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December 13, 2009

Transaction Analysis

AL Action

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Non-tendered RHPs Jose Arredondo and Dustin Moseley, and 3B-R Matt Brown. [12/12]

For the arbitration-eligible Arredondo, his was after it was confirmed that he'd be out for all of 2010 recuperating from Tommy John surgery. Moseley and Brown are in contrast elective decisions, and a reminder that clubs can non-tender even those players not arbitration-eligible if they decide that they'd rather employ the 40-man roster spots in other ways. You can wonder about the timing, since the Angels lost two players in the Rule 5 draft, but they're now down to at least 35 players, which suggests plenty of activity to come, without even getting into some of the more questionable choices from among the kept.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Acquired RHP Kevin Millwood and $3 million to help pay him with from the Rangers for RHP Chris Ray and a PTBNL (Rule 5 pick LHP Ben Snyder). [12/9]
Agreed to terms with RHPs Matt Albers and Cla Meredith, avoiding arbitration; non-tendered RHP Brian Bass. [12/12]

I love the decision to add Millwood not simply because of the atmospherics-the meme about the veteran workhorse joining a talented young rotation, etc.-or his relative track record, but because it's exactly right in terms of adding that guy for just a single season. Maybe this is a reflection of the past premiums the Orioles have had to pay to get someone to choose Baltimore, but adding Millwood for a single season at roughly $7 or 8 million (the $12 million he's due, less the $3 million, less Ray's arbitration-boosted payday to come) is an outstanding adaptation to a market that wasn't likely to yield his combination of good work and reliable turn-taking at that price. For a year, the organization can let Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, David Hernandez, Jake Arrieta, and Jason Berken earn turns in the big-league rotation behind Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie, perhaps phase out or deal Guthrie, and then let Millwood walk away, leaving 2011 draft picks in his wake. It's just one more reason why the Orioles won't be a fun matchup for the favored three atop the division, which should make for the most interesting Orioles team to watch in more than a decade.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Claimed RHP Ramon Ramirez off of waivers from the Rays; signed LHP Fabio Castro to a split contract. [12/9]
Acquired RHP Boof Bonser from the Twins for a PTBNL. [12/10]
Sent RHP Chris Province to the Twins to complete the Boof Bonser trade; agreed to terms on a one-year contract with Bonser, avoiding arbitration; non-tendered OF-R Brian Anderson. [12/12]

There isn't really much that's news-worthy news here. There's the decidedly trivia-oriented development that they now have both Ramon Ramirezes, of course, creating comparisons to the days when teams simultaneously employed the Bobby Joneses, or the Bob Millers, or the truly trivial Mike Smiths. I'd put the decisions to employ both Ken Griffeys and both Tim Raineses into the category of deliberate father/son publicity stunts, but we'll have to see if Theo Epstein's essentially doing no better with this movelet, in that he's been a reliable recycler of roster spots, and I wouldn't bet on Ramon Ramirez the Lesser being on this team's 40-man in February, let alone April or May.

The more interesting decision was getting the arb-eligible and surgically repaired Boof the Magnificent from the Twins before the market got its shot at him. It might prove a canny little move, but assuming Bonser's in full operating order, the real question then becomes whether or not the club thinks it can teach him something to a career-long 200-point swing in OPS in terms of his platoon split, as lefties have tattooed him at a .316/.375/.516 clip, while he's held righties to a ROOGY-worthy .247/.296/.404. That makes him more like the first Ramon Ramirez than the lastest Ramon Ramirez in terms of utility, although whether that makes him an honorary RamRam remains to be determined. If he winds up as the notional sixth starter ahead of Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden, it'll be a modest move with value beyond his performance, assuming Tazawa needs the time as a PawSock and Bowden needs to be used as a bargaining chip.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed RHP J.J. Putz to a one-year, $3 million contract. [12/11]
Non-tendered RHP D.J. Carrasco. [12/12]

I love this move for the White Sox, not simply because it helps put the burden of earning his keep directly back on Bobby Jenks' shoulders, but because if he does show up in better shape and ready to deal, this could wind up being a bullpen every bit as nasty as the 2005 unit. Sort of like Dustin Hermanson from that squad, Putz is a post-surgery project, but with Herm Schneider's training staff, the Sox are in a particularly good position to accept such risks. If they wind up with a late-game quartet of Jenks, Matt Thornton, Putz, and Scott Linebrink, with Tony Pena and/or a lefty-to-be-named later in supporting roles, that's potentially outstanding. Add in the likelihood of Daniel Hudson stepping into Carrasco's long-relief role (while awaiting a shot at the rotation behind a fine front five), and it's a pitching staff that could go toe-to-toe with anybody's. As Kenny Williams already knows, it's also still a potentially outstanding unit without Jenks in it, there's still every opportunity to make the right move, especially if Jenks yields a useful veteran outfielder at the tail end of his contract.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Designated RHP Adam Miller for assignment; non-tendered RHPs Anthony Reyes and Jose Veras. [12/12]

DETROIT TIGERS
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Designated RHP Freddy Dolsi for assignment. [12/9]

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Released DH-L Mike Jacobs and LHP John Bale. [12/10]
Signed C-R Jason Kendall to a two-year, $6 million contract; signed LHP Bruce Chen and Adam Bostick, RHPs Francisco Rosario and Devon Lowery, 1B/OF-L Scott Thorman, 1B-R Ernesto Mejia, 2B-S Irving Falu, and C-R Cody Clark to minor-league contracts. [12/11]
Non-tendered C-R John Buck and OF-L Josh Anderson; agreed to terms with RHPs Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies, and Roman Colon, avoiding arbitration. [12/12]

Buck's been such a paragon of stagnation you might wonder how the Royals might have worked up the nerve to ditch him and provide a powder-blue Valhalla for Kendall at the tail end of the worn-down warhorse's career, but I think it's fair to say the distinction's mostly going to be cosmetic. Keep in mind, Kendall's .243 EqA last year was lower than either Buck's or Miguel Olivo's (.261 for both), which makes any notion of offensive improvement improbable. Whether Kendall's reputation as a better framer of pitches and all-around receiver helps will probably end up being more readily suggested anecdotally, in that if hurlers like Bannister or Davies or Luke Hochevar all turn corners, that's something that only suggests Kendall's importance, sort of like the massive failures of Jeff Suppan or Manny Parra or Braden Looper with Kendall there to help them suggests that there are reasons to not get really worked up over the data. The best you can say is maybe it'll matter, and if this move helps the careers of the young pitchers who are the best cause for hope in Kansas City, so much the better.

Of course, there is the snaggy/nasty matter of Dayton Moore's track record, with Jacobs representing a particularly spectacular example of why hope's all well and good, but faith might be misplaced. There's no real tap-dancing to be done here-picking up Jacobs last winter was a bad move that turned out badly, so tossing him back out on the market might at least have the beneficial effect of lowering the price on any lefty-batting alternatives for next year's DH duties by adding a rivulet of near-mediocrity to a free-agent pool already awash in Aubrey Huffs and Jack Custs and the like. Of course, they could always just help the pitchers that wee extra bit by getting Jose Guillen out of the pasture, and employing an outfielder who outfields, but that creates the new burden of having Guillen in the dugout most of the time, and will Trey Hillman sign up for that? I suppose there's also the question of whether, between Alberto Callaspo and Chris Getz at second, Alex Gordon, Josh Fields, and Callaspo at third, and Kila Ka'aihue on the 40-man, they might see themselves as sufficiently set with overlaps in the infield that they'll skip on adding another second-division slugger, and just parcel out the DH at-bats by rotating everyone through the slot. As long as they add outfield help and avoid another 400-plus PA season for Willie Bloomquist, it might resemble progress.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Traded RHP Boof Bonser to the Red Sox for a PTBNL. [12/10]
Received RHP Chris Province from the Red Sox to complete the Boof Bonser trade. [12/12]

Since it seemed certain that the Twins were going to non-tender Bonser, getting something for nothing's not the worst play on the planet. Province isn't a major prospect, throwing in the high 80s from a three-quarters delivery, but he induces a ton of wormkillers, with 3.3 grounders to every fly. Picked in the fourth round of the 2007 draft out of SE Louisiana State, he took a shot at starting in 2008, perhaps predictably got strafed in Lancaster's hitters haven, but was better in the Sally League, so he isn't automatically marooned in a relief role. He'll be 25, but won't need to be added to the 40-man, so there's no additional complication in adding him; the Twins get a year to see whether he's a keeper and what he's for. They also got back Bonser's roster spot and spared themselves the expense of investigating whether or not he'll be a contributor. Whatever the Minnesota legacy of Boof may be, they've already long since won the Pierzynski trade, just on the basis of Joe Nathan alone, but if Francisco Liriano comes around, they're even further into brag-worthy rip-off territory.

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Received Rule 5 pick OF-R Jamie Hoffman from the Nationals to complete the Brian Bruney trade. [12/11]
Non-tendered RHP Chien-Ming Wang. [12/12]

Ditching Wang to avoid an uncomplicated payout via arbitration, and keeping the chance to work out an incentive-laden deal, makes good sense-canny financial management's worthwhile, even in the mega-market, big-money behemoth category of franchises. The real question's over why the Yankees would tender Sergio Mitre a contract, because as long as you're being pound-wise, why keep that roster bon-bon on the plate? The only team that finds that suggestion sweet is the team the Yankees face on the days they employ him. Perhaps we can consider this a Joltless Joe Girardi roster tax, as he gets to keep a designated Marlin, no differently than Joe Torre was permitted his Bellingers and his Grimsleys as a matter of convenience.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Released RHP Santiago Casilla. [12/10]
Non-tendered DH-L Jack Cust. [12/12]

Ditching Cust after three years and 309 walks and 84 homers and 546 strikeous might be cause for mourning among those of us who belonged to the original Rob Deer Fan Club and kid around about Three True Outcomes, but it's also a reflection that the real lessons of Moneyball weren't about OBP, they were about money management and identifying undervalued assets. Cust can obviously hit in the major leagues, and it takes teams as occasionally maladapted as the Orioles to not notice. But Cust's hitting isn't valuable enough to be worth more than the $2.8 million he was paid last year, and arbitration was sure to secure for him a higher annual compensation rate than that. Headed into his age-31 season, he also isn't exactly your average arbitration-eligible, since he's already past his 25-29 prime. As a free agent, he's an example of why not every player does better on the market, and that arbitration is not a salary-suppression device for all. Now he's a DH looking for a shot at one of the very few gigs available for a player of his type, which only lowers his value in a market that features Jim Thome, Hank Blalock, Jason Giambi, Matt Stairs, and Gary Sheffield, not to mention guys like Chad Tracy or Eric Hinske, who might be able to play multiple positions and the like. If Cust or his agent is smart, he'll gun for a DH job in a hitter-friendly park sooner rather than later, seeing if the White Sox or Blue Jays or even the Royals might nibble. Thome's going to get one of the few DH slots open, so it's better to move fast than to hope somebody leaves their dance card open.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed OF-L Corey Patterson and INF-R Josh Wilson to minor-league contracts. [12/10]
Non-tendered OF-L Ryan Langerhans. [12/12]

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Acquired RHP Rafael Soriano from the Braves in exchange for RHP Jesse Chavez; signed Soriano to a one-year, $7.25 million deal; sold Rule 5 pick LHP Armando Zerpa to the Dodgers. [12/11]
Agreed to one-year contracts with C-S Dioner Navarro ($2.1 million), RHP Lance Cormier ($1.2 million), and LHP Randy Choate ($700,000), avoiding arbitration; non-tendered OF-L Gabe Gross and C-R Shawn Riggans. [12/12]
Agreed to terms with RHP Grant Balfour on a one-year, $2.05 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/13]

There's plenty in play here, which is what makes this Rays' after-party in the wake of the Winter Meetings so interesting. Getting Soriano at this price for a single season's a better play than almost anything they stood to gain in the open market, and Soriano has to be relatively happy about what this means in terms of winding up with an organization that's less likely stuck in an auto-ambush escapade next winter. Add in that they effectively got him with their previous decision to deal Akinori Iwamura, having flipped Chavez to get Soriano. Even with Chavez's mid-90s heat, he isn't a great bet to grow up to be a quality reliever, so the Rays fortuitously got a surprise benefit from being budget hawks with Iwamura early, and then not having to give up anything they'd really miss to wind up adding a modest amount of salary.

The decision to trade Iwamura was a ripple effect, of course, of the determination that they had preferred options at second base. That's still relevant now that they've non-tendered Gross, because with Ben Zobrist on the roster, they're in an interesting situation as far as who might get lineup time, and where. It would be easy to expect that they've finally created an opportunity for Matt Joyce to earn at least a portion of the job in right field, splitting time with Gabe Kapler. However, because Willy Aybar and Reid Brignac both have their uses, Zobrist could still be in play as a semi-regular right fielder, effectively landing Joyce into a competition with an established veteran and a fellow prospect for at-bats, because wherever he plays, Zobrist seems set in a lineup slot. Non-tendering Gross is just another ripple, but who gets washed up versus washed out by Zobrist's flexibility should make for an interesting job battle in spring training.

