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December 9, 2011
Wrapping Up the Winter Meetings UPDATED TWICE
Signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year, $3 million contract. [12/7]
Depending on your perspective, Hawkins has either terrible or fantastic timing. If he hoped to make a splash by signing with the Angels—well, he’d have had to have been delusional, for one thing, since he’s, you know, LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins himself tweeted yesterday that he’s “Been riding stealth mode [his] whole career.” That’s a generous way to put it—it’s not as if Hawkins was hiding his greatness and deserved to be a bigger name—but if he intended to deactivate his cloaking device and start making headlines at the age of 39, he signed with the wrong team at the wrong time. On the other hand, if he wanted to give himself another shot at an elusive first World Series title, he could have done worse than making his ninth major-league team the one that was about to sign the best hitter and pitcher on the market. Then again, maybe we’re selling Hawkins short and the sequence of events actually went something like this:
DiPoto: We’d like an answer, Albert. We’ve offered you $254 million. Plus incentives. And we caved on the full no-trade clause.
Save for a dominant three-season stretch early last decade for the Twins and Cubs, Hawkins has been a fairly unremarkable reliever (not that there’s anything wrong with that). That’s likely what he’ll be again in 2012. His 70- and 80-inning seasons are long behind him; these days, he’s more of a 40-50-inning guy who can be counted on to hit the DL once or twice a year. Don’t be deceived by that shiny ERA from last season; only one of Hawkins’ flies left the yard last season, and while he’s moving to a more favorable park where fly balls are concerned, that kind of home run rate can’t be sustained. Still, he doesn’t walk many batters, and he keeps the ball on the ground more than most—more than all but six other pitchers last season, actually, though that kind of worm-burning was a bit out of character. As a primary setup man, Hawkins is a stretch, but he won’t hurt the Angels while he’s out there. The question is how often he’ll be out there.—Ben Lindbergh
I’ll keep this brief, since the thought of Eveland in the AL East is making me sad. When you just turned 28 and you’re deemed dispensable because your team just signed Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, it’s safe to say that your stock isn’t especially high. Eveland’s doesn’t really deserve to be. After 360 1/3 innings in the majors, all but 44 2/3 of them spent in the NL, in a pitcher’s park, or in both, the chunky lefty has a 5.52 ERA and a walk rate almost as high as his meager strikeout rate. He held his own in an unfavorable environment at Albuquerque last season, then ended a two-season sub-one K:BB streak by striking out more batters than he walked in his five September starts for the Dodgers.
This is the fifth trade in which Eveland has been involved, so it’s clear that teams keep seeing something in him. It’s also clear that they stop seeing whatever it was as soon as they get him up close. Eveland gets grounders and might do as a back-end option for an NL team with some innings to eat, but for the O’s, he won’t be much better than minor-league depth, which can be had without giving up prospects, however unpromising. If he actually breaks camp with Baltimore, a combination of Camden Yards and his AL East opponents will conspire to send him packing again before long.–Ben Lindbergh
Signed RHP Octavio Dotel to a one-year, $3 million contract.
The type of fan who detests ostentatious mound celebrations would do well to avoid the late innings of Tigers games next season, since the demonstrative Dotel will be setting up tor the undisputed champion of sky-pointing, fist-pumping, and chest-beating, Jose Valverde. To the extent that he’ll have a defined role, Dotel will most likely be the “seventh-inning guy” in front of both Valverde and Joaquin Benoit, giving Detroit an enviable array of right-handed relievers (with Al Alburquerque also in the mix).
Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth don’t offer quite the same sort of dominance from the left side, and Dotel certainly doesn’t help against southpaws. Left-handed hitters tattooed him to the tune of a .302 TAv last season, while he limited righties to a meager .168 mark. That’s not a new development—the weighted multi-season splits on his player card reveal the same massive divide (.312 TAv vs. LHB, .200 TAv vs. RHB). In fact, Dotel’s righty-lefty platoon split is actually the largest of any active pitcher with at least 500 innings pitched:
The lesson of that table (aside from the fact that Ricky Romero is weird) is that Dotel shouldn’t face lefties. (Unfortunately, Jose Valverde has the same problem to a slightly lesser degree, which makes Tigers righties quite vulnerable to their opposite-handed opponents). Perhaps that’s why Dotel is so well-traveled; while his overall numbers are good, his lopsided platoon performance limits how his managers can use him. The Tigers will be Dotel’s 13th team, which will move him into a tie with Matt Stairs for the most ever. If you count the Expos and Nationals as a single entity, Stairs moves down to 12 and Dotel takes the top spot.
Dotel pitched very well down the stretch last season, posting a 6.5-plus K:BB ratio for the Cardinals in over 30 July-October innings. There’s no chance that he’ll sustain a walk rate below two per nine innings next season, and his fastball no longer touches 95, but his lofty strikeout rate is still intact. At 38, Dotel has yet to suffer a performance decline, so it’s easy to see why new teams keep signing up for his services, especially when he's available for the same price as LaTroy Hawkins.—Ben Lindbergh
In a trade that is a tribute to just how much can go wrong in drafting, scouting, and player development, the Rockies dealt a pair of former top-ten picks to the Cubs in third baseman Ian Stewart and right-handed reliever Casey Weathers for another former first-rounder in outfielder/first-baseman Tyler Colvin, as well as former second-rounder D.J. Lemahieu.
Based on the current roster, Stewart will be given every opportunity to be the Cubs’ third baseman, but that's been the case for him in Colorado in each of the last four years, and he's yet to stick. The 10th overall pick in 2003, Stewart quickly became a big name in the prospect world by winning South Atlantic League MVP honors with a .319/.398/.594 campaign in his first full season, but that performance took place in Asheville, the most hitter-friendly park in Low-A, and he never slugged over .500 again until half a season in 2008 despite playing in high-octane environments all the way up the ladder.
He's still a solid, if unspectacular defender at third base, and he has the power to hit 20-25 home runs per year, but it's going to come at a cost, as his career strikeout rate in the big leagues is one per 3.1 at-bats. Since he'll be 27 in April with nearly 1500 big-league plate appearances behind him, it's hard to expect a sudden turnaround. He's Mark Reynolds with more defensive chops, but again, he's the only third baseman the Cubs have for now.
Weathers represents the risk in taking that college closer who is expected to move quickly and assume a late-inning role. The eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft, Weathers has yet to make the big leagues; instead of making his major-league debut as expected in 2009, he had Tommy John surgery. He was a fun scouting story, as he came up as an outfielder and didn't take the mound until he won a bet with another position player over who could throw harder. Command and control has always been an issue with Weathers, and like many Tommy John survivors, Weathers has gone backwards in those areas since the procedure. He features closer-level velocity, but his slider is not as sharp as it once was, and after walking 48 over 45.2 innings in 2011, all the Cubs can do is send him to Iowa and hope for more strikes, which we've never seen out of him as a professional. The velocity at least gives you something to dream on.
There are no winners here, except maybe the players themselves with new opportunities in new locations. No team benefits greatly from this deal, but the former brightness of the names involved gives the trade more attention than it probably deserves.—Kevin Goldstein
Acquired OF/1B-L Tyler Colvin and 2B-R D.J. LeMahieu from the Cubs for 3B-L Ian Stewart and P-R Casey Weathers. [12/8]
No team is more active on the trade market right now than the Rockies. Dan O’Dowd is taking the phrase “reshuffle the deck” seriously. After moving Chris Iannetta and Huston Street, then adding Kevin Slowey, O’Dowd now acquires Colvin and LeMahieu.
Colvin took the league by surprise in 2010, batting .254/.316/.500 with 20 homers in fewer than 400 plate appearances before a broken bat impaled his chest and ended his season. The warm feelings surrounding his freshman season dissipated quickly in 2011, as he barely managed a higher OPS (509) than his previous year’s slugging percentage.
There is no denying that Colvin has power potential or is an excellent athlete. Still, with a career minor-league on-base percentage of .315 and a 26th birthday under his belt, he has reached the crossroads where his tools must yield results. Colvin has issues making contact, hitting lefties, and taking walks, thus limiting his upside to at best a Laynce Nix type. He might mash righties and play a good right field, but he’ll never be a regular.
More intriguing than Colvin’s future is what his acquisition means for the rest of the Rockies’ outfielders. The Braves have shown interest in Seth Smith—a lefty, like Colvin—and Ryan Spilborghs is a non-tender candidate. That leaves Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Charlie Blackmon, Cole Garner, and recent waiver claim Jamie Hoffmann in addition to Colvin on the 40-man roster. However, given how liquid the Rockies’ roster has been so far this winter, a lot could change between now and Opening Day.—R.J. Anderson
Colvin is the third first-rounder in the deal, but that's a bit of a technicality, as he was projected as more of a supplemental first-rounder in 2006 but went 13th overall as part of a larger gambit that involved giving fifth-rounder Jeff Samardzija a ridiculous amount of money to steer him away from an NFL career. That hasn't exactly worked out, and neither has Colvin. Now limited to first base or a corner outfield slot as his athleticism slips with age, Colvin is (or was) yet another Cub with a horrible approach, which limits his ability to tap into his power. He's not nearly as good as his 2010 campaign, when he slugged .500, nor as bad as the 2011 disaster, but his ceiling is that of a bench outfielder.
The only non-first-round pick in the deal was a bit of a surprise as a second-round selection in 2009, but Tim Wilken has always been an iconic evaluator of talent. The rare infielder who couldn't stick at shortstop even in college, LeMahieu now splits time between second and third, and while he's fundamentally sound, he's not rangy at either position and has trouble turning the double play. His value lies in his hitting ability, but only in the purest sense, as his secondary skills are poor across the board, forcing him to hit for a high average to be of value. At best, he's a utility player down the road, but like Stewart, he'll earn a shot at the everyday third base job with his new team. In Colorado, that simply means keeping the spot warm until Nolan Arenado is ready.—Kevin Goldstein
Traded LHP Dana Eveland to the Orioles for LHP Jarret Martin and RF-R Tyler Henson. [12/8]
An 18th-round pick in 2009 out of a California junior college, Martin had an ERA of close to five in 2011, as he split time between starting and relieving while searching for success in either role. An impressive physical presence with good arm strength, Martin has above-average velocity for a southpaw, but he has plenty of work to do. His delivery is complicated and difficult to repeat, which leads to control issues, and both his breaking ball and changeup are below average.
A 2006 fifth-round pick out of an Oklahoma high school, Henson came up as an infielder but was never a fit defensively, so now he's an outfielder without enough bat. He has some doubles power and decent athleticism, but as a right-right outfielder, he'll need to turn things around dramatically just to be a fifth.—Kevin Goldstein
Signed Alex Gonzalez to a one-year contract. [12/8]
Having endured a season of Yuniesky Betancourt and his .271 OBP, the Brewers decided never to do that again. Instead, they signed Alex Gonzalez and his .270 OBP. Gonzalez is one of the few players in recent years who’s lasted for any length of time with on-base skills as bad as Betancourt’s; his career OBP is also one point below Betancourt’s .292, so there might be a touch of Stockholm Syndrome at work here. Like Betancourt, Gonzalez is a free swinger with some pop. He walks a bit more than Betancourt—to borrow some language from H.M.S. Pinafore, Betancourt walks never, while Gonzalez walks hardly ever—but he also makes less contact. Over the course of his career, Gonzalez has accumulated 0.96 WARP per 600 PA; Betancourt has managed only 0.71. Upgrade!
Betancourt made $4.3 million last season and would have made $6 million in 2012 had the Brewers accepted his option; instead, they paid a hefty $2 million for the privilege of cutting him loose. The terms of Gonzalez’s deal haven’t yet been announced, but he made $2.5 million last season and can expect something similar, so the Brewers will probably end up spending approximately what they did on their shortstop last season for the same sort of offensive production.
The difference is that Gonzalez can field. His superb FRAA totals from the past two seasons—11.0 and 10.7, respectively—probably overstate the case, since defensive skills don’t typically improve with age and Gonzalez is pushing 35. Still, after 13 big-league seasons, he’s in the black overall (if only by a few runs), which is far more than Betancourt (-39.9 FRAA) can say. The Brewers ranked 15th overall in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency last season (although they performed pretty well in the groundball BABIP department), so improving their play in the field seems like the path of least resistance as they seek to offset the loss of Prince Fielder. Brewers pitchers will appreciate the gesture, even if Gonzalez’s appearances at the plate make Brewers fans feel like they’re reliving one of the least enjoyable aspects of last season.—Ben Lindbergh
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson