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January 22, 2010

Transaction Action

Overpaying Pineiro and Little Sarge's Big Apple Adventure

by Christina Kahrl

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LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Joel Pineiro to a two-year, $16 million contract. [1/21]
Traded OF-S Gary Matthews Jr. and $21.5 million to pay him with to the Mets for RHP Brian Stokes. [1/22]

With Pineiro, there are so many unknowns that it makes the proposition that he'll deliver on this deal seem dubious, even after working through the historical track record and the math, as Eric Seidman did on Wednesday, comparing Pineiro's prospective value to Jon Garland's. Even with Mike Scioscia, as fine a handler of pitchers as you might find in any dugout, this just doesn't seem like it'll go well. While the Angels aren't a bad defensive team, they're also not an especially good one, and they did just lose Chone Figgins in the offseason. Even if you consider the move from having to work around Skip Schumaker at second as a possible benefit, there's a worse collection of outfielders, plus one-ninth of the opposing hitters aren't patsies.

Even if Pineiro was sticking around in St. Louis, I don't know if I would have that much faith that he'd be anything more than mid-rotation filler and a better asset to have over the regular season than someone you need at the front end to take postseason starts; effectively, that's what the Angels are paying for, having lost John Lackey, and having shelled out this kind of money for Pineiro. Perhaps the proposition that you can keep bottling lightning and sell it on the open market works, but I have my doubts. A full-season career-low ratio of homers per fly ball seems likely to regress, even if he keeps generating a 2:1 rate of ground-ball outs to fly-ball outs.

Consider the recent big-name defectors from Dave Duncan's rotations: Jeff Suppan's been an ongoing disaster in Milwaukee, and Braden Looper joined him in Brew'd ignominy last season. Matt Morris produced plenty of heartburn in San Francisco. Jason Marquis turned out better than expected, which is interesting, but if not for last year's success with the Rockies, it also wouldn't exactly be called an endorsement to employ ex-Cardinals. And I'm assuming Anaheim-gelenos haven't forgotten the explosively unhappy Kent Bottenfield experience. More like Morris or Suppan or Marquis, Pineiro was a top pitching prospect in his own right back in the day, and before the Cardinals put him back together again as a ground-balling machine, and maybe that's enough to go on. Considering Pineiro's one of those players whom I think none of us have a good sense of what to expect, it will be interesting.

As for eating most of the expense of employing Little Sarge the next two seasons, I guess I'd consider the relative silver lining involved. They get back $1.2 million over the next two years, not a lot, but since they have to pay out at least $800,000 for the roster spot over that same span, it's something. They got a right-handed person who can pitch as an 11th man somewhat cheaply, and to his credit, Stokes can get his fastball into the mid-90s; maybe the Angels can get better results with him than the Mets did, maybe not, but since he won't be making much more than the minimum for another season, they can take a look and see before they get into any real money. As far as replacing Matthews, that's easy enough, in that they get to swap in Reggie Willits more solidly into the roster spot that had been expended upon Matthews, and that gives them a better pinch-runner. Maybe that affords them the space for a Chris Pettit or Terry Evans or Freddy Sandoval as the 13th position player, or a third catcher to set Scioscia's mind at ease as far as his dealing with Mike Napoli's defense or Jeff Mathis' bat. Regardless, it spares them at-bats wasted on Matthews. Just because Matthews was a sunk cost didn't mean the Halos had to sink towards living with it to the bitter end.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Shawn Hill to a minor-league contract. [1/22]

You can consider him an active example for why some of us say health is a skill, as it's one that Hill obviously lacks. Hill's recovering from his latest elbow surgery, and is about as reliable as a junkie with your home appliances and the keys to your car. Sure, it might go well, but do you really expect it to? Of course not. He might be recovered from his second TJS (his most recent in a long litany of elbow problems) in plenty of time to contribute during some stretch of the season; he might even last multiple turns in a rotation. That's not snark, or at least I wish that it was, but just keep in mind that he hasn't made more than 20 starts in any single season, all levels combined, major and minor, since 2003. Hill can be a joy to watch when he's healthy and when he's on; I was in the press box for his five-inning no-hit effort against the Marlins for the Nats, but even then, he was on for three innings, and obviously hurting and laboring through the last two, before heading to the DL immediately afterward. There was a point in time when he was an exceptional, noteworthy talent; now he's starting pitching's answer to Chad Fox, and a flyer that teams perfunctorily take, and just as readily discard when they see him break down on their watch as well. It's a bit jarring to see that he'll only be 29 this spring and think that, now that the Canadian's been taken on by Canada's remaining team, you can hope he'll end his career on an up note.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed C-R Paul Lo Duca and OF-R Jay Payton to minor-league contracts. [1/21]

Both players are trying to get a new lease on life before moving into the retirement-oriented parts of the program, but both seem more likely to be headed for Colorado Springs, providing token veterandom on the big-league bench only should someone get hurt. It's generous of the Rockies to afford them the opportunities, but Lo Duca's barely serviceable as a big-league backup, and Payton's best employment might be as an infrequently employed fifth outfielder in a rosterscape not known for having many of those about.


NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded RHP Brian Stokes to the Angels for OF-S Gary Matthews Jr. and $21.5 million. [1/22]

"Mets land Matthews to bolster outfield!"

On what planet? The one where armless dwarves with gloves glued to their heads were the only available alternatives? Here on Earth, Little Sarge is probably one of the best thousand outfielders we've got. Major League Baseball needs fewer than 200 of those, however, so generally speaking, that isn't really the relevant standard in play, not unless we're stocking rosters for whatever notional baseball-playing nation/state is supposed to help fill out the slate of teams in the World Baseball Classic.*

That doesn't necessarily make him a good big-league outfielder, let alone one who can help the Mets in a substantive role. In a fair fight, he shouldn't beat out Angel Pagan for the right to absorb Carlos Beltran's playing time for however long the starter's missing due to his ongoing knee problems. The argument that Matthews "only" costs the Mets $2 million over the next two seasons to employ assumes that he's worth spending $2 million on; while a million bucks per season is less than the going rate for many scrubby outfield types these days (Mark Kotsay's getting $1.5 million for 2010, for example), Matthews' production has descended from his career-year spike in 2006 (.285 EqA) down to below a .250 EqA the last two years. Even allowing for how his production might improve in the weaker league if he were entrusted with everyday play, that's in his age-35 and age-36 seasons, and in a pitcher's park. He's probably an improvement on Jeremy Reed, and maybe on Cory Sullivan as well; that it's less than a sure thing put the question of whether he was worth getting at this price into reasonable doubt.

*: Since Andorra already has its first professional baseball player (Aroldis Chapman), I suggest Matthews might be best employed by one of the other noxious Euro-banking bandit statelets, say, Liechtenstein. Recent crackdowns on tax sheltering and Russian mob accounts or no, wouldn't you still want to sock away your paydays in the Alps? That would certainly make Matthews an appropriate mercenary addition to a club that plays in Citi(zens' Corporate Shakedown) Field, because publicly-funded ballparks named in respect for the suggestion of superior private industry competence seems so delightfully symbolic and disconnected with reality as is.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RHP Joe Blanton on a three-year, $24 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/21]
Agreed to terms with CF-S Shane Victorino on a three-year, $22 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/22]

A million here, a million there, and it all starts to add up, but the Phillies have bought out the last year of Blanton's arbitration eligibility plus the last two Victorino had, so that's sensible enough. Victorino's deal won't get much argument from me: buying out the arbitration years plus his first year of free agency seems like a good bet, given that these will be his age-29 through age-31 seasons, and near-term projections convey a certain reliability in terms of his comparables and ability to stay around the same level. A playable center fielder who can chip in an EqA of .270 or better at the least is a good thing to have around, even if he loses ground in terms of his production at the plate over the life of the contract. After that last season, the Phillies can re-evaluate. Maybe Tyson Gillies will be ready by then, maybe not, but that's related to my next point.

Given the $7 million he's due in 2010, Blanton's now making just $2 million less than Cliff Lee stands to make as a Mariner, and there isn't much cause to believe that Blanton will deliver Lee-like quality. Purportedly Blanton's relative untradeability was because it was expected that he'd cost around this much via arbitration, which says something about lower expectations, and also how much value the Phillies surrendered in dealing Lee. Affording Victorino for three seasons certainly puts a dent in the proposition that Gillies is going to be an answer to any outfield issues towards the end of those three years, which more solidly places responsibility for delivering on the deal any time sooner than that on Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez. Maybe that pans out, but I've already enlisted among the doubters, taking as a given what they gave up in Lee.

To his credit, Blanton's durable, and his improved strikeout rate in the National League (and especially his slight gain in swinging strikes generated) doesn't owe only a little to the benefit of facing pitchers at the plate; even taking opposing pitchers' flailing out, he set a career high in his strikeout rate, and whether he's achieving that through fair means or foul (on BP's internal listserv, at least one colleague noted Blanton's being spotted with pine tar on his cap), that's still translating into outs in a tough park. His SNLVAR has bounced from his 2007 high-water mark of 6.0 to 3.3 in 2008 back up to 4.3 last season; for the sake of comparison, Lee was at 8.1 in 2008 and 7.7 last year, Cole Hamels was at 7.0 and 3.8, and J.A. Happ was a 5.4 last season. A track record that comes with durability and some improvement has value, so while he's no Cliff Lee, he's a reasonable enough proposition as a third starter if you compare the expense of employing him to, say, the much more more speculative Brad Penny ($7.5 million) or Vicente Padilla (just over $5 million).

It's taking that out a couple of years where there's a little more faith invested, especially since Blanton's probably already achieved the extent of any upside he has. Retaining him isn't really the issue, as much as his presence and this commitment represents the upshot of the misstep made with Lee. The Phillies will remain the favorite in the division, certainly, but what they surrendered was a better shot at another crown, not merely another exercise in thwarting the Mets and Braves.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed C-R Steve Holm and RHPs Craig Whitaker, Osiris Matos, Eric Hacker, and Santiago Casilla to minor-league contracts. [1/21]
Signed C-R Bengie Molina to a one-year, $4.5 million contract; designated 1B-R Jesus Guzman for assignment. [1/22]

In what might seem like the latest semi-disappointing development, the Giants decided to spend a goodly chunk of change on Molina, presumably to push Buster Posey's eventual arrival back towards some point in the second half, if not all the way into 2011. This might not seem like really good news, but it's a reliable feature of Brian Sabean's teams to sign up available mediocrities, and let's be fair, Molina certainly is better than some. It's easy to decry the expense if you put it in the context of what they might have spent on better options at some of their now-stocked positions; I'll keep going back to the early-offseason handout for Freddy Sanchez, especially with Orlando Hudson's price dropping and with Mark DeRosa's subsequent signing. The money spent on Aubrey Huff seems wasted as well. But even without those sorts of comparisons, I find re-upping Molina's relatively defensible. Having a veteran placeholder in case Posey isn't ready seems sensible enough, especially since Eli Whiteside is never going to be an everyday option. It's only a one-year deal, so whether Posey proves ready to go by April or July, they can bring him up and split the playing down the stretch easily enough. If anyone gets hurt, they have depth. If Posey's really ready and Molina gripes about starting only two or three games a week, his contract's brevity and value is such that he wouldn't be untradeable.

It's easy to flagellate Molina for what he isn't or shouldn't be: a cleanup hitter, for example, or because he's a guy who doesn't walk all that much. With the current shored-up roster, however, I'd expect that he'll wind up much lower in the order, so we shouldn't blame him for what he was asked to do last year. No, he doesn't walk, but his EqA for a catcher has been around the MLB-wide average in the low .250s for five of the last six years. It's easy to see how it could be worse, too: Omir Santos, anybody? Or Jason Kendall? If Posey's blocked, at most he's blocked for a year, but if Posey's as good as we expect, he'll play his way into a job-sharing arrangement at the very least, in the way that a prospect's performance can have a way of setting its own timetable.


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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

oira61

Oakland Athletics trade Grant Desme to God for future considerations.

When looked at this way, you gotta like this deal. A new stadium? Or perhaps all their runners just touch home.

Jan 22, 2010 16:56 PM
rating: 22
 
dianagram

Reminds me of this goodie ...

Two ninety year old men, Moe and Sam, have been friends all their lives.

It seems that Sam is dying of cancer, and Moe comes to visit him every day.

"Sam," says Moe, "You know how we have both loved baseball all our lives, and how we played minor league ball together for so many years. Sam, you have to do me one favor. When you get to Heaven, and I know you will go to Heaven, somehow you've got to let me know if there's baseball in Heaven."

