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February 3, 2010

Transaction Action

The 10,000 Arms of Dr. T.

by Christina Kahrl

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Joe Nelson to a minor-league contract. [2/1]

I guess it's a good thing the Fish are still ruing the day they non-tendered the great Joe Nelson. As much as he's root-worthy for fighting his way back from multiple surgeries, let's face it, he's a soft-tossing right-hander with durability issues. A neat year as a 33-year-old second-rank reliever on a second-rank ballclub in 2008 isn't somebody you rely on too heavily; his 3.68 FRA in 2008 with the Marlins was nice, his 5.83 FRA with the Rays a reminder that he's more a Quad-A back-end type, more the new De Wayne Buice Lite than the new Doug Jones. For the Red Sox, he's potentially useful staff filler, but he doesn't deserve any extra consideration trying to stand out from among rivals like the re-imported Scott Atchison, a recovering Boof Bonser, one Ramon Ramirez too many, waivers jetsam Robert Manuel, Jorge Sosa, or Fernando Cabrera. As is, five pen jobs seem to be already set, and a sixth might go to Tim Wakefield. A crowd of alternatives for the seventh isn't a bad thing, but all of these guys will be struggling with the fact that none of them are left-handed, and if Brian Shouse does whatever he needs to, their efforts may be moot as far as avoiding a future with the PawSox.


MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHPs Derrick Turnbow and Jose Veras to minor-league deals. [1/29]
Signed RHP Seth McClung to a minor-league contract. [2/2]

All three of the most-recently minted Fish have had their moments in big-league bullpens, all of them have reputations as hard throwers, and any one or all three of them could be the latest retread success stories with the Fish. Turnbow lost time to a slightly torn labrum in '08, and got cut loose by the Rangers' organization early in May last year after asking for his release, and did not pitch for the remainder of the season. McClung is a gargantuan utility pitcher of sorts; he was plugged into a starting role with the Brewers in 2008 to middling results (1.5 SNLVAR and five QS in 12 turns), and chipped in a little as a reliever to good effect (0.673 WXRL) that same season before struggling in 2009 (0.308).

The Marlins' approach to staffing their pen, taking it on faith that they'll be able to cobble something together, has served them reasonably well in recent seasons:


     Pen                    MLB        MLB        MLB
Year  IP   SV+HLD BS  WXRL Rank   ARP Rank  FRAr Rank  "Stars"
2007 586.2  153   25  8.81   15  43.3   12  4.34   12   Gregg, Gardner, Lindstrom, Tankersley
2008 519.1  125   25  7.90   14  22.9   14  4.44   12   Lindstrom, Pinto, Gregg, Rhodes
2009 543.1  147   24  8.32   14  17.7   20  4.44   16   Lindstrom, Calero, Meyer, Nunez

FRAr: Fair Run Average, relievers only

Churn isn't a whole lot of fun to talk up as a virtue for its own sake, but in an industry where expensive mistakes get made on relief pitching, the Marlins have been the definition of dull probity, treating relievers as fungible without getting a whole lot of sabermetric street cred for their troubles, and yet consistently delivering an adequate bullpen cobbled together from relievers of little note before (or after). I don't think their world's going to end with Matt Lindstrom's dispatch, any more than it did when Kevin Gregg was traded, or Arthur Lee Rhodes. Instead, you can expect them to sift through their latest collection of interesting pegs, and whether this year's relief heroes are add-ons via trade (Leo Nunez, Renyel Pinto, Jose Ceda, Hunter Jones), or discards like Dan Meyer or McClung or Turnbow or Brian Sanches, or even the rare homegrown product like Tim Wood or Ryan Tucker, if there's one thing I'm reasonably confident about, it's not about any one of those guys, it's that the Fish will wind up with a thoroughly OK bullpen.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed UT-S Alfredo Amezaga to a minor-league contract. [2/2]

Well, it wasn't going to be just a litany of non-roster relief reinforcements, veteran stand-arounds, and 10th-slot aspirants. Federal law requires the mention of at least one position player in any conversation of baseball, and I'm big on inclusiveness. If signing Reed Johnson was bad news for, say, Jason Repko, the addition of Amezaga hardly helps matters as far as any kind of job security for the half-dozen men among the position players contending for the last two jobs on the bench. As a utilityman with plenty of experience in the outfield and infield, Amezaga's a veteran who might represent a twin threat: to Repko's being rostered, and to Blake DeWitt's even getting to stick around in a platoon role if Ronnie Belliard keeps his weight under control. If Belliard wins the second-base job outright, DeWitt might be the one headed to the Isotopes instead of Repko, but consider what's set for the boys in blue:


Locked In
Catchers: Russell Martin, Brad Ausmus
Infield: James Loney, Belliard, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Jamey Carroll
Outfield: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Johnson
---
Contestants for Two 25-Man Spots
On the 40-man: DeWitt (2B/3B), Repko (OF), Xavier Paul (OF), Chin-Lung Hu (MI)
NRI Rivals: Doug Mientkiewicz (4C), Nick Green (INF), Amezaga (UT)

At this point, Hu's bid for a job seems about as likely as A.J. Ellis' is as far as sticking around as a third catcher, so I really see the fight among the current crew to be down to Minky, Paul, DeWitt, and Amezaga trying to show value as lefty bats from the bench as well as part-time pieces at their positions, while Repko and Minky both have to show that they're healthy to merit consideration. There are still plenty of variables in play: Belliard's weight, injuries in camp, and no doubt somebody's going to hit well enough to make the decision difficult. Even so, Torre likes his veterans, and I'd figure that's going to help Minky, Green, and Amezaga considerably.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Jose Contreras to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [1/27]

The addition of the big Cuban was long anticipated, but only lately achieved consummation, not unlike the plot line of any one of a few dozen unmemorable television serials; whether Moonlighting or Remington Steele or Cheers or Who's the Boss or House, you know it's coming, getting there's usually equal parts tedium and farce, and the exercise is really more a matter of making you care in the meantime. Happily, the addition of Contreras really is worth caring about. The big, slow-working Cuban seems as likely a candidate as any to build up a nice third act on his career as a pitcher as an unflappable, following his Bronx blowout and the Chicago championship years with a relief spin. He works with maddening deliberation, alternating purposeful pauses to outright dawdling, which makes for a nice mix of showmanship and a more indolent brand of initiative. He's used to working in small parks, having succeeded in the Cell, so CBP shouldn't be too frightening. And if, unlike Chan Ho Park, he's philosophical about a future without a shot at starting, that's sort of a nice relief from Park's inability to accept the obvious. He looked good in a brief spin in the Rockies' pen, and while he's been a high-maintenance pitcher in the past, requiring repeated overhauls of his mechanics, he's also had his high points. The money's a bit rich, but Contreras could prove to be an excellent addition.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHPs Steven Jackson and Anthony Claggett to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [1/27]
Released RHP Yoslan Herrera. [1/29]


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RHP Brian Wilson on a one-year, $4.4375 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/30]
Signed RHP Byung-Hyun Kim and LHP Horacio Ramirez to minor-league contracts. [2/1]

Kim's now two years removed from being a big-leaguer, so it's interesting that he's making the attempt to come back, but he is only 31 years old, so why not? As is, he's already far outlasted the psychic trauma from the 2001 World Series; some sportswriters asserted he was done there and then, and devil take the two years' worth of good pitching that followed for ruining a tidy flat assertion about mortal blows involving the beloved Captain doing his smirky victory thing.* Kim limped through this proof of his utter vincibility by ranking seventh among all big-league relievers in WXRL in 2002.

Of course, that was when the real problem seemed to crop up: Kim wanted to be a starter. It was a bit unconventional, since he's a sidearmer with predictable platoon issues, but with Matt Mantei returning for his last extended bit of health, the Snakes accommodated him. Kim didn't disappoint, giving them four quality starts in seven while dealing with some shoulder troubles. They decided to flip him to the Red Sox for Shea Hillenbrand; with Pedro Martinez disabled at that point, the Red Sox were initially willing to leave Kim in the rotation, and he gave them three quality starts in five, but by the end of June Grady Little's hamfisted handling of the bullpen-by-committee approach to relief chores demanded a conventional solution, so who better than Kim? Maybe it was hemlock in the bitter cup of despair from that World Series, because Kim fell, fell, fell... all to the 35th-best reliever in baseball for the Sox in half a season. He'd also managed to generate 1.9 SNLVAR in 12 starts. Unfortunately, shoulder and ankle issues hampered him down the stretch, he was left off of the post-season roster, and he was unable to contribute in the postseason to the Sox team that had to settle for an ALCS lost to the Yankees.

Perhaps at long last from those who foresaw Kim's doom early on, things generally got worse for Kim from that point forwards. After an injury-plagued 2004 season, Kim caught on with the Rockies as part of a dodgy salary swap involving making Charles Johnson disappear. There, he logged his last extended stretch in a big-league bullpen for any real length of time during the first half of the 2005 season; that didn't go well, so the Rockies moved him into the rotation, where he was again useful (2.0 SNLVAR in 22 starts). He milked another two years out of his career from there, but with declining effectiveness (1.7 SNLVAR in 27 starts for the Rockies in 2006, 1.2 SNLVAR with the Marlins after ugly brief spins with the Rox and Snakes). Cut by the Pirates in camp in 2008, he "retired" to the land of his birth.

It'll be interesting to see what role the Giants slot him into. He hasn't had any sort of success in a big-league bullpen since 2003, and it's hard to envision his being anything more than a survivable alternative in the fifth slot. His platoon splits late in his big-league career were getting fairly ridiculous for him to have much value as anything more than a spot starter against right-leaning lineups. Will he still be able to embarrass right-handed hitters? Or will he merely be a Fresno curiosity? It's another one of those interesting little camp stories worth following.

Less exciting is Horacio Ramirez. Maybe it's because the Giants already have Alex Hinshaw and Dan Runzler sparring for the right to be second lefties behind Jeremy Affeldt in the 2010 pen, but Ramirez at most represents veteran insurance against neither being ready. That's not the worst idea, and it's been signed at the right level of commitment. Say what you will about Brian Sabean, but he didn't repeat Dayton Moore's mistake of giving Ramirez a guaranteed deal and watching $1.8 million go up in smoke.

*: Brad Lidge similarly spoiled that sort of commentary about the 2005 shot hit by Albert Pujols off of him by earning a ring in 2008; of course he also achieved the single-worst closer season ever. I think it's safe to say that the less we pretend to know about player psychology, the better off we are.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Miguel Batista to a minor-league contract. [1/29]

The once-touted utility pitcher extraordinaire has seen his last big deal close with that label in tatters, but the Nats are reportedly interested in looking at him as an alternative for the back end of the rotation. He was a modest rotation asset as recently as 2007, posting a SNLVAR of 4.2 in his first year with the Mariners; that was on the heels of a filler year with the Snakes (3.4 SNLVAR), but fell to the very definition of replacement-level uselessness in 2008. He was awful as a pen man for the Mariners in both '08 (after losing his rotation job) and '09, with a combined WXRL of -1.8 in 95 IP as a reliever, but was nevertheless used in high-leverage situations. That's not all that surprising; his 30-save season in 2005 was somewhat miserable, because while he might have gotten to wear the closer's cape, he was perhaps the fourth-best reliever the Jays had behind Jason Frasor, Vinnie Chulk, and Justin Speier, and really not much better than situational southpaw Scott Schoeneweis.

Taken that checkered record of occasional utility, I can't say I'm wild about the possibilities. While Batista's coming to the easier league, he's already below average in terms of both his walk and strikeout rates, and as a starter those rates figure to get worse, not better. He's also leaving behind the benefit of a great defense and a pitcher's park. His track record as a reliever has been awful of late, and you have to go back to 2005 to find adequacy. At this level of non-roster non-commitment, he's not the least-worthy member of the rogue's gallery Jim Riggleman will get to pick two or three starters from beyond Jason Marquis, John Lannan, and perhaps Stephen Strasburg. If he's in the bullpen mix, it's little better than a repeat of the Julian Tavarez experience, a self-inflicted bit of blunt trauma.


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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