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March 3, 2009

Transaction Analysis

Senior Circuit Shuffles

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed RHP Adam Eaton to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [3/1]

It would be a mistake to jump to any conclusions about a direct relationship between Eaton's newfound Orioledom and Rich Hill's recent setbacks, but where the Orioles are concerned, it can't hurt to become a latter-day stateside variant of the Expos of the '80s. It's a classic ploy for any team that's down on its luck, of course. Perhaps most famously, the Expos did it particularly well with guys like Dennis Martinez, or more briefly Pascual Perez and Oil Can Boyd, maybe even Neal Heaton if you liked his '87 season and consider that his best year. But on some level, the Expos represent the best case, because they did already have pitchers with a certain amount of quality (say, Bryn Smith), but they were also handicapped with a collection of fragile talents like Floyd Youmans or Joe Hesketh. Between fixing the broken, adopting the luckless, and figuring that Bryn Smith was the one piece of furniture you didn't have to move around much, the Expos seemed to conjure up relatively decent staffs years before the lost opportunity of '94 pushed the franchise down the path toward its eventual enserfment as chattel to the other 29, en route to its departure for a point, any point, to the south.

That might be the paragon of retread operations, one that worked that much better because it was executed while the Expos didn't sit still on the player development front. While Dave Dombrowski and Bill Stoneman were keeping the shell game going up top, and using the retreads to help tide the team over, men like legendary scout Gary Hughes and his assistant, Frank Wren (not to mention guys like Bob Gebhard and Dan Duquette), were assembling a crew of high-ranked picks with promise, homegrown talents like Randy Johnson and Brian Holman (both dealt for Mark Langston in 1989), Mark Gardner, Brian Barnes, and Chris Nabholz and Chris Haney. A crew that could develop, or not, but one that certainly represented a major effort on the player development side of the equation.

The Orioles have done a tremendous job of shoring up their farm system in fairly short order, but I'd argue that their lot has been considerably worse than the Expos'. That's because their options and their failures have both been far more horrific than anything the 'Spos had to muddle through. If we wanted to dial back twenty years ago or so, I might instead draw a comparison to the Indians and their procuring Tom Candiotti or turning to guys like Phil Niekro or Ken Schrom-what does that kind of team have to lose, when the alternatives included Rick Behenna or (Not) Rich Yett have to lose? The Indians realized that other people's soft-tossing ageist discards couldn't be any worse than that lot, and they weren't, even if, Candiotti aside, they weren't great compared to the rest of the league's rotation regulars.

That's effectively the Orioles' situation, even after landing Jeremy Guthrie-we can hope that the kids acquired by draft and trade are helping matters some by 2010, but in the meantime, somebody's got to absorb the innings that automatically have to be parceled out across a 162-game season, and the O's may still be short. It isn't that Adam Eaton is somebody who, barring some untold tale of woe involving an addiction to something that seemed cool when you started or even insane habit-forming hobbies, might have straightened out and flew right; from what we know, Adam Eaton has merely been someone you regret employing. Unless of course you are almost entirely desperate, as the Orioles are at present. Eaton doesn't have to be good, he just has to more closely resemble a marginal major league starter than the likes of Mark Hendrickson or Danys Baez, giving the Birds relative improvement. They may not be an awful team in the historical sense-last year's rotation just barely finished in the 100 worst on record out of 1,348 crews of starting pitchers from 1954 to the present-but their non-Guthrie options are and remain pretty ghastly.

To that end, grabbing Eaton on the off chance that working with Rick Kranitz and swapping his home watershed from the Delaware to the Chesapeake keeps him from washing out entirely seems like a worthwhile spin to take. He did manage 10 quality starts in 21 (though only one in three interleague games, not that three starts says much), but the combination of flagging velocity and weaker command of his breaking stuff has left him effectively disarmed against right- and left-handed hitters alike, to the point that spiking line-drive rates aren't really cause for any charitable (and some might say formulaic) observations about his regressing to the mean as much as noting that might be a fact of life for a guy on the way down. Since the Orioles only have to pay the minimum, it's a worthwhile exercise to see if Kranitz finds something fixable, but rather than something to bank on it's really just another spring story worth following for its own sake.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Outrighted RHP Bryan Bullington and LHP Fabio Castro to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [3/2]

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Claimed RHP Bobby Korecky off waivers from the Twins; designated RHP Jailen Peguero for assignment. [2/18]
Outrighted RHP Jailen Peguero to Reno (Triple-A), but kept him in camp as a spring training NRI. [2/20]

It's sort of an interesting exchange, to bump Peguero for Korecky, since you wouldn't even have to chop an onion to easily mistake them for interchangeable organizational cannon fodder. Something of a long shot since he was drafted out of the University of Michigan by the Phillies in 2002, outside of the time lost recovering from Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2005, for most of the last six years Korecky's been pretty much the same guy, a short right-handed reliever who does a good job of throwing low strikes with a sinker/slider mix that makes up for in command what it lacks in velocity. Having already exceeded some expectations by finally making it to The Show last season, he's not the worst guy to have tucked into the back end of your bullpen or hanging around in Triple-A, but if he ends up logging any saves in Banky-Bank Ballpark (West Campus) instead of Reno, that's almost certainly going to be bad news for the Snakes.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Re-signed LHP Tom Glavine to a one-year, $1 million (base) contract. [2/20]
Signed LF-L Garret Anderson to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. [2/25]
Placed RHP Tim Hudson on the 60-day DL. [2/26]

I know that the Braves have made plenty of moves and are supposed to be gunning for standings relevance again after a three-year absence from the postseason following their run of 14 division titles in 15 seasons, but I don't see how either of these moves substantively improve matters as much as they multiply the number of formerly famous people hanging around to notionally not hurt their chances too badly. The problem isn't that Anderson or Glavine might be moderately effective, but that in each instance, that represents the best-case scenario, where they spent $7 million to get two old-timers who might-might-not hurt them.

Take Glavine's deal. It isn't really for just a million; it costs the Braves that for electing to retain his services at their discretion, and he gets another million for making the roster, and $1.25 million for being active for 30 and again for 60 days. Which is fine, that's a reasonable reaction to employing a guy who's going to be 43 and coming off of multiple surgeries on top of consecutive dodgy seasons. His DERA marks, in the previous two seasons and projected forward, all run in the fives. That's not useless, but is it what you spend this kind of money on when your first order of business should have been addressing the outfield? Not in those terms, no, but we'll get to Garret Anderson in a moment. In Frank Wren's defense, there is cause for concern where this rotation is concerned. Consider what they've got to choose from, at least initially, with their median projected value in 2009:


Starter             DERA   WXRL   WARP
Javier Vazquez      3.75    6.0    5.3
Derek Lowe          4.00    4.8    4.2
Kenshin Kawakami*   4.36    ???    ???
Jair Jurrjens       4.01    4.2    5.8
Tom Glavine         5.58    0.4    0.5
Jorge Campillo      4.96    1.3    1.5
Charlie Morton      5.16    0.9    1.1
Jo-Jo Reyes         5.19    0.8    1.9
Tommy Hanson        5.13    1.7    1.6

*: Using Kawakami's initial projection from our depth charts.

Clay Davenport recently suggested that Kawakami might struggle to do as well as Jurrjens, who we already expect to lose some ground on what he did last season. Still, behind Vazquez and Lowe, it's not a bad pair to fill your third- and fourth-starter needs. Which leaves the five immediate candidates for the fifth slot, a slot Glavine can reasonably be seen as the worst choice to fill. If Glavine's supposed to be the old man holding the fort until Hanson or one of the already ready youngsters can step in, it's worth noting he's not projected to be better than any of the kids, and even that exercise involves setting aside Campillo, who's not a youngster, not unless 30 is the new 18 or something. (As if.) While Campillo can be an asset in long relief and might be an important tandem contributor cleaning up after a rotation in which, beyond Lowe, everyone has durability questions to answer, this seems like a great way to add one more slot to the turns in which Campillo might have to be a middle-innings fireman. Basically, the deal seems to be about enriching Tom Glavine to let him wind down his career and finish up as a Brave; I hardly see the need, considering he's already donned other uniforms as a matter of his own choice, and the Hall of Fame's going to make him wear a Braves cap come that day. Add in that he won't help them get into the postseason, and the decision to designate this sort of money for the purpose of employing him made for a smaller stack of cash to shop for left fielders with, and the concept of intangible contributions gets expensive and tangible in areas where it shouldn't be.

Then there's Anderson, and I admit, I've long been something less than a fan. But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that Garret Anderson is your best outfielder. Doesn't that sound like the same thing as saying you don't have a best outfielder? He's projected to hit .278/.325/.430, and that's what you spent real money on to name as your left fielder, your thumper. That isn't an unkind projection, either, if you're inclined to believe he can beat Father Time off for another year-he slugged .433 and got on base at a .325 clip last year. If he delivers on his projected .260 Equivalent Average, that's a definitively average player at all positions. That's not somebody you spend seven figures on, not for half of what it took to land Bobby Abreu, though with the cash wasted on Glavine, maybe money's tight. But if that's the case, it's the caliber of production you get if you pay attention to the waiver wire. It's not a decisive upgrade on the more glum projections for what Brandon Jones might be capable of. If you're charitable, it might play up a bit because of what Anderson might do if he's limited to a platoon role-take away a fifth of his playing time, and perhaps you get a guy who slugs around .450 or so, and who stays healthier because of the regular time off. That's not a bad thing, but it's also not decisively better than what you might get from Jones.