Sam looks up at Moe from his death bed, and says, "Moe, you've been my best friend many years. This favor, if it is at all possible, I'll do for you."

And shortly after that, Sam passes on.

It is midnight a couple of nights later. Moe is sound asleep when he is awakened by a blinding flash of white light and a voice calls out to
him, "Moe.... Moe...."

"Who is it?" says Moe sitting up suddenly. "Who is it?"

"Moe, it's me , Sam."

"Come on. You're not Sam. Sam just died."

I'm telling you," insists the voice. "It's me, Sam!"

"Sam? Is that you? Where are you?"

"I'm in heaven," says Sam, "and I've got to tell you, I've got really good news and a little bad news."

"So, tell me the good news first," says Moe.

"The good news," says Sam "is that there is baseball in heaven. Better yet, all our old buddies who've gone before us are there. Better yet, we're all young men again. Better yet, it's always spring time and it never rains or snows. And best of all, we can play baseball all we want, and we never get tired!"

"Really?" says Moe, "That is fantastic, wonderful beyond my wildest dreams! But, what's the bad news?"

"You're pitching next Tuesday".

Jan 22, 2010 20:13 PM
rating: 18
 
Dodger300

"You're pitching next Tuesday".

Sorry, Dianagram, but you messed up the punch line. It is supposed to be:

"You're pitching AGAINST us next Tuesday."

Jan 23, 2010 05:34 AM
rating: 2
 
dianagram

Would the future considerations possibly be Ryan Church? (rimshot)

Jan 22, 2010 20:15 PM
rating: -1
 
dianagram

You know what the really sad thing about this is ... Desme had been selected by A's with compensation pick after they lost Barry Zito to free agency. Somehow I don't think they're gonna get a compensation pick this time.

Jan 22, 2010 20:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I guess I find this slightly ironic, if only in a personal vein; for my MA thesis, given my enduring interest in organizational behavior, I studied priestly formation and changes to one seminary's curriculum during and immediately after Vatican II, a time of immense possibility and change. Through that work, I got to meet and know a number of the men who embarked upon the priesthood here in Chicago in the mid to late '60s. Between their active interest in reforming the Church, in urban ministry and a more engaged brand of parish pristhood, even down to reading and debating the works of Nikos Kazantzakis or those who argued for marriage for priests or contraception as a valid choice, and then seeing how, subsequently, so many of them lived up to their calling... whatever my own (many) disagreements with the Church, I found them then and find them now admirable, as I find Desme's decision one due every measure respect.

As an A's fan, I'm chagrined of course, but them's small apples in the grand scheme of things. Here's hoping Desme's not just happy in answering his calling, but that he does the kind of good works in the world that folk of faith can do.

Jan 23, 2010 10:57 AM
 
amazin_mess

Can I call into work for being "sick of Omar Minaya"?

Jan 22, 2010 17:01 PM
rating: 18
 
Benjamin Harris

+1 for the name.

Jan 22, 2010 17:16 PM
rating: 2
 
sunpar

Fine, Pagan takes Beltran's spot. So who take's Frenchy's spot if he opens 2010 like he did 2009? Or if Bay needs a short stay on the DL? And like you said, he's probably an improvement over Jeremy Reed and Cory Sullivan-- and I doubt the Mets want to try bringing up Frenando Martinez as a fill-in again.

This move was undoubtedly a reaction to Beltran's knee operation, and a team like the Mets probably have the money to spend a cool million on a Jeremy Reed upgrade. Not to mention the marginal revenue impact of being able to sell more tickets based on the ability to tell less knowledgeable fans "hey, we're going to replace Beltran with someone who had 50 RBI last year, makes more than $10M a year, and we're only paying $1M for it!"

Trust me, I live in NY, all the calls into the talk radio stations on Monday will be about A) the Jets and B) how maybe the Mets season isn't yet lost because they got a guy who can get 100 RBI in a full time role.

To me, it seems like a low risk, low reward, high public relations move.

Jan 22, 2010 19:03 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

The problem is that he's only "probably" an improvement; Reed struggled in a pinch-hitting and part-time role, while Sullivan outplayed Matthews. Maybe Matthews can get back close to an average EqA (.260), still poor for a reserve, but even that's less than certain, given his age and woeful play in recent seasons. If anyone makes a ticket-purchase decision on whether or not the Mets have Gary Matthews Jr., I'd suggest it's a move whose only fruit will be even more bitterness on top of last season's heaping helping.

