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January 15, 2010

Transaction Action

AL Catsup

by Christina Kahrl

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with LHP Hideki Okajima on a one-year $2.75 million deal, avoiding arbitration; signed LHP Brian Shouse to a minor-league contract. [1/14]
Signed OF-R Darnell McDonald to a minor-league contract. [1/15]

Usually, the thing about any Boston action is that it almost requires its own appropriate soundtrack to provide the reliable background beat, but this one managed to stay below the radar for a while, even while being a seemingly done deal for more than a week without any official announcement (we've got him projected as a Red Sock in the book, for example). That's slightly unusual, but let's face it, the mid-January doldrums can anesthetize even the most enthusiastic local media market. That, or the shock of total victory by Eastasia the Yankees hasn't worn off yet.

At any rate, with Shouse in the house, this would seem to firm up Boston's southpaw picture, as Okajima and Shouse may well be the pen's pair of left-handed persons. Shouse's benefits are pretty much cut and dried. He's employable against lefties, although less so these days, as his strikeout rate against the people he must get dropped to 20 percent, his lowest figure in four years, while he also allowed his highest ISO to them in that same span. Against righties, he flees for the dugout at the first sign of a right-handed batter more dangerous than Cristian Guzman. That combination is why he wasn't getting guaranteed offers, because pitchers past 40 don't get much benefit of the doubt as far as things automatically getting better.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are full-up on their 40-man, but that doesn't mean Shouse faces especially long odds in his bid for another spin as somebody's situational specialist, as long as he doesn't have a disastrous camp. While gangly organizational soldier Dustin Richardson represents his in-house competition, if Shouse wins the fight, there's room to fit him in, not even necessarily at Richardson's expense. That's because Theo Epstein's usual acquisitiveness of the semi-interesting makes for a number of candidates of the readily disposable: there's at least one Ramon Ramirez too many, and you can bet it isn't Ram-Ram who's going anywhere. November waiver claim Robert Manuel could be another at-risk 40-man2, because let's face it, that's the lot of 11th-spot aspirants without plus stuff.

Beyond Richardson, there's another dark horse in the race to keep the roster spot out of Shouse's clutches. Diminutive Dominican southpaw Fabio Castro's non-guaranteed deal might be just as easily converted into PawSoxery, but like Manuel, he's interesting for his results, while also throwing harder than your average lefty; he also started off doing relief work in the White Sox and Rangers systems, before eventually getting moved into rotation work by the Phillies. The Jays, who got him for Matt Stairs in 2008, really didn't seem to know what to do with him; he torched the Eastern League in four turns (24 Ks against three walks in 21 2/3 IP), which got him promoted to Las Vegas, which he survived (no mean feat) while doing less well, allowing 4.9 runs per nine, while his strikeouts dropped to 5.1 K/9. I don't think Castro's future is in a rotation, even if he's only entering his age-25 season, because I don't think anyone in the industry really believes a 5-foot-7 lefty would last as a rotation regular. However, the fastball and the fact that he didn't wilt makes him interesting, and there's a chance he'll be much more useful than the Shouse types.

Meanwhile, credit Darnell McDonald (or his agent) with going to the right place. Where better for a veteran minor-league speedster than the team that made Dave Roberts briefly famous, let alone the team that made a point of putting Joey Gathright on its postseason roster just a few months ago?


CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Re-signed C-R Ramon Castro to a one-year, $800,000 deal, with a $1.2 million club option for 2011 ($200,000 buyout); designated C-L Cole Armstrong for assignment. [1/12]
Signed RHPs Daniel Cabrera and Greg Aquino, LHP Erick Threets, UT-L Freddie Bynum, RF-L Josh Kroeger, and DH-S Jason Botts to minor-league contracts. [1/13]

As we saw last year with Bartolo Colon, not everything Don Cooper touches turns to gold; whether you've got the philosopher's stone or not, you can only take some material, on the subatomic level or on the mound. So it'll definitely be interesting to see what Cooper and company can make of Cabrera, if anything. They aren't the first team to try, and they probably won't be the last.

As for expectations that Jason Botts would be a monster in Japan, he wasn't, winding up with sub-Gabara status by slugging .436 in barely more than 200 NPB plate appearances between a season and a half. So, while he's interesting to note among the non-roster invites, he's pushing 30 and is now almost five years removed from that big 2005 age-24 season in Oklahoma (.286/.375/.522) when it seemed like he might push into the Rangers' DH and outfield picture and turn into something. Instead, he may have to settle for a nice stateside spin with the Knights, even with the Sox' DH situation still stocked with the likes of Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay. At this rate, I'm not counting out a Jim Thome return to the South Side until Opening Day, and perhaps not even then.

