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November 4, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Tools of Intelligence

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Released RHP Chris Perez. [10/31]

This is, unofficially, the first non-tender of the winter. Perez made $7.3 million in 2013, and would've been in line for a raise through the arbitration process. Faced with the prospect of paying their embattled closer $8 million or more, the Indians opted to set him free a year earlier than scheduled. It's hard to blame them. Perez struggled down the stretch, all but losing his ninth-inning gig, and was arrested in June for drug possession.

Despite the negatives, Perez is a proven closer who has made two All-Star teams, so expect another team to scoop him up—after all, one team's headache is another team's value signing. He has a weird, short arm action that deceives hitters and viewers alike. His fastball still sits in the low to mid-90s and his lone secondary offering is a slider. Perez at times struggles with his control, and he's had issues with the long ball, too. He's not the best closer available, but he'll find a late-inning role somewhere.—R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact: Anytime a closer moves on from his current team, the fantasy world pays close attention. This one is a more interesting circumstance though, as how often is an acting closer flat-out released? Perez certainly has his faults in both real life and fantasy, but "proven closers" find new roles even when they don't really deserve them--and he's unlikely to be the exception.
What he leaves behind is a potential opportunity for one of the more underrated young bullpen arms in the American League: Cody Allen. If the Indians go into the season without adding a closer (though I expect them to at least be a suitor for Joe Nathan or Brian Wilson), I like Allen to lead the team in saves and be a potential top-15 closer. Joe Smith might have been ahead of him in the pecking order in 2013, but he has the splits you'd expect watching his delivery. Former "closer of the future" Vinnie Pestano is also in the background somewhere, but he couldn't find the mound with a GPS in September with the Indians fighting for a playoff spot.—Bret Sayre

DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Named Brad Ausmus manager. [11/3]

There might not be a better managerial environment than Detroit. The roster is loaded, the general manager is daring, and the owner is willing to spend until he wins a title. What more could you want? To think, a year ago Ausmus was pondering the Astros job, and now he has taken the reins of the American League's second-best team. How did Ausmus earn this heavenly break? By impressing everyone who interacted with him. Tim Purpura, the one-time GM in Houston, provided insight a few years ago:

Pitchers love to throw to him. He's as bright a guy as I've ever met, and when you talk about statistical analysis, I think he can run rings around a lot of people in the game with his understanding and knowledge of statistics. A lot of guys sit on planes, in between cities, listening to their iPods or watching movies, but Brad would be studying the charts for the opposition that was coming up. He'd be making his notes for the advance meetings. Typically, on a ballclub, the coaches do the advance meeting, or the manager, but with our ballclub it was Brad Ausmus. He ran the advance meetings; he got with the pitchers on the approaches we were going to take with opposing hitters. I think that when he's ready, he'll make an excellent major league manager. He's got a career beyond the playing field if he's interested.

The intellectual former catcher is a bit of a cliche, but that's the best way to describe Ausmus. What is it about the position that makes it a managerial breeding ground? Perhaps the developed interpersonal skills: the emotional intelligence required to successfully handle a staff; the communication skills honed to the point where conveying complicated manners in a malleable way is second nature; the give and take relationship with umpires. All aspects fostered as a catcher.

There's another cliche out there, about how the catcher is the lone defensive player facing toward the outfield. This perspective is supposed to give him insight unlike any other position, to which one wonders why there aren't more designated hitter managers then, as they take the game in from the bench and the batter's box. The game moves quicker as a manager than as a catcher anyway; there are more responsibilities, more variables, more scenarios to run through. Luckily for Ausmus, he seems to have the mental properties to adjust quickly—and the necessary organizational parts to stick around for a while.

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-signed SS-R Derek Jeter to a one-year deal worth $12 million. [11/1]

What a mess. Jeter entered the offseason with a player option (valued at $9.5 million), so his return was never in doubt. Knowing this, Brian Cashman re-signed his captain for more money; a generous act, for sure, but one designed to help the Yankees' finances. Make sense? No? Good, because here things get more convoluted. The league's luxury tax calculations count player options differently than club options by spreading the option-year money across the guaranteed portion. Because of that, the Yankees thought they were shaving about $1 million from their figure; instead, they might have inadvertently increased the deal's luxury tax hit. Nobody is sure which side is right yet, since the league and union are spatting over the calculations, but Jeter wins either way. Of course he does.

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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