The backstop solutions are interesting, because it's especially interesting that Navarro essentially chose security over arbitration hard-ball, since he made $2.1 million last year, and wasn't guaranteed to lose his case given the system's idiosyncrasies. So he gets a chance to see if he can bounce back while sharing the job with Kelly Shoppach, a reasonable enough combo if the Rays elect to retain Navarro and not deal him, this agreement notwithstanding. Non-tendering Riggans seems sensible enough, since he's broken down repeatedly despite the team's attempts to make him their backup backstop. The question now is whether or not he'd be willing to re-up as a minor-league free agent, but given the market for catching of any flavor, I could see how he'd be better served to shop around and see if he can find a circumstance that doesn't involve a locked-in pair of big-league catchers already set for the Opening Day roster, as the Rays are with Navarro and Shoppach.

Finally, there's the decisions to re-up with Cormier and Choate. Choate's only making a wee bit above the minimum, and since they've already let Brian Shouse slip away via free agency, as second lefties go, there's not much cause to quibble about a cheap choice. Cormier's a little bit more odd, since he wasn't hugely effective as an middle-innings sponge, posting just a 0.618 WXRL, and his less win-sensitive Adjusted Runs Prevented mark was a similarly mediocre 9.7, and his BABIP was a cooperatively low .264, which we can't bet on seeing in 2010. Still, he was useful, and it isn't like we're talking major money. It's worth wondering if they couldn't do better, but it's also small beer.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Traded RHP Kevin Millwood and $3 million to the Orioles for RHP Chris Ray and a PTBNL (Rule 5 pick LHP Ben Snyder). [12/9]
Signed RHP Rich Harden to a one-year, $7.5 million contract with a mutual $11.5 million option for 2011. [12/10]
Agreed to terms with UT-R Esteban German, avoiding arbitration. [12/12]

Because so much of the Rangers' bid for the AL West is an upside play, it might seem a bit surprising that they decided to raise the stakes even further by swapping in the unpredictable, fragile Harden for Millwood. However, it's worth noting that however reliably Millwood took his turns, he's also provided his share of disappointments, as his SNWP has bounced around from from .514 in 2006 to .443 in 2007 to .452 in 2008 to .547 last year. Not that Harden was not himself a disappointment last year (.488 SNWP with the Cubs), but it was a strange season in Wrigley, and maybe his park-independent power assortment will play well enough on the Ballpark in Arlington grill that has burned so many men on the bump before. However much buy-in you might have for the conditioning program and what that meant for Millwood, the track record's sufficiently inconsistent (to be polite) that it made more sense to bank his 2009 and see if you could find someone more capable of sustaining next year's rotation. Since they're also going to have to determine who's in the front five beyond Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter, the exciting possibility is that Neftali Feliz will be back in the mix, although with Derek Holland, Brandon McCarthy, and Matt Harrison, there's no end of immediately ready candidates, with Omar Poveda, Luis Mendoza, and eventually a recovered Eric Hurley all coming into the picture as well. As Jamey Newberg suggests, the wild card is whether or not their off-season discussions with C.J. Wilson about rotation work bear fruit; if those go beyond interesting theoreticals, and become a going concern, that might leave Feliz in the bullpen mix as one of may talented hard throwers, keeping his workload under control.

As is, Snyder's another worthwhile addition to that kind of relief crew, and could become the power situational lefty that makes moving Wilson into the rotation that much easier to absorb. Ray's the ex-(briefly) famous person, but he might wind up being little more than a token right-handed veteran, assuming last season's thumping isn't a signal that his upside's going to be missing for a while yet. Between biceps tendinitis and utter hopelessness versus lefties, there's not a lot of cause to cut Ray any additional slack, even in a pen where only two slots seem set: closer Frank Francisco and ROOGY Darren O'Day, last season's free-talent find.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Non-tendered C-R Raul Chavez. [12/12]

With Rod Barajas already a free agent, this move thereby created the immediate impression that "the Blue Jays have no catcher!" That's assuming that with Barajas and/or Chavez in the fold, they had one, because if that's the standard, you can always pay Box O'Rocks the big-league minimum and come out about as well. It's a pity they can't fuse J.P. Arencibia and Brian Jeroloman into one player, since they each have two of the Three True Outcomes going for them; Jeroloman walks or strikes out, while Arencibia homers or strikes out, and neither of them does their one good element well enough to get beyond the fact that what they really do is just strike out. Pickings on the market are universally drab, so it's really in the Jays' interest to just wait it out and see who on the market is willing to settle for the available service time at the right price.


Thanks to Kevin Goldstein for his insight into all things prospect-related.

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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