Which brings me to the "big" move. Inviting Castro back as A.J. Pierzynski's caddy isn't exciting, because heading into his age-34 season, there's just not going to be some new revelation about what an older Castro can do. Liberation was a long time ago, and you can expect that he's going to slug a little, walk a little, struggle to deliver much of an average, catch well enough to keep his job, and generally do more than most backup catchers. The interesting development is that this should mean that we can excuse Tyler Flowers from that list of DH options. My reasoning is that carrying Flowers at the same time as Pierzynski might have worked if, beyond backup backstopping, Flowers also got first-base play during Paul Konerko's days off as well as a couple of DH starts per week. Now that Jones and Castro are signed up, there's not much of that left, either in terms of playing time or roster room, so Flowers' lot seems to involve at least a few months in Triple-A while the Sox see how far their veterans can take them. That can change, of course, since the Sox could always trade Pierzynski in the last year of his contract to make room for Flowers any time between now and August; given Flowers' upside, that wouldn't even represent a "season surrender" moment.

The other interesting factor here is the Sox freeing up Armstrong. Not that he's a huge hidden asset, but lefty-batting catchers with modest sock don't grow on trees. Heading into his age-26 season, Armstrong offers those two benefits, good receiving skills, a playable arm behind the plate, and that ought to add up to an employable backup. It's just my two cents, but teams like the Blue Jays, Padres, or particularly the Astros ought to pick up the phone and see if there's a minor exchange to be worked out before he hits waivers.


CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed C-R Mike Redmond to a one-year, $850,000 contract. [1/15]

I like seeing Redmond wash up as a veteran caddy and placeholder, because there isn't a ton to separate him in the broadest strokes from the Gerald Laird types of the universe, and with Carlos Santana's eventual greatness being one of those big, impending discoveries just over the horizon, the question is what seems solid in the meantime, and I'd suggest it might be Lou Marson's increasingly narrow window of opportunity. It isn't that Marson's terrible-I figure his upside is that he can be someone like Laird or Redmond, entirely employable, but as a big-league non-star. Even if Redmond only winds up being Marson's caddy in the early going, it's almost a pity that, no matter how well Marson does, his future's not really in his hands. Santana's already on the 40-man, and when his performance and the Indians' preferences for how to structure his arrival as far as service time align, Marson's going to have hopefully taken notes from Redmond on what it's like, being a useful player stacked up behind a star at his own position.


DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Jose Valverde to a two-year, $14 million deal, with a $9 million club option for 2012; agreed to terms with RHP Joel Zumaya on a one-year, $915,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/14]

There's something spectacularly uninteresting to me about some closer signings, in that there's not a lot to say about the particular pitcher. Is Valverde an established closer? Check. Does he throw hard? Generally. Will he be healthy for a good part of this deal? Again, as much as you can tell, generally yes. There's nothing Kreskin-like in noting such things. If healthy, he'll generate saves. He won't be the best closer, but he'll be effective, and compared with the likes of Todd Jones or Fernando Rodney, he'll be a major improvement. Having an alpha reliever in a pen that's counting on Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth to grow up and Zumaya to be healthy isn't a bad thing, either.

No, what's interesting about signing Valverde isn't him per se as much as what it says about how the Tigers see themselves. Even with last month's huge three-way swap, this club still has a major financial commitment to 2010, as they're guaranteed to top a $100 million payroll, and that was going to be the case with or without Valverde. The fact that they've added Valverde to that mix means more than just a commitment to having a snug security blanket for a rotation relying on youngsters like Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, it means that they still see themselves as in the AL Central race right now, with or without Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson. It's well that they might, what with the modest standards for what constitutes contention in the division, but why not? Just because they'll be breaking in young lineup regulars at second or behind the plate or in the outfield doesn't mean they don't also have enough stuff in play to be an 80-win team in a division where nobody looks like a lock for 90. The fact that they were willing to go two years on Valverde means they take that more seriously than, say, a one-year spin with someone else would have, because this isn't just about 2010, and because with as much salary room as the Tigers figure to have beyond the expiration of so many contracts after the year, they could afford to make the commitment.

It's certainly interesting, but given that they might be a bat (and a center fielder) short, it's interesting to wonder if they see themselves as done, or if they wouldn't go for a one-year solution. A one-year, incentive-laden spin with Jim Edmonds, perhaps? Rick Ankiel? Endy Chavez, even? There are worse ideas, with a couple of them already in Kansas City.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 4C-L Brad Nelson to a minor-league contract. [1/13]

There's no surprise here, as Nelson's a former Brewers farmhand and a Jack Zduriencik product (fourth round, 2001) just getting a repeat spin as a Tacoma file-filler after last season's waiver-wire salvage operation. His virtues as a third baseman are sort of notional, and to call him a poor man's Russell Branyan would be almost too complimentary. However, he has some pop and patience, generally being good for about 200 points of ISO and a walk rate around 10 percent when he's rolling in the upper levels, so it isn't inconceivable that he'd be able to contribute in a bench role or as a spot solution at first or an outfield corner in case of injury.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RHP Brandon McCarthy on a one-year, $1.3 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Vilica

Does the Yankees-Eastasia comparison work? Aren't the Red Sox always fighting the Yankees, and not switching back and forth between two adversaries like Oceania was in 1984? Might work better for a team like the Mets, which switches back and forth between fighting the Phillies and the Braves for NL East titledom. Either that or I'm missing the point entirely here.

Jan 16, 2010 00:16 AM
rating: 2
 
rumscroft

Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

Jan 16, 2010 07:07 AM
rating: 8
 
R.A.Wagman

Christina - as Shouse was a Type B Free Agent - do the Rays now not get the supplementary pick as he's only signed to minor league deal? Thanks

Jan 16, 2010 07:29 AM
rating: 0
 
deckholm

I think that's correct. To get the pick the player needs to sign a major league contract.

Jan 16, 2010 08:34 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

DO you know if that would change if (when?) Shouse makes the 25-man roster?

Jan 16, 2010 08:36 AM
rating: 0
 
deckholm

According to the Topkin article I linked - doesn't look like it.

Jan 16, 2010 08:37 AM
rating: 0
 
deckholm

Marc Topkin agrees: http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/rays/content/shouse-gets-minor-league-deal-red-sox-rays-dont-get-extra-draft-pick

Jan 16, 2010 08:36 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Thanks!

Jan 16, 2010 08:37 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Exactly right, and points to Topkin for addressing this, and to deckweb for the pointer.

Jan 18, 2010 14:34 PM
 
OonBoon

I don't know the rules, but... what's to stop any major league team from signing any free agent to a minor league deal, just to avoid losing the draft pick? Why not sign Jason Bay to a $60 million, 4 year "minor league" deal?

Jan 18, 2010 02:10 AM
rating: 0
 
LouisArighi

Minor-league deals are non-guaranteed money. So Jason Bay would have to sign a non-guaranteed contract for $60 million. I'm assuming he and his agent preferred to be guaranteed the $66 million no matter what.

Jan 18, 2010 13:35 PM
rating: 0
 
MattZ

So the Tigers have 14 mil to spend on a closer, but can't afford Curtis Granderson? Not that I'm complaining.

Jan 16, 2010 08:11 AM
rating: 0
 
elm
(41)

Yeah, I find this baffling. I thought the reason to trade Granderson (and Jackson) was a 2010 budget crunch combined with a weak economy. Unless the Valverde deal is seriously backloaded (2 mil this year, 12 next?) or unless the Detroit economy massively improved in the past month, I don't get this string of events.

Jan 16, 2010 09:05 AM
rating: 0
 
Chomsky
(103)

They move out Granderson ($5.5M) and EJax (maybe $5M?), and bring in Scherzer (about $1M), Valverde ($7M?), and AuJax ($400k). Looks cheaper to me, and maybe added them some wins, too?

Jan 16, 2010 10:25 AM
rating: 2
 
elm
(41)

Yeah, I guess they're saving themselves 2 mil or thereabouts if the contract isn't at all backloaded, but is that really worth moving Granderson's affordable contract going forward? On reflection, what I think this says is that they value a "proven closer" more than they value Granderson. (What they got for Jackson from the D-backs was great, and I can see making that deal even if cash isn't a concern and I doubt that Kennedy was so essential to the deal that they could not have come up with something already in house to swing it.)

But valuing Valverde more than Granderson is, I think, more than a little daft.

Jan 16, 2010 11:16 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I'd agree with that last bit, even allowing for the fact that Granderson's an imperfect star, but keep in mind that they've also offloaded the expense of employing Polanco ($4.6 million) to Scott Sizemore (at the minimum), while Cabrera's payday bumps from $15 million to $20 million, Carlos Guillen's going from $10 million to $13 million, and Nate Robertson's going from $7 million to $10 million. And then there's Verlander's arbitration case, which is sure to cost them a pretty penny. In some ways, the Tigers are a perfect representative for the city that's home to American auto makers: ridiculous expenses for modest achievements, and cutting worthwhile elements to observe the more inescapable commitments.

Jan 18, 2010 14:44 PM
 
MattZ

I don't think there's any way they added wins, and Granderson's contract was great long term.

Jan 16, 2010 13:21 PM
rating: 0
 
Chomsky
(103)

Austin Jackson's isn't?

