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December 6, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Three Years for Keppinger, and New Deals for Chavez, McLouth, and Bay

by R.J. Anderson, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-L Nate McLouth to a one-year deal worth $2 million with an additional $500,000 available through incentives. [12/5]

McLouth said he wanted a one-year deal so that he could further reestablish his value before hitting the open market again. It’s a gutsy maneuver for a player whom, as recently as June, found himself unemployed with an OPS+ of 10. McLouth turned his season around upon joining the Orioles, daring people to think he was back to his old self. Ostensibly, the Orioles will use McLouth against right-handers most of the time. If he can stay healthy—and that’s far from a given—then perhaps his gamble will pay off with a lucrative multi-year deal next winter. —R.J. Anderson

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 3B-R Jeff Keppinger to a three-year deal worth $12 million. [12/5]

You know baseball is a beautiful game when a player goes from non-tendered to multi-year free-agent contract within 12 months. Keppinger did just that thanks to a banner season with the Rays. He benefited during the season from Evan Longoria’s injury, an uncharacteristically decent season against right-handers, and a .376/.402/.521 line against southpaws. Now Keppinger takes advantage of a weak third base market.

Keppinger is a platoon player in an ideal world. His quick, compact swing is built for contact and he makes a lot of it. The contact isn’t always of high quality, however, and Keppinger is a safe bet to ground into a higher rate of double plays than the league-average mark. He doesn’t run well and third base is his best defensive position. Asking Keppinger to repeat last season is unrealistic, yet he should open up some tactical options for Robin Ventura, like the hit-and-run. If the White Sox do sign a platoon partner, such as Jack Hannahan, then you could see Keppinger used as a pinch hitter in situations where contact is dire.

The term seems wild, but players with similar offensive profiles—namely Marco Scutaro and Maicer Izturis—each received three years earlier in the offseason. Even though Keppinger lacks their defensive chops, this appears to be close to the going length for contact-conscious infielders. —R.J. Anderson

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Reportedly signed OF-R Jason Bay to a one-year deal [12/5]

When National League batters were ahead in the count last year, they slugged .502; when Bay was ahead in the count, he slugged .507. In even counts, the league slugged .423, while Bay slugged .290; and when the pitcher was ahead, NL batters had a .202/.209/.299 line, compared to Bay's .054/.053/.054. That factoid is three sample -size problems in one right there, but if you feel like going with it, it suggests that Bay might have no problem catching up to a fastball—when he knows that it's going to be a fastball, and he can cheat. And a hitter who has to cheat isn't long for this league.

One way or another, Bay has been badly and repeatedly broken; but for his name he'd likely have been begging for a minor-league deal. But his name isn't totally irrelevant, especially for a projection system that likes to take into account all the information and weigh it appropriately. Projection systems like to regress to the mean, so if you look at PECOTA's projection for Bay you'll see a player who is not totally worthless: a better hitter than Scott Hairston, for instance, and a player with the same likely value (a bit more than one win) in 2013. The flawed human brain prefers trends to regression, though, and Bay has a not-hard-to-see trendline: He was great in 2009, he was below average in 2010, he was terrible in 2011 and he was one of the worst players in the sport in 2012. Whether you expect to see improvement depends on whether you think Bay is an exception to the more responsible regression theory. I think he is, because my brain keeps replaying the sight of him staggering off the field like a tired old mule following his second concussion. —Sam Miller

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 3B-L Eric Chavez to a one-year, $3 million deal. [12/5]

We can scratch another name off the shrinking list of potential fill-ins for Alex Rodriguez, as a day after adding Eric Hinske, the Diamondbacks rounded out their bench by signing Chavez, A-Rod’s understudy from last season. As Chavez’ back goes, so goes the rest of his game. Last year, his back felt better than it had in years, which allowed him to avoid the disabled list entirely after five straight seasons with a stint on the 60-day. It also allowed him generate the torque necessary to drive the ball and post his best ISO since not long after Moneyball hit bookstands. Chavez is a platoon player at this point in his career: last season, and also over the last three seasons, he faced left-handed pitchers in only 12 percent of his plate appearances, which makes sense given his .184 multi-year TAv against them.

Chavez will turn 35 on Friday, and his back will always be about to break down. As long as his health holds up, he’ll spell Chris Johnson at third against right-handers and see some time at DH in interleague away games. Chase Field can’t compare to the lefty-pull-power paradise in the Bronx, but it won’t be a bad place for him to hit. Chavez regularly goes the other way, and his home runs were evenly distributed around the field—five to left, six to center, and five to right. He hit only a couple classic Yankee Stadium homers that wouldn’t have been out anywhere else; all the others would have left more than half of major-league parks, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. —Ben Lindbergh

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
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Jeff Keppinger,  Jason Bay,  Nate McLouth

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