Jan 23, 2010 11:22 AM
 
dianagram

The bitter fruit last year was the "Big Apple" in CF, which was rarely seen rising behind the wall due to the lack of homers.

I fear the same "bad harvest" this year.

Jan 24, 2010 06:00 AM
rating: 1
 
Ira

Lets start by saying I'm not a Met fan. But I like this move for the Mets. Sure, you aren't going to get much from GMJ, but there's virtually 0 risk. If he still stinks, you cut him and you lose $2 million and Brian Stokes, who is no one's idea of a future star.

Personally, I'm surprised MLB let this one go through. That's a lot of money changing hands. I can't remember a trade that involved that much cash since the A-Rod trade.

Jan 26, 2010 10:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Depending on your POV on whether that's a good or a bad thing, Bud Selig's not Bowie Kuhn. Letting the consenting adults do as they please seems like a change for the better, even when it means Little Sarge is in the picture.

Jan 26, 2010 14:00 PM
 
rweiler

The disappointing part is that in the very few opportunities he has been given, Steve Holm put up decent OBP's, though he throws out virtually no runners attempting to steal. It's not clear to me that the Giants couldn't have gotten by with Holm for 1/2 year leaving $4m free. Also, Freddy Sanchez will apparently start the year on the DL which doesn't bode well for him being comeback player of the year.

Jan 22, 2010 19:04 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Holm's production has slacked off as he's ceased to be a much older man in younger leagues. He was 26 in the Cal League in 2006, and 27 in Double-A in 2007. Last year, he got squashed in the PCL, and his 100 big-league PAs aren't exactly enough to go on as a substantive endorsement. You might prefer him to Eli Whiteside, but he's not the next Ryan Hanigan.

Jan 23, 2010 11:27 AM
 
Richie

Given the relative unimportance of starting pitching in the 'Secret Sauce', isn't it about time you folks stop writing about how losing Lee really hurts the Phillies' chances in post-season? You've got a boatload of research stating it really doesn't. Or are you going to stop hyping the 'Secret Sauce' come October?

Jan 22, 2010 21:06 PM
rating: -1
 
oira61

Is this true? I hadn't been following this. Can somebody from BP respond?

Jan 23, 2010 06:32 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=5541

I'm the last person to suggest that any trend for postseason success is a reflection of an immutable, unbreakable law of baseball, but you might accept my suggestion of the obvious: Cliff Lee's a first-rank power pitcher.

Jan 23, 2010 11:39 AM
 
Brian Cartwright

Every once in a while when I click on BP, I get a front page loaded from some past season, but a click on 'refresh' brings me back to the present day. (One time all the Puck Prospectus blurbs were in Finnish!).

So when I went to mlb.com's transactions and saw the Rockies had signed Paul LoDuca and Jay Payton, I kept checking the dates on the page to make sure I wasn't in some similar temporal anamoly. But no, it was indeed 2010.

Jan 23, 2010 00:44 AM
rating: 17
 
ElAngelo
(942)

Sadly, your restriction on non-Euro nations rules out the Most Serene Republic of San Marino.

Jan 24, 2010 05:46 AM
rating: 0
 
Rider11

I'd add Jeff Weaver to the "Duncan Miracle" pile (and I'll remind everyone that Jason Marquis was not good enough to make the Cardinals postseason roster when he was there, and we were plenty glad to be rid of him by the end of his stint). As a Cardinals fan, I'm hoping that the Duncan mojo rubs off on Brad Penny - who will undoubtedly sign next year with a team that will pay him too much money for too many years. Viva Duncan!

Jan 24, 2010 15:32 PM
rating: 0
 
bugbear

Christina--the accusations of pine tar usage by Blanton are old news. Joe Maddon had the umps check it out during the 2008 World Series, and they found nothing: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20081026&content_id=3646145&vkey=ps2008news&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

According to Blanton, it's just dirt and sweat. While there's no way to say for sure it's 100% legal, besides the fact that he'd be pretty stupid to show it off so blatantly, I can verify from watching his starts that he sweats a ton and then tends to then touch the brim of his cap a lot in the darkened areas.

Jan 24, 2010 21:10 PM
rating: 1
 
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