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January 5, 2010

Transaction Action

Going West

by Christina Kahrl

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Bob Howry to a one-year, $2 million contract with a $3 million club option for 2011 ($250,000 buyout); signed 1B-R Jeff Bailey to a minor-league contract. [12/28]
Signed 2B-L Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $2.35 million deal. [12/30]

I've already gone on record as something of a Kelly Johnson unbeliever (with two hands full), but credit him for taking a page from the F-Lop Guide to Reputation Rejuvenation by going to one of the better possible locations to spruce up his career. No differently than with, say, Eric Byrnes is this really going to guarantee much in the way of actual improvement, but breathing and batting at the Bob-free BOB should do wonders for him in a single season. To his credit, Johnson's power (via ISO) has remained relatively consistent and should get a boost from his new park, and his BABIP last year dropped precipitously and should rebound a bit. I guess this is that instance of my seeing all of those indicators, and then look back at the fact that Johnson's been adequate to less than that in 11 of the last 12 months of baseball, with his big September in 2008 redeeming a season that, at that point, was coming in at a decidedly mediocre .263/.332/.403.

This doesn't mean Johnson's bad or going to be bad, just that I think his rebound is going to be a little exaggerated by the park, and there's enough mediocrity (or less) over the past two seasons that if he really only hits about as well as he did in the first five months of '08, and then gets a BOB bounce, that's not a great player, that's a mediocrity getting a boost up because of his park. At this price, it's a sound investment by the Snakes.

Somewhat more surprising is the decision by Howry to come to the same spot, but it is a homecoming for the local boy. It'll end in tears, I expect, if only because Howry's a fly-ball pitcher moving to a place where bad things happen to airborne balls in play, and because his walk and strikeout rates are heading in the wrong directions. The Snakes definitely have a pen problem that needed fixing, ranking as they did 27th in relief FRA (at 5.26) and 28th in ARP (with -31.7), and with Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez, they at least have a good starting point towards winding up with a quality bullpen. The problem is that while I could see Howry (and even Aaron Heilman) having utility in a lot of parks, the non-BOB is almost at the very bottom of places I'd want to have either of them.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed C-R Miguel Olivo to a one-year, $2 million contract with a $2.5 million club option for 2011 ($500,000 buyout). [1/4]

Considering that they gave Chris Iannetta a three-year deal right after the Winter Meetings, this shouldn't be interpreted as organizational diffidence, but rather appears to be a commitment to making sure that they have a catcher who can help them at the plate no matter who starts. The expense compared to the risks of winding up in the Ausmus/Treanor/Alberto Castillo class of fall-back options is negligible, especially for a team harboring reasonable expectations of making another playoff bid.

Employing Olivo comes with risks, of course, in that he's earned a terrible reputation as a receiver, so even if he throws well, he comes up short on a major part of the program as a defender. That said, Olivo's reputation for having hands of stone may not have been helped by having to be Zack Greinke's regular receiver, since Greinke's stuff is nasty no matter what you're trying to do with it: hit, catch, none of it's easy. Perhaps he'll just need to be kept away from Ubaldo Jimenez's starts.

The other question is what moving to the best place to hit in the big leagues and to the easier league will do for him. Some might point to a ridiculously big 20 percent HR/FB rate, and admittedly that seems unsustainable, but Olivo's a player who strikes out in 25-30 percent of his at-bats going to a ballpark that cuts down on the number of times players strike out (by about seven percent, per Clay Davenport, with a strikeout park factor of 922 for right-handed hitters), and that can have an outsized effect on players who strike out a lot; let's not forget what it meant for Dante Bichette or Preston Wilson, for instance. Last year's .261 EqA with the Royals might remain Olivo's high-water mark, but heading to Coors doesn't just put him in a happy spot for his own production, it probably goes miles towards either guaranteeing his 2011 option gets picked up, or that he won't have problems finding work as a free agent next winter if it doesn't.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed INF-R Jamey Carroll to a two-year, $3.85 million contract. [12/18]

He's better than Juan Castro, and more useful than Mark Loretta, but this isn't an event in the roster pathetolympics, and this might seem like a lot to pay for a player whose gifts run towards the modest. However, for a bench player, he's been relatively reliable, with a decent ability to hit for some average and walk in around 10 percent of his plate appearances. Heading into his age-36 and age-37 seasons, he's not much of a runner any more, and he's got nothing in the way of power, but that's why he's a bench player.

The interesting element in play is that the generally inactive Dodgers are talking seriously about giving Blake DeWitt a shot as their starting second baseman. That may fly, but even if it doesn't, they still have both Chin-Lung Hu and a recuperating Ivan DeJesus II in the mix for the middle infield. There's no slam-dunk obvious answer if DeWitt falters, especially with Joe Torre doing the picking, but there are at least worthwhile options, and Carroll's a solid choice as a placeholder who could start for a month or as needed. Admittedly, DeJesus will almost certainly need more game-play to come all the way back from his broken leg than his current assignment playing winter ball, but if, by June, DeWitt's not proving to be the answer at the keystone and Carroll's filching a few too many starts, they ought to have a fix available to them from within. The depth is also reassuring insofar as Hu, DeJesus, and Carroll can all play short, so they don't have to reach beyond what's on hand to stock their bench with reserve infielders.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired C-R Dusty Ryan from the Tigers for future considerations. [12/21]

It's a lovely pickup in the abstract, because Ryan's good enough to catch in the big leagues, and free talent at the position is manna from heaven when it spares you some of the indignities that the worst-off sort has to deal with behind the plate. There are reasons to look the gift horse in the mouth, even while nabbing him, of course. Ryan's got something of the Mark Parent Lite skill set, in that he'll strike out a ton, sock the odd bomb now and again, and struggle to get on base with any consistency. As a receiver, he's sort of Miguel Olivo Lite, a strong thrower who should be able to gun down or deter stolen-base attempts at a better-than-average rate (except when Chris Young's pitching, because there's no helping that situation), and with receiving skills that leave something to be desired in terms of a few too many plays that leave scorers mulling whether to assign an extra hash mark to the PB or WP column. Does that add up to a great player? Of course not, but it's a far sight better than most options when it comes to selecting a backup catcher, and if Nick Hundley struggles with injuries again or regresses a bit, there's absolutely nothing wrong with having a gift horse of this caliber in the stable and available to saddle up.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed UT-R Mark DeRosa to a two-year, $12 million contract. [12/29]

Getting DeRosa for the same money they handed to Freddy Sanchez is great, it's just a pity that they also gave it to Freddy Sanchez. DeRosa's an effective third baseman, not a great one, so the question here is one of whether or not he can continue to produce at a better clip than the position average for third base now that he's healthy, or above .270 in terms of EqA, lower than his 2007 and 2008 seasons, and a few pegs above his injury-affected .266 EqA in '09. That doesn't seem like a stretch, even if DeRosa, like Sanchez, merely achieves adequacy, because the standard in play isn't just whether or not you're getting towards mediocrity, it's that you're replacing something much worse than that.

To that point, the key virtue of this move is that this bumps Pablo Sandoval over to first, an immediate assist to the pitching staff, of course, but the additional benefit is that they'll be moving DeRosa into the lineup and Travis Ishikawa and the like out of it, an exchange that should net them three or four wins on offense if DeRosa simply delivers at around that league-average clip at third. That may seem exaggerated, but that's how woeful the Giants' first basemen were, producing a collective 71 Equivalent Runs on the year at a position where the per-team average was 104. Sandoval produced 111 by himself, so even if DeRosa merely manages league-average production at third, there's your 40 added runs to get four wins. Add in some gains on defense, and it's the sort of addition that adds by addition as well as subtraction in every phase of the game.

There's also the additional positional flexibility this affords them. Sandoval could still play some at third base as needed. DeRosa isn't going to forget how to play second, so they can always bump him back to the keystone if Sanchez has another one of his health-related misfortunes. And because of that potential ripple effect, it might even mean some enduring value as far as keeping Ishikawa, not just as a defensive replacement at first and as a lefty pinch-hitter, but because on days they want to rest Sandoval or DeRosa or Sanchez (or a starter in the outfield corners, since DeRosa can handle those as well), they can plug in Ishikawa instead of Eugenio Velez or Kevin Frandsen. Whatever Ishikawa's failings as an everyday player, being able to employ a lefty bat with moderate power isn't the worst bit of lineup flexibility to have in play.


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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