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November 19, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Hudson's Bay

by R.J. Anderson, Bret Sayre and Mike Gianella

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Kelvin De La Cruz to a big-league deal. [11/18]

The Orioles are De La Cruz's fifth organization since the 2010 season started. Why so much interest in a 25-year-old without a major league appearance to his name? Because De La Cruz has always possessed stuff worth dreaming on. His problems have been injury and control based. The latter isn't going away anytime soon—his delivery is complex—but a move to the bullpen should help him stay on the field. Expect to see De La Cruz make his big-league debut in 2014, perhaps as a situational reliever.—R.J. Anderson

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C-R Francisco Pena to a big-league deal. [11/17]

Rarely does a 24-year-old minor-league free-agent with a career .634 OPS sign a big-league deal, yet here's one such case. Pena has multiple ties to the Royals—his father, Tony, managed there, and his brother, Tony Jr., played there—but Kansas City's interest stems from his defense. Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo praised Pena's smarts and work behind the plate while noting he should compete in the majors soon. What that means for incumbent backup George Kottaras is unclear, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Pena reach the majors in 2014.—R.J. Anderson

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Reportedly agreed to sign SS-R Brendan Ryan to a deal worth approximately $2 million. [11/18]

You had to think this was a possibility when the Yankees acquired Ryan in September, so the only surprise is it took two months to finalize. Brian Cashman values Ryan's well-above-average defensive abilities at shortstop, and the protection he provides against another season of Derek Jeter injuries. Ryan, no doubt, values the money and playing time possibilities in New York. The only question then is whether Joe Girardi has Ryan play a position other than shortstop for the first time since 2008. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy: Ryan probably won’t play enough to provide much value, even in AL-only leagues. He is primarily worth watching in fantasy to see how much time he takes away from Derek Jeter. A 50/50 job split would hamper Jeter’s value considerably, while an 80/20 or 90/10 split won’t have much impact. This all assumes that Jeter is healthy, which at this point is certainly no given. If Ryan does play everyday, his stolen base potential makes him worthy of AL-only consideration. —Mike Gianella

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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RHP Jeff Niemann elected free agency after being outrighted from the 40-man roster. [11/18]
Signed RHP Mark Lowe to a minor-league deal. [11/16]

As tempting as it is to call Niemann a tantalizing buy-low candidate, there are enough red flags to temper the enthusiasm. Deep breath, and here we go: Niemann missed last season following shoulder surgery; he has a history of elbow and back issues; he has fewer than 40 innings pitched since 2012 began; he topped out around 87 mph during his final spring appearances; and he warms too slowly to pitch in relief. Phew. None of that means Niemann is finished, but baked together for a half hour with the Rays' willingness to let him walk without compensation points toward his health being less than functional. Worth noting: the Rockies were among the teams to inquire about the big man's services.

Lowe is a middle reliever with quality stuff and subpar results. His arm action, release point, closed landing, and fastball-slider combination make him hell on right-handed hitters. Unfortunately, a firm changeup and command issues complicate things against lefties. There's a reason Lowe spent most of the 2013 season in the minors, yet his early signing date and potential to opt out before the season make him a tentative favorite to grab a spot in the Rays bullpen. —R.J. Anderson

The bigger news for fantasy purposes (obviously) is when the other shoe drops and Niemann latches on somewhere else. Assuming he does not regain his former velocity after shoulder surgery, Niemann would match him up well for fantasy purposes with a senior circuit team in a large ballpark. The right conditions could make him a worthy flier in very deep leagues, but the days of Niemann being fantasy-relevant may just be over. There's very little impact in his absence, as the Rays have too many potential starters even without him and he was no better than seventh or eighth in line. —Bret Sayre

CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed UTL-L Skip Schumaker to a two-year deal. [11/18]

Analyzing these early signings is problematic because of the ambiguity that comes with them. We don't know how the Reds intend to use Schumaker. We can guess that it'll be along the lines of a platoon player who can play center field and second base alike, but we don't know for sure. (The Reds might not even know for sure, given the uncertainty around Brandon Phillips and Shin-Soo Choo.) What we do know is Schumaker provides some value across multiple positions while showing decent contact and on-base skills against right-handed pitchers.

Is that package worth guaranteeing two years? Not in a vacuum. But the market for bench players has transformed over the past few years, with more and more reserve players getting two years up front—remember Ty Wigginton last year? The Reds seem to have a thing for the versatile waterbug type this winter—they already signed infielder-slash-outfielder Jason Bourgeois to a minor-league deal—and Bryan Price's creativity might be tested right out of the gates. If, that is, the plan is to use Schumaker in a super-utility role. For now, we just don't know. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy: Schumaker offers marginal, NL-only value. If the Reds use him as much as the Dodgers did in 2012, he will accumulate enough runs/RBI to be worth owning as a back-of-the-roster player. Schumaker might take a little value away from some of the regulars, but this is very unlikely. —Mike Gianella

COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million with a club option worth $2.25 million for 2015. [11/18]

Not only is Hawkins headed to Colorado, but he's displacing Rex Brothers from the ninth inning in the process (perhaps in an effort to trim Brothers' eventual arb figures?). Hawkins' most recent double-digit save season before 2013 was 2009, and the most recent before then was 2004; once you get the reputation as a shaky closer it seems to stick. Last season was the year of the geriatric closer, as four relievers aged 35 or older notched career-highs in saves (minimum of 15). That foursome included two free agents, in Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit. But, rather than sign one of those moldy relievers, the Rockies opted to make their own.

There's no guarantee the 41-year-old Hawkins will save 29 games next season and earn his spot on the above graph, but he's got the chance to make this thing work. Primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, you wonder if he might be spared the ill effects that plague breaking balls in Coors Field. Hawkins is a groundball pitcher with good control, which adds to his chances of survival. Alas, durability is a concern: Until last season he had made trips to the DL in each year since 2008.

Additionally, Hawkins is well regarded as a teammate and should help replace the veteran presence void created by Rafael Betancourt's injury.—R.J. Anderson

Fantasy: Despite the reports that Hawkins is being signed to close, his time in the role may be short-lived as the Rockies do have a much more long-term solution in house already in Rex Brothers. Hawkins was a great pickup for fantasy owners down the stretch last year, as he had 13 saves, a 2.37 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 21 strikeouts and just one walk after the All-Star break. but Coors Field won't do him any favors in 2014. The soon-to-be 41-year-old is coming off his heaviest workload since 2004, so his ability to hold up is also an issue. Expect him to be among the last five closers drafted in March, and just a few rounds ahead of Brothers. At the right price, he's a nice value pick in deeper leagues—just don't expect more than about 15 saves.—Bret Sayre

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C-R Carlos Ruiz to a three-year deal worth $26 million with a club option worth $4.5 million. [11/18]

If nothing else, give Ruben Amaro Jr. credit for keeping November interesting.

How you feel about this deal depends on how you feel about Ruiz rebounding from a so-so season. Betting on any 35-year-old catcher taking a step forward seems like a bad gamble, and that's without taking specifics into account. Combine Ruiz's 25-game suspension for amphetamines with his power outage and ