry a Rule 5 pick on the bench-the Mariners have the space on the 40-man, and the organization would be well-served to exploit this option next week at the Winter Meetings if something tasty is on the table. Add in that he'll do all those Bunyanesque feats of strength that Richie Sexson didn't and Jose Vidro couldn't, and it makes for a fun little add-on to a team that needs its share of modest improvements.
Signed RHP Chad Fox to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/3]
Because with that elbow, you never know if you're going to get those 30 key high-leverage innings when you need them, or if you're stuck with just another insurance claim (that if your insurer is decidedly incurious). Within the subgroup of relievers who are either broken or good over time, Fox leans way towards 'mostly broken most of the time,' which is why guaranteed deals for seven figures are invariably bad investments, and deals like this are comparatively sensible.
Re-signed RHP Mike Lincoln to a two-year, $4 million contract. [12/4]
If there was a short list of people who really deserved the comeback player of the year award because they had to, you know, make a real comeback, Lincoln might not win, but he certainly should have been on the short list. Lincoln's last appearance in the majors before 2008 was in 2004, and his last truly productive season was in 2002. That, my friends, is a comeback, and not one bundled up in some namby-pamby invented storyline-driven drama. That Lincoln came back from two Tommy Johns was remarkable enough, but that he came back and pitched effectively for the Reds was that much more special. He finished second on the Reds in WXRL, ahead of the more generally famous David Weathers, led the team in ARP, and finished second (behind Weathers) among the Reds' regular relievers in FRA. There are warning signs, as he wore down in the season's final third as Dusty Baker went to the whip: Lincoln pitched in 23 games after August 1 while giving up 17 runs in 18
Re-signed RHP Doug Brocail to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. [12/2]
Think about this: Brocail signed his first pro contract after being picked in the first round of the draft-in 1986. The comeback from heart disease was one thing, but he far exceeded most people's expectations with his performance as an Astro last season. Along with Geoff Geary and later LaTroy Hawkins, he not merely rewarded Ed Wade's faith in the old-timer, he gave the Astros a nice group of set-up men to hand leads to the always exciting Jose Valverde. While not every one of the Astro GM's initiatives panned out-buyer's remorse for getting Miguel Tejada, Michael Bourn's failure to develop-it's important to credit him for cobbling together a pretty good pen in the short term. One can speculate that he could have avoided the essentially nested Lidge and Valverde deals, but while I deride the selection of Lidge for Comeback Player of the Year, I nevertheless agree with the idea that he really did need a change of scenery. In the meantime, rewarding Brocail with a modest short-term deal seems like a sensible enough short-term play for a team that really can't afford to look beyond the short term at the major league level.
Signed RHP Jorge Julio to a one-year, incentive-laden $950,000 contract. [12/4]
Despite Julio's blend of unpredictable explosiveness, this is the team that paid Derrick Turnbow and Eric Gagne much more to offer similar benefits and hazards. In that light, it's not a bad pickup; Julio's overall cost might go up to almost $2 million if he winds up closing and earning his keep, but in the context of this market, that's still relatively cheap, and Julio still throws hard.
Dealt SS-R Khalil Greene to the Cardinals for RHP Mark Worrell and a PTBNL. [12/4]
Worrell's useful enough as relievers go, but let's be plain here-this is a salary dump. Worrell's not especially dominating in terms of actual stuff-his fastball's a low-90s pitch, and his slider's a good but not great pitch-but see it coming at you from a funky delivery, and he's hard to catch up to. Last year at Memphis, PCL hitters hit only .213/.260/.339 against him, and despite issuing 29 free passes in 58
The real question is what does the team do at shortstop from here. I suppose they could gut out a year with Luis Rodriguez, but I can't help but wonder if this doesn't pre-figure their getting a shortstop prospect in the much-mulled Peavy deals. I suppose it's also possible they might take on Bobby Crosby as a favor to the A's-assuming Oakland absorbs a good chunk of his salary-after a Furcal signing by Oakland. Crosby might enjoy a return to the end of the state where he used to star on college diamonds for Long Beach State, he almost certainly needs that change of scenery, and aren't the Pad people already used to an injury-prone shortstop who doesn't walk as much as you'd like and doesn't hit for as much power as you might want in its place? Heck, they might even do Pads fans the favor, and assign Crosby Greene's old number; it'll be as if nothing changed, and season ticket holders wouldn't even have to come up with new grumblings over their lot. That's a win-win scenario, isn't it?
Signed RHP Bob Howry to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. [12/3]
Are the Giants making a play at the NL West? It's an interesting notion, but consider the competition: setting aside the basket case in San Diego, the Dodgers, D'backs, and Rockies all have relatively young cores, but no one of them appears to be poised to dominate the division, and all of them have question marks as well as recent triumphs. The Giants have some discrete strengths-a great initial pair in a rotation with Jonathan Sanchez potentially poised to make it a threesome, and some ready or nearly ready homegrown talent to start making over a lineup that a year ago was mostly scar tissue. Your 2009 Giants should give you plenty more of Fred Lewis, Pablo Sandoval at catcher or an infield corner (giving the team a latter-day Brenly vibe), and perhaps also first baseman Travis Ishikawa. While I'm not wild about Emmanuel Burriss or Kevin Frandsen, there's an argument to give one or both of them opportunities at second. Barring a decision to deal away Aaron Rowand, Bengie Molina, and/or Randy Winn-options which Brian Sabean should entertain, whatever his near-term play-the real problem areas that needed to be addressed were the left side of the infield, the bullpen, and finding some power. And guess what, Sabean's doing exactly that.
Fixing the infield was the easy part in terms of its obviousness, and bringing Renteria back to the National League-not cheaply, however-has its chances of working out reasonably well. Adding a few ticks of OBP and SLG by moving to the weaker league, and adding Denver and Phoenix to his frequently visited opponents' parks, it isn't hard to envision July headlines touting some sort of resurgence from a player whose skill set wouldn't really change all that fundamentally. Add in that he ought to be thoroughly adequate at the plate where the Giants got nothing of the sort last season, and I can see how this ends up being a two-win improvement (net, and expecting that the Giants end up giving anything more than that back on defense). This still leaves third base to stock somehow. A full season of Sandoval at third would be a bit brutal defensively, so I don't think that Sabean is done-although hopefully those rumors about Jorge Cantu stay rumors, if the cost is anywhere near as dear as some variants have it. From among that aforementioned gaggle of veterans, dealing Winn remains the move I'd most like to see made, in part because I'd rather see the Giants add a right fielder with some power, whether that's taking another spin with strong-armed Nate Schierholtz or taking a low-end risk via free agency by signing somone like Juan Rivera. Counting on Sandoval and Ishikawa and Renteria besides, that adds up to an offense that might actually be somewhere around average.
What was less obvious in terms of its need for a makeover was the bullpen; some people can yammer about "All-Star Brian Wilson" all they want, but fishing your closer out of the Borowski bin isn't a sign of strength or a solution, it's what happens when somebody has to get saves because it's the fashion of the times. Last season, the Giants ranked last in the National League in Relievers' FRA and ARP, and WXRL. Having an All-Star closer does not a good bullpen make. Signing Jeremy Affeldt two weeks ago was inspired as the beginning of a solution, and Sergio Romo's good work down the stretch suggests that the cupboard wasn't bare of homegrown solutions. However, Sabean sensibly isn't stopping there, and you can see how signing Howry while his value is down might give the Giants a relief quartet worth counting on. That might seem overly optimistic in light of Howry's 13 homers allowed in 70
Getting Greene is impressive on some level, but it's mostly a matter of being willing to absorb salary, at least for one season, as Greene is only Birds property for this next season, which helps to explain the relatively minor price paid to get him. With Greene, we know the issues in play: a well-earned reputation for fragility, and serious struggles with getting on base exacerbated by eroding command of the strike zone. That said, at $6.5 million for this single season, he's considerably cheaper and potentially significantly better than, say, Jack Wilson, and if he gets hurt (again), you can part company after taking just a single-season flyer on a player who has occasionally been star-worthy.
The ready assertion is that getting out of Petco's going to help him, which makes sense in the broad strokes-on his career, Greene's hit .225/.289/.369 in San Diego, and .270/.318/.484 everywhere. That's the difference between being Tony Pena Jr.'s brother by another mother at home, and Dickie Thon in his prime on the road, and you can understand why a team might want to bring in the latter guy to play short. The problem is that this latest iteration of Busch Stadium is about as tough a place for a right-handed power hitter as Petco is. This doesn't change what Greene can be for the Cardinals-a reliable regular with a reputation for plus defense and a bit of pop-but it should encourage them (and you) to ratchet down your expectations and anticipate that Greene might only be what he's been in his better recent seasons. That's easier said than done, of course-last season proved it wasn't easy being Greene, not when his strikeout rate moved up towards a quarter of all of his plate appearances. He hit .274/.327/.432-just barely something around like what his biggest boosters expect of him-in one month, June, of the four he was around to play.
There's also the naggy concern that Greene's defensive rep outstrips his actual value. Defensive metrics like John Dewan's Plus/Minus doesn't rank him among the present-day best or worst, Clay Davenport's Fielding Runs have him in pretty steep decline from recent greatness, and THT's Revised Zone Rating has him bobbing around from middle of the pack to pretty good. Against that vaguely positive accumulation of defensive endorsements, there's the high regard his glove work gets within the game, which I'll confess, tips me more towards a generously positive, completely casual, and perhaps overly easy assertion that a healthy Greene can be a significant defensive asset. See, I even cheated there, by saying "healthy." But with Greene, it's a caveat as automatic as it is with most pitchers, because he's had so little success in staying healthy.