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January 11, 2010

Transaction Action

Impaled Rangers

by Christina Kahrl

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KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Matt Herges to a minor-league contract. [1/11]

Herges managed to contribute six-tenths of a win on the year between his work with the Tribe and then the Rockies (.598 WXRL), not shabby for a guy who will turn 40 on April Fool's. The Royals still have most of the same parts in place from last year's pen, of course, with Joakim Soria closing, and journeymen Roman Colon, Kyle Farnsworth, and Juan Cruz all pulling down paychecks as right-handed set-up men of a certain thirtysomething vintage. It might seem strange that a team with next to no chance of making any new noises (beyond the usual pleas for patience, or mercy) to stock this much of its big-league bullpen with graybeards, but Herges isn't guaranteed anything. He isn't fooling people much, but he throws strikes, and if an injury crops up, or the team elects to please fans and do something drastic and bloody-minded, like eating Farnsworth's salary, he could wind up getting squeezed into the picture.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B-L Dan Johnson to a one-year, $500,000 contract. [1/11]

Johnson didn't have a great season in Japan last year, defeating expectations that he'd make some noise, but mostly he made $1.5 million while struggling to make contact. Popping 24 homers was nice enough to put him on the leader board on the Central League leader board, but it came attached to his hitting .215/.330/.462 in 382 PAs. Whether or not an early shoulder injury hampered him or not, he produced just six other extra-base hits, while his walk rate of 13.4 percent was only a few notches above his MLB career rate of 12.8 percent. He's gotten a break insofar as he's gotten a big-league deal and has wound up on the 40-man roster, he might count himself fortunate. However, considering the absence of Carlos Pena was keenly felt, and with the long-standing concerns over Pat Burrell's ability to ever get back to being Pat the Bat, it's not a terrible depth-minded move, even with Johnson moving just past 30 last summer.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed DH-R Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year, $5 million contract, with a mutual option for 2011 ($1 million buyout). [1/11]

Vladi probably couldn't have done much better than selecting Texas for his landing destination. Never mind the background noise-taking his shot at helping the Rangers unseat the Angels, for example-and focus on the place of employment. Flat-out great places to be a right-handed power hitter in the DH league can be counted on one hand; the White Sox don't seem interested or have the money to remain dealt in on the proposition of adding yet another right-handed bat, and who wants to go be an Oriole and do the underdog thing? Especially when there are shots at post-season glory to be won, and with time running out on a career. So Vladi went to Texas, about as unsurprising a result as you might imagine given that he really shouldn't give fielding much of a shot except at the furthest extremities of roster inflexibility.

What's to be expected of him in Texas? Last summer's season involved woeful inadequacy early, a month off, and a nice second-half run, but even that post-break performance involved a lot less impaling. Not that he's down to merely poking, but once Guerrero came back and was (presumably) healthy, he hit .300/.347/.498, mostly because of a nine-homer August. Not a bad thing to have, but it nevertheless would have represented his lowest ISO since his rookie season, back in 1997. There are strong negatives, of course: he was striking out more than at almost any point in his career, and walking less, and producing a net gain on balls in play, which doesn't especially help him in Anaheim (but might in Texas). He's popping up more. He alternates between running carefully or badly on the bases. The Big A didn't help him much: he hit .278/.311/.417 at home on the year, and even just .286/.330/.409 after his return, against a more stabby .313/.364/.588 road performance in the second half. I take that as a broad suggestion that we can expect there's more here to sustain him than just a move to the Bandbox in Arlington.

So, considerations considered, this seems like a great move, for them and for him, because a healthy Guerrero should be all bop at something not far from his past standards. At this price, he's a bargain. You sign Vladi to spatter box scores for base hits, and in a power-friendly park, he's a great bet to deliver value over a year or two. Slugging better than .500 seems like a near-certainty from him if he avoids injury, which added to his career in his age-34 and -35 seasons might help inch him that much closer to a "clean" 500 home runs (he's at 407), plus two seasons in Texas could also get him to 2600 career hits (he's at 2249 now), as well as give him another shot or two at a ring. Maybe all of that adds up to a more plausible Hall of Fame campaign. Maybe he wasn't "feared" enough, but he's always seemed pretty scary. Maybe he hasn't been on enough winners, but holding who got to him first against him isn't unlike Bert Blyleven having to overcome being a Twin initially during one of their more pointless phases.

The big immediate loser in all of this stands to be David Murphy, while Justin Smoak will no doubt have to cool his jets in the minors for a bit, and perhaps runs the risk of having to become trade bait. But Murphy, outshone by Nelson Cruz and an implausible option for center field, is about to become a fourth outfielder unless Ron Washington feels some compelling need to get Josh Hamilton back in center and put Julio Borbon on the bench. In the wake of the celebrations over the benefits of employing Elvis Andrus, that seems relatively unlikely. An order with Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Cruz lined up behind Vladi from the right side of the plate, with Chris Davis and Hamilton from the left side? That sounds like fun, albeit a lineup still short of OBP.


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed LHP Aroldis Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million contract. [1/11]

For Tuesday, David Laurila's going to have a Q&A on the subject of Aroldis Champman with the Reds' scouting director, Chris Buckley, and you can anticipate that Chapman's going to figure prominently in Kevin Goldstein's forthcoming Reds Top 11 Prospects list, so what I can add here is going to be understandably less substantive as David's reporting or Kevin's prospecting. Admittedly, I come at Cuban players with a certain amount of suspicion, not all of it unreasonably based on Ariel Prieto. Well, OK, some of it, but not all of it. The uneven records of touted emigrés is a matter of record. Against the odd Livan Hernandez or el Duque on the mound, or Kendry Morales and Alexei Ramirez at the plate, there are the counter-examples of Prieto's limitations, or Jose Contreras' overhyped dickering with the Yankees and Red Sox, or the total non-development of Andy Morales or Alay Soler, or Yuniesky Betancourt's accomplished cipherdom.

One of the things that came out of past discussions on evaluating Cuban league performances is that the talent there isn't distributed evenly; I might glibly compare it to the 1920s American League, where the schedule's got a few worthwhile teams, and several that exist to fill out the schedule, but Clay Davenport would explain it more effectively than I. When he hasn't been on the national team, Chapman's been pitching for Holguin, not one of the league's (deliberately) established powerhouses. Chapman's performance record has been a bit frightening in every sense of the word. He's been extremely wild, which makes sorting out what to expect that much more interesting and unpredictable. There's more to come when the full spread of projections gets published on-site, but a quick run through PECOTA produced some interesting suggestions about what he could do for the Reds right away: 92 IP, 84 hits, 67 walks, 116 strikeouts, 13 homers allowed (or 8.2 H/9, 5.8 BB/9, and 10.0 K/9), and a 5.25 ERA. That's not the same thing as saying that's what he'll do; it's a projection derived from past performance, and it's broad-strokes suggestive of, you guessed it, an exceptional talent, and one wild as all get out.

There's a good dose of salt to take with evaluating Cuban performances, of course, which makes evaluating Chapman's addition that much more a matter of scouting. On that score, I'm looking forward to Kevin Goldstein's Reds Top 11 list as much as you are. Chapman's talent gets touted as aggressively as Contreras or the Hernandezes, and let's face it, lefties who pump gas in the high 90s are rare commodities. Lefties who reliably pump gas in the high 90s at the age of 22, touching triple digits? Well, you can understand where the excitement comes from.

Will this impact the Reds in 2010? Seeing him pitch in the majors in the second half, and not 92 innings, seems extremely likely. Obviously, it's a bit of a surprise that the Reds were playing in this particular pool of talent, as well as amusing that a man who defected from Castro-stan would wind up becoming a Red. As far as calculations go, it's especially interesting because on the one hand, we see the Reds essentially sitting out the free-agent market this winter, all the more understandably given the limitations of what's available as well as their own payroll position. Why get in on Jon Garland or Orlando Hudson, after all? Sure, finding a better catcher than Ramon Hernandez or springing for a shortstop would be nice, but here again, the market's short of available answers.

So instead, Walt Jocketty took a big hunk of cash and did something extraordinary, with an unpredictable outcome. For a club in Cincinnati's position, that's not such a bad idea, since their immediate chances of landing any difference-making free agents are a bit dodgy (assuming the exercise is even worthwhile, which Matt Swartz has cast a few recent doubts upon). It's an interesting gamble for a club who's strongest suit might be its rotation, but that's a strength that's as much a matter of depth than of any particular greatness. It's a strength whose time stands to pass, as veteran mid-rotation types like Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang are pitching for their 2011 options or impending free agency. Still, when you ponder the possibilities of a best-case future rotation boasting a healthy Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey coming into his own, and Chapman, that's more than a little interesting. Admittedly, that's as optimistic a picture as one could paint, but it is interesting. The Reds may well be in the odd predicament of being able to trade either of their veteran starters at the end of July yet also field a much more interesting team down the stretch, with Volquez on the comeback trail and Chapman potentially nearing readiness.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with OF-R Jason Repko on a one-year, $500,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/10]
Signed INF-R Nick Green to a minor-league contract. [1/11]

"Attention! A Torre Boy has entered the facility."

Green's brief claim upon Boston's fevered imagination having run its course to its predictable, bitter end, the deathless exploits of the unkillable utility infielder takes its latest turn with his now cropping up in Dodger blue. Having donned pinstripes and contributed little of note back in 2006, he's already well known to Torre, and now that he's safely into his thirties, Torre has perhaps successfully committed Green's name to memory. (That, or he bears enough of a passing resemblance to Clay Bellinger that he'll do.) Last year's .230 EqA is fairly descriptive of Green's utility at the plate, while last year's better fielding at shortstop gave his career the second wind it was going to need if he's going to keep getting these kinds of invitations. I guess there are worse people to have in the running for a backup infielder's job-most of them seemed to be Mets last season-but with Jamey Carroll already on hand, it's sort of like getting to be Juan Castro to Carroll's Mark Loretta from a re-enactment of the 2009 edition of the Dodgers, while Chin-Lung Hu and Ivan DeJesus II may have to settle for being the Isotopes' double-play combo in 2010.



Thanks to Clay Davenport and Eric Seidman for data assistance.

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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