Jan 18, 2010 08:02 AM
rating: 0
 
MattZ

Yea, but so what? Jackson's a minor league player. Granderson's a superstar.

Jan 18, 2010 09:35 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

A superstar with special problems, like whether or not he'll be playable in center at the end of the deal, and one who needs to hit the bench against all lefties. The big bonanza with Granderson is the first year of his Yankeedom, when he's making only $5.5 million; after that, he's going to cost either $20.25 million for 2011-12 or $31.25 million for 2011-13. That's many things, but it isn't cheap.

Jan 18, 2010 14:47 PM
 
ofMontreal

I also thinks there's an arms race with Chicago. The White Sox are going to have very good pitching this year and pitching will decide the Central. Detroit needed a closer (if you believe in that sort of thing) to compete.

Jan 16, 2010 10:55 AM
rating: 0
 
MattZ

The Sox rotation looks really good, and Rios won't duplicate the .228 BABIP he had in his time in Chicago. It's too bad they're going to give Juan Pierre > 650 PAs, and seem intent on Andrew Jones and Mark Kotsay as the DH.

Jan 16, 2010 13:25 PM
rating: 1
 
Sacramento

Well, they also really need a center fielder...

Jan 16, 2010 10:58 AM
rating: 2
 
Juris

Christina, I agree completely with your interpretation of the Valverde signing -- it's a signal that the Tigers still think they're competitive.

Also keep in mind that there is a tendency just to assume that the commitment to Ordonez, Willis, Bonderman, Inge and carry no value at all. Yes, they may be bad "values" relative to the contracts but there may be some real production.

Jan 16, 2010 12:02 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Quite right. The money's spent, but there's a decent chance that Bonderman and Robertson deliver some value at the back end of the rotation. Inge should be a defensive asset and hurt the odd lefty.

The question's whether they Tigers are right to think they're competitive, but the Twins have their share of questions about their pitching, while the White Sox don't look like they'll blow people away on offense.

Jan 18, 2010 14:50 PM
 
ChinMusic

Great take on the Tigers, Christina. This isn't just about this year. Mike Illitch is getting up there in years and he wants a championship in the worst way. Detroit might be Hockeytown, but he knows what the Tigers mean to Michigan. They will have a lot of flexibilty next year and I suspect they are positioning themselves for a push in 2011-15 with the young pitching corp maturing and Miguel Cabrera sitting in his prime years.

Jan 17, 2010 10:43 AM
rating: 0
 
Vince Galloro

Christina, my immediate thoughts when the Sox were crying poor a couple of months ago was that trading A.J. Pierzynski could fund more Sox sock without giving up much in 2010 performance-wise because of Flowers. I wasn't familiar with Armstrong before, but it sounds like he would be the ideal back-up to Flowers, so it's a bit disappointing that the Sox might lose him (assuming that he could sign a minor league deal and clear the 40-man roster if he isn't snapped up by another team, unlikely though that may be). I was concerned that Pierzynski might be closing in on his 10-and-five rights, but Cot's lists his service time as 9.1 years, currrently, so that's not an impediment.

I agree that Castro is a decent back-up. The scuttlebutt among my Sox fan friends is that he's not good enough defensively for a back-up. I take that to mean that they have seen him actually provide some offensive value...

I hope you are right about Jim Thome. He would still fit this team perfectly, with the idea that he would play maybe 100-110 games, with a DL stint timed around June's swing through NL parks (with nine straight games in NL parks and two offdays, he'd hardly miss a game that he could otherwise start in). In the process, signing Thome would consign Mark Kotsay to his proper, veteran-mascot role.

Jan 18, 2010 07:22 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

No, believe me, the danger very much is that Pierzynski would get to 10-and-5 status, since 9 years and 100 days puts him 72 days away from achieving his 10th-year wristwatch or whatever. So, sometime in June, AJP stands to have that option deleted from the White Sox menu... except of course we already know that these things can be worked around. No-trade clauses just mean there's something else to be negotiated; it's an deterrent and an impediment, but not an impossibility if Pierzynski's willing to consider it in July and, say, the Sox are already out of it.

Jan 18, 2010 14:59 PM
 
Vince Galloro

I see. *smacks forehead* I have been misreading that notation for a very long time now -- it makes a whole lot more sense that 9.100 means nine years plus 100 days, rather than being two extra places of unnecessary precision. Thanks for clearing that up.

And, sure, no-trade rights can be worked around. I guess what I also was thinking, but left unsaid, is that there might be a somewhat limited market for AJP in the first place, given that much of the industry thinks he's a complete (deleted).

Jan 19, 2010 07:04 AM
rating: 0
 
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