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December 26, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Stocking Stuffers and Holiday Turkeys

by R.J. Anderson and Colin Wyers

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-S Nick Swisher to a four-year deal worth $56 million. [12/23]

Nick Swisher has been overshadowed this offseason by a handful of other outfield bats, particularly Josh Hamilton, and that's forced him to come down in price quite a bit from the "Jayson Werth contract" he was rumored to be seeking this offseason.

It's hard to fault Swisher for wanting to be paid like Werth; he's been a better hitter and more durable player over the past three seasons, and he's the same age as Werth was when Werth signed his deal. The issue is that the Werth deal was an overpay from the start, so it's just as hard to fault teams for not wanting to shell out that kind of money on Swisher.

So Swisher ended up signing for a much more reasonable price, and the Indians got themselves a quality outfielder for a larger but hardly exorbitant price. The bigger question is what the Indians want with him. This isn't some hand-wringing about how teams shouldn't sign good players when they're willing to sign good deals unless a team meets some arbitrary threshold of quality. The Indians have an opening for Swisher because they traded away a marginally better player in Shin-Soo Choo. Now, the Choo trade was far from a bad move for the Indians. In isolation, both the Choo trade and the Swisher signing look like good moves for the Indians to have made. It's just that viewed together, along with rumors that the Indians are shopping players like Justin Masterson and Chris Perez, it's kind of hard to tell exactly which direction the Indians are trying to go in. They say they're trying to "thread the needle" between competing now and competing later, but it's hard to see where the competing now part comes into play with or without Swisher. —Colin Wyers

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed none of these guys. [12/23]

Like Lord Voldemort and Sauron, even when the Yankees have been seemingly rousted from their place of power, they retain a malevolent presence that requires that we discuss their inaction.

It's easy to see why the Yankees passed on Ibanez, on account of his being old and not very good. Then again, at least until Alex Rodriguez returns from hip surgery, they seem to have far less of a roster crunch at DH than the Mariners do. (Now: think about that for a minute.)

Swisher, however, is a guy they could have clearly used, and he signed for a reasonable price. Now, we know why they didn't bring him back—the Yankees are committed to being under the luxury tax threshold in 2014, and a multi-year deal of the kind Swisher signed would have made it difficult, if not impossible, to do that while holding onto someone like Robinson Cano, who's much more valuable than Swisher.

It is, however, odd to see the Yankees running under such readily apparent budget constraints. We probably shouldn't overreact to this; the Yankees still have a very good team, and in 2015 the Yankees will likely go back to viewing the luxury tax as a mere guideline. Voldemort will gather up his horcruxes, Sauron will return to Mount Doom. But Brian Cashman is no longer playing Too Much Moneyball, and it's an odd sight to behold. —Colin Wyers

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF/DH-L Raul Ibanez to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million plus incentives. [12/23]

So you're starting to get up in years a bit, and your mother is bugging you about when you're finally going to settle down and start hitting a few home runs now and then. And you're at a friend's wedding and you run into an old flame who you haven't seen in a few years, and you have a few beers and suddenly you forget all the reasons you broke up with him to begin with:

Ibanez, fielding

Ibanez, fielding

Ibanez, fielding

Ibanez, fielding

Let's face it: Ibanez should probably be kept out of the field as much as possible. His ability to hit for average is lost in time like tears in rain. The Mariners already signed one seemingly toasty OF/DH type in Jason Bay, and while you can cobble together a platoon from the two it's hard to see how that's a huge improvement on going barefoot. The Mariners seem to have misidentified their problem as a shortage of power, when really their problem is a shortage of good players. The Mariners are moving the fences in, but that's not going to make Raul Ibanez into a good hitter at this point, given his defensive liabilities.

More to the point, they've been trying for years to accumulate the sort of players Ibanez and Bay were back when they were good the right way. Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero have been disappointments thus far, but given the typical aging curve of baseball players the Mariners seem to be dead set on acquiring players likely to be even more disappointing to block them. (Well, at least in Montero's case. Smoak may well be an honest to goodness bust at this point.) There's already a roster crunch at 1B and DH given the presence of those two and Kendry Morales, whom the Mariners were able to snag in trade because the Angels had a similar surplus (except their surplus involved Albert Pujols). And it's really hard to see how the Bay and Ibanez signings significantly improve upon an outfield of Casper WellsFranklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders, especially given that those three can field baseballs without Yakity Sax playing.

The Mariners may like his veteran presence and ability to mentor young players. Unfortunately, the players most likely to need mentoring from Ibanez are the ones who are in danger of losing their jobs in order to give him a spot on the roster. —Colin Wyers

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-R Cody Ross to a three-year deal worth $26 million with a club option worth $9.5 million for the 2016 season. [12/22]

Some general managers exhibit executive greed by adding to and subtracting from their rosters at every turn. If there were a club, named after, say, Dan Duquette, then Alex Anthopoulos would be earning his wings now. One of the club’s charter members, Kevin Towers, showed Anthopoulos how a veteran flexes his muscles by signing Ross. Some 368 days before Towers signed Ross, he signed Jason Kubel.

At the time, Towers was adding a free-agent outfielder on a multi-year deal to an outfield-rich roster. There’s no need to connect the dots any further. The move then and the move now are similar. Arizona continues to boast impressive outfield depth. Justin Upton, Kubel, Ross, and Gerardo Parra have big-league jobs secured. Prospects Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock are ready and waiting.

The major difference between the signings is Chris Young. Towers didn’t trade Young before signing Kubel, but he did trade Young before signing Ross, and comparisons are therefore inevitable.  Moving Young to ink Ross sounds like a downgrade, but don’t be so certain. There could be a tangible difference in salary, upwards of $3 million saved, depending on the payment schedule for Ross’ signing bonus. It’s not slam dunk by performance, either:

Cody Ross versus Chris Young

Player

10-12 WARP

10-12 TAv

11-12 WARP

11-12 TAv

Ross

4.4

.274

3.1

.281

Young

7.1

.273

2.9

.269

Young’s 2010 season lifts him over Ross in the three-year WARP comparison and saves him from losses across the board. The unsteady margin of error presented by fielding metrics means you can make a solid case that Young provided more production over the past two seasons than Ross did. But Ross looks like, at worst, a comparable hitter to Young.

Past results are not entirely indicative of future performances, and incorporating age adds a point to Young’s tally. He’s just 29, while Ross turned 32 hours after signing with Arizona. If Ross is with the D’Backs for the entirety of his contact this could loom large. But knowing Towers, Ross might not be with the Diamondbacks for long. He’s done this before—signed a player to a multi-year deal then him them after a season or two—with Bubba Trammell and others in the past, perhaps with Kubel in the present, and maybe Ross in the future. Towers once called himself a sludge merchant for a reason.

Towers’ reputation is why it’s hard to treat the final season or two of this deal with great concern. He loves to add players today then trade them tomorrow. Ross is a fine player. He hits lefties well and can hold his own against righties if need be. But Towers has a spirit full of pluck and a pair of wandering eyes. He’s not afraid to retrace his steps and take a different route via trade, even if things were working out okay as they were. If Kubel isn’t immune to that treatment then neither is Ross. —R.J. Anderson

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

Related Content:  Nick Swisher,  Raul Ibanez

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