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January 5, 2012

Transaction Analysis

A Trio of Signings

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-S Coco Crisp to a two-year deal worth $14 million with a club option for the 2014 season. [1/3]

Crisp becomes the A’s highest-paid player and the sixth player on their roster with a salary of more than $1 million (Brandon McCarthy will be the seventh once his arbitration case is settled). Barring another trade or two, Oakland’s payroll is going to sit between $30 and $40 million, a considerable decline from their 2011 Opening Day figure of over $65 million. Such a drop is similar to the one Tampa Bay underwent entering last season, when the Players Association made disapproving public comments:

We can't say that we're happy with that," Michael Weiner told reporters Saturday, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Weiner was visiting Rays camp as part of the MLBPA's annual spring training tour of the clubs. "We will monitor through the commissioner's office everything that's happening with the franchise, how they're using their revenue sharing proceeds, whether they're complying with our contract.

Expect similar comments regarding Oakland if Crisp is the last meaningful addition. But enough about the money—What about the player? Crisp’s .264/.314/.379 slash line last season resembled Terrence Long’s career mark in Oaktown, but fantastic fielding and baserunning resulted in a 3.2 Wins Above Replacement Player score. Add in Crisp’s surprising durability and the best hair in the major leagues, and the A’s had every reason to be pleased with his efforts.

Should Crisp return to his injury-prone ways in 2012, the A’s will have plenty of options to replace him. Some combination of Collin Cowgill, Josh Reddick, and Michael Taylor will flank Crisp, while Jermaine Mitchell and a bevy of so-so corner outfield and first base options champ at the bit for an opportunity to crack Oakland’s lineup. For now, expect Crisp to bat early both in the A’s lineup and in their defense against the union.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Fernando Rodney to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with a $2.5 million club option for 2013. [1/4]

Andrew Friedman spent last offseason rebuilding a vacated bullpen, and this offseason he’s retooled a rebuilt unit that quietly finished near the bottom of the league in component-based measures. Rodney marks the third major-league reliever added by Friedman, joining Josh Lueke and Burke Badenhop, and he brings the most performance-related questions to the table.

When taken as a whole, Rodney’s past three seasons paint the picture of a below-average reliever. In 175 2/3 innings pitched, Rodney accumulated a 4.35 earned run average and a 1.35 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Subtracting Rodney’s five intentional passes improves that ratio, if only until his 10 hit batsmen are considered. An adjusted-earned run average of 97 gives the impression that Rodney is a below-average pitcher and therefore a well-below-average reliever. Rodney’s adjusted Fair Run Averages paint a similar picture, as his last better-than-league-average season came in 2008.

Why then would the Rays willingly take on Rodney and pay him no fewer than $2 million? Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus wrote about basketball’s new player evaluation model on Tuesday, and the article serves as both a good read and a reminder to baseball fans that there is more to evaluation than numbers. The qualitative look at Rodney includes a wild, mid-90s fastball, a two-seamer that helped produce impressive groundball rates, and a good changeup.

Because of the velocity and groundball rate, Rodney is going to be viewed as someone a fix or two away from being special. Mike Fast and ESPN Florida’s Tommy Rancel had a Twitter conversation to that effect, which Rancel documented. Maybe the Rays think the combination of Tropicana Field, the league’s best defense, and Joe Maddon will be enough to right Rodney’s wrongs. Or maybe they see a mechanical glitch causing Rodney’s fastball command woes, or think ditching his slider for a cutter could help, or that throwing his two-seam fastball most of the time would change his fortunes.

Whatever the Rays see is a hypothesis to be tested, just as when the Royals signed Jeff Francoeur or made countless other moves. Realistically, many attempted rejuvenations fail to make a difference—hence the skepticism that greets the idea of Rodney returning to above-average form. Still, if there is a role in which a 35-year-old can transform himself, it’s as a reliever. Just ask Kyle Farnsworth or Joel Peralta, two of Friedman’s gambles from last winter who turned out well.

FLORIDA MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed PH-L Greg Dobbs to a two-year deal worth $3 million. [1/3]

Giving a two-year deal to a 33-year-old whose best work comes off the bench 50-to-70 times a season seems unusual, and it is. As a pinch-hitting specialist, Dobbs benefits from the availability heuristic in a manner similar to relief pitchers. Pinch-hitting is difficult, yet Dobbs has proven to be a capable one:

Season

PH PA

BA/OBP/SLG

2007

57

.292/.386/.521

2008

67

.355/.388/.532

2009

60

.167/.250/.241

2010

54

.122/.204/.286

2011

30

.370/.400/.519

Small samples reign supreme in the world of pinch-hitting. Even at his greatest usage, Dobbs never received more than 67 plate appearances off the bench, making him a victim of variance. Variance smiled Dobbs’s way in 2011, netting him a two-year deal and a front row seat to the Marlins’ new era, complete with the occasional spot-start for new third baseman Hanley Ramirez. Dobbs lives a charmed life.

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

Related Content:  Fernando Rodney,  Michael Weiner

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