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January 16, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Soriano Finally Gets Paid

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Kyle McClellan to a minor-league deal. [1/14]

McClellan underwent shoulder surgery last July, but he should be ready for spring training. That’s good news for the Rangers, who reportedly intend for McClellan, Justin Grimm, Martin Perez, and Robbie Ross to compete for the fifth starter’s job. If McClellan fails to win the rotation spot, he could find a home in the Rangers bullpen. Despite an arsenal heavier on depth than power, McClellan’s best years came in relief. At one point, he was mentioned alongside Jason Motte as potential heirs to Ryan Franklin’s throne. He’s never going to close games, yet he could serve as decent bullpen depth.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-signed RHP J.J. Putz to a one-year extension worth $7 million. [1/14]

When Putz signed a two-year deal with a club option in December 2010, few expected Arizona to exercise the option. Putz had missed time in 2008-2009 with elbow issues; labeling him an injury risk seemed fair. But the Diamondbacks did exercise that option earlier in the offseason, and now they’ve gone and tacked another year onto their commitment. It’s a merited vote of confidence in Putz. Though he did miss about a month in 2011 due to elbow inflammation, he’s remained mostly healthy and productive.

If nothing else, this extension puts the brakes on a potential Putz trade. Not that it seemed likely to begin with, but the Heath Bell acquisition had the opportunity to foster a closer controversy if Putz struggled and Bell returned to form. Arizona has now demonstrated where its loyalties stand. 

CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed SS-S Cesar Izturis to a minor-league deal. [1/14]

The tune on Izturis hits the same notes it did years ago: he can field, he can’t hit, and he comes cheap. His willingness to ride buses makes him a solid piece of depth for the Reds. Jason Donald figures to serve as Zack Cozart’s backup, but Izturis will be around in case of injury or ineffectiveness—at least through May. The new CBA gives players with more than six years of MLB service time signed to minor-league deals two opt-out chances. Teams can either release the player five days before the season starts, or otherwise pay the player a $100,000 retention fee and then grant them a June 1 opt-out clause.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Jeff Karstens to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. [1/14]

Here’s what I wrote when the Pirates non-tendered Karstens in late November:

 

We live in strange times, times in which the Pirates are non-tendering pitchers with consecutive solid seasons. In truth, Karstens’ numbers belie his true ability. His stuff is mediocre, though it does play up because of his control and pitching know-how. He has a checkered injury history that may stem from a closed delivery, causing him to throw across his body and often miss glove-side targets. Karstens has a small margin for error and no ability to grow worthwhile facial hair, but he should be at the back-end of someone’s rotation next season.

 

That someone is the Pirates. You have to wonder if Karstens’ shoulder woes scared off potential suitors. Otherwise, signing with the Pirates in mid-January for less money than he made last season is a curious move. Karstens figures to take the fourth or fifth spot in Pittsburgh’s rotation, depending on what the Pirates do over the rest of the offseason. He should hit the market again after this offseason, but this time as a regular free agent.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal worth $28 million with a vesting option worth an additional $14 million. [1/14]

Here we have the early favorite for transaction of the year.

Opportunity cost is the end-all, be-all of most transactions. By signing Soriano, the Nationals are paying the opportunity cost of $28 million* and their first-round pick, no. 29 overall. Although this could be a poor trade in a vacuum, where the strength and potential staying power of the Nationals roster is ignored, in reality no team is better suited for this deal than Mike Rizzo’s bunch. Consider this: The only players guaranteed to become free agents before Soriano—even if his option vests—are Mike Morse, Kurt Suzuki, and Dan Haren. This is a good, controlled roster with some potential star upside remaining, depending on how Bryce Harper develops. We can talk about the impact of losing the draft pick and the pool money on the long-term outlook, but until the Nationals make this an annual occurrence then it’s hard to get too worked up about it.

*Jim Bowden reports that some of the money is deferred, bringing the average annual value down to $12 million.

The other big rallying point against signing Soriano is the present strength of the Nationals bullpen. Namely, they have two good-to-great relievers in Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. If you view this as a reactionary signing to what occurred in the postseason, then rolling your eyes makes sense. Otherwise, viewing the Soriano addition as picking one over the other is a bad analogy. This is more akin to acquiring the best center fielder available and shifting your current center fielder to a corner than it is to acquiring the best center fielder available and shunning your current center fielder—which, by the way, the Nationals did the former by adding Denard Span earlier in the winter. It’s not about Soriano versus Storen and Clippard; it’s about Soriano versus the random middle reliever he just knocked off the active roster. Besides, Davey Johnson likes having an A and B bullpen to prevent overtaxing his top arms. This addition plays into that strategy.

Comparing the Nationals’ Top Three Relievers, 2010-2012 and 2013 Projections

Pitcher

ERA

FIP

FRA

PECOTA ERA

Soriano

2.50

3.26

3.63

3.05*

Drew Storen

2.96

3.13

3.43

2.93

Tyler Clippard

2.82

3.23

3.60

3.04

*Soriano’s New York-based projection

Here’s the forgotten worm in the apple: Storen and Clippard are hardly locks. Storen threw 30 innings last season while Clippard has more than 250 innings since 2010. Soriano is no lock either, but the Nationals have positioned themselves to have at least one or two good relievers, and perhaps three if they all remain hearty and hale. With Soriano in tow, the Nationals can now pace Storen and Clippard without handing high-leverage innings to middle relievers. It’s hard to look at this signing and come away thinking the Nationals are worse for the road. Yes, Rizzo is paying a hefty cost, and yes maybe he got played by Scott Boras; or, rather, by Boras getting Nationals owner Ted Lerner involved in negotiations. But the Nationals are an elite team adding one of the best players at his position, and they’re doing it without harming the rest of their roster or hamstringing their budget. 

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

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