In short, it's a matter of settling, when you were already settling for a crummy outfield in terms of offensive production, and you can credit Wren for perhaps anticipating that there will be stretch-drive rentals available in July that might afford Atlanta the opportunity to move beyond the likelihood that from among their starters at least one of the Andersons or Jeff Francouer simply crater, since none of them represents a sure thing. I'd have argued that, as with Glavine, they'd have been better off saving the money, piling it, and actually spending to acquire somebody who might help them, but we'll see if financial handicaps end up limiting their options in-season.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Released LHP Bill White; invited RHP Brian Schlitter to spring training with a NRI. [2/20]
Signed 3B-L Corey Koskie to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/28]

Koskie's been out dealing with the after-effects of his 2006 concussion while playing with the Brewers. He'll be 36 this summer, and it's easy to accept he wants to leave the game on his own terms, as opposed to those forced on him. He'll gear up for the season by playing with Canada in the WBC, after which I expect he'll be logging time in the cornfields out in Iowa. I'd harbor no high expectations, though I think we can all appreciate his courage in trying. But it is worth noting that he'd be a pretty good fit for a club that has right-handed regulars for hitters at third and first, and if Micah Hoffpauir can't take up the reins from the departed Daryle Ward for the premium pinch-hitter slot, Koskie's probably a better fit as the 13th position player in terms of their multi-positional needs given their current constellation of reserve alternatives. That's in the abstract, of course; Koskie has to prove that he's healthy first, and then that he's still capable of playing both corners (otherwise he doesn't provide something-playing third-that Hoffpauir does not), and that he can still do some damage at the plate. Failing that, he's nothing more than an instance of doing a guy who could play this game a good turn, but Cubs fans can be glad that Jim Hendry's the sort of man who did.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed 2B-L Orlando Hudson to a one-year, $3.38 million (base) contract. [2/22]

This is a nifty little move for a few reasons, but it needs to be accepted on that level, instead of taking it as a cause for noisy celebration. Basically, this is because it boils down to the recognition that, as neat as Blake DeWitt might be as somebody better than your average organizational player, at the end of the day it's better to have him employed as your fallback option at second or third than as a starter at either. Hudson's value as far as giving the Dodgers tight interior infield defense can be taken as a matter of relative faith; DeWitt might become a quality defender, and Hudson lost some ground from his previously established excellence last season, but for the length of the commitment, the Dodgers can afford a little bit of relative certainty. Offensively, it's not as big an upgrade as you might think, what with Hudson's reputation, but between the power he'll lose to leaving the Snakes and his moving into his 30s with an increasingly troubling record for breaking down, it's just a modest upgrade on DeWitt's bat. The cumulative values of these virtues might not add up to the difference of a win over a full season, but the tactical value-of Hudson's ability to make contact, and of his range in the field-and the roster value of having a good starter and a worthwhile reserve add up to the sorts of things that can keep a team rolling over the six-month season as well as provide something special come October. The structured risk of his incentive package is all playing time-driven and adds up nicely for him ($4.62 million), adding up fast on the back end if he stays healthy and delivers a full season, but the $820,000 he might earn after he reaches his 550th plate appearance is all deferred and interest-free, so even there, the debt management of the deal is relatively careful as these things go. Finally, because it's a win-now deal for a single season, as much as it's a sad thing for Ivan DeJesus Jr. that he broke his leg, the organization's best middle-infield prospect will still have a future in the system once he returns.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Signed RHP Braden Looper to a one-year, $4.75 million (base) contract with a mutual option for 2010; designated C/UT-R Vinny Rottino for assignment; claimed RHP Nick Green off of waivers from the Angels; designated RHP Luis Pena for assignment. [2/12]
Noted the loss of RHP Luis Pena claimed off waiver claim by the Mariners; outrighted C/UT-R Vinny Rottino to Nashville (Triple-A); noted that RHP Ramiro Mendoza did not successfully complete his physical and departed camp. [2/15]
Re-signed RHP Eric Gagne to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/17]

It's been a booby-prize sort of winter for the Brew Crew, and while it's nice that they might take another spin with Gagne to see if he can do good work pitching for a manager not intent on burning him out before the end of the season's first month-give the unlamented Ned Yost a fragile closer, and he used the guy on four consecutive nights in April?-it's a flyer to take, nothing more. The expense adds up if he makes the team: $1.5 million if he's on the roster, $2 million if he appears in 25-60 games, and another $1 million if he finishes 50-65 games (creating a funny sort of disincentive against using him at the end of games you're losing if he's not the team's closer), and Gagne can opt out of the deal if he doesn't make the team. It's a roll of the dice worth taking, especially when the team's already placed a big bet on Trevor Hoffman as this year's answer in the pen, but maybe that's my sympathy for yet another victim of Yost's bullpen mismanagement.

Similarly, the Looper contract might be seen as an act of quiet desperation for the team that once thought it had a chance at keeping CC Sabathia in the fold. It is perhaps too easy to see this as an instance of cloning the Jeff Suppan-sized mistake, but at least this is cheaper, and if Looper's upside is that he might be a league-average innings muncher, being LAIM can still help you get places, however slowly. To a certain extent, the staff's potential of doing enough for the team to win with still boils down to whether or not Yovanni Gallardo's ready to be a staff ace, but getting Looper lined up to deliver something like 30 starts and ~180 IP or so helps a bid for wild-card contention well enough as these things go, even with the news that a bum oblique pushes his timetable for joining the rotation back until sometime in the second half of April. (Even then, that might really only mean a single missed start and spot job for somebody else, thanks to the WBC-related later kickoff to the regular season and the usual early-season offdays.) For that sort of investment, the money's right, and while there isn't a lot of upside potential involved, it beats taking beatings with Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva or counting too heavily on Chris Capuano's return more than a couple of months into the season.

Having some redundancy among the club's fall-back options is good, and the Brewers aren't in the same situation as, say, the Red Sox or the Braves when it comes to employing formerly famous people-they need some stability, and having Looper as a more stable bit of placeholding is fine as such things go. Similarly, grabbing Green on waivers makes for a decent depth-minded play; he's not a prospect as much as a potentially reliable filler guy should injuries mount up in the rotation, while Pena's problems with command were such that you can understand a readiness to risk sacrificing him to a waiver claim.

NEW YORK METS
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Re-signed INF-R Ramon Martinez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/13]
Signed RHP Livan Hernandez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/14]
Signed LHP Ron Villone to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/27]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Released RHP Adam Eaton. [2/27]

It's a big hit in the pocket book (counting a buyout of 2010, $8.5 million or so), but perhaps with Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz both in some danger of opening the season on the DL, there's an additional imperative need to make space on the 40-man for somebody or some bodies to fill out the infield. Not that picking from among Marcus Giles, J.J. Furmaniak, Miguel Cairo, Pablo Ozuna, Jorge Velandia, Andry Tracy, or Terry Tiffee should be a choice anyone might relish, but your Opening Day Phillies roster has considerable Pittaro potential, not that Charlie Manuel's the type of guy to start spouting Sparky-style honorifics that elevate the least among his players to the greatest heights of media attention.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed OF-R Emil Brown to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/17]

It seems like a bit of a stretch to say that he'll stick when Brown's essentially a platoon DH in a DH-less league, and in an age where people barely make space for the right-handed halves of outfield platoons. But he did mash lefties last year (.295/.337/.474), and with the Pads not entirely sure yet about Kevin Kouzmanoff's return to third base, there are scenarios where, say, you could see Kouzmanoff on the DL come Opening Day, Chase Headley at third, and a Cliff Floyd/Emil Brown platoon in left field. Failing that, he's not a bad insurance policy against something bad happening to the club's primary right-handed outfield reserve, the always-fragile Scott Hairston, as if Floyd's ability to stay healthy wasn't already a significant concern.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Released LHP Odalis Perez. [2/23]

Perez rejected the opportunity to show up in camp on time after expressing displeasure over his non-roster deal, and the Nats peremptorily decided to be done with him already. For Perez, this is just as well, because while he has the unhappy fact of unemployment to deal with, he's still a starter good enough to employ and apparently willing to sign something with digits in the high sixes or low sevens. Even if it was the case that the fault belongs to Perez for signing the deal or his agent for a miscommunication, with the drama going on in the Nats' front office this spring, it's a scenario in which the Perez camp can plausibly claim to have been victimized somehow (again, whatever the truth of the matter might be), and land a better deal with a team that, say, might be down a rotation regular in a week or two. The timing has to suck, of course-if you review relative performances, the idea that Tim Redding got bigger money after last season's near identical marks in SNLVAR despite three more starts has to grate a little, but being at loose ends right now probably beats being a National. The bummer for the Nats is that having him might have made him a flippable asset at the trading deadline this year, but having seen that opportunity pass them by last time around, that's a speculative loss at most, and why pretend to have milk to spill when you can cut to the chase and start crying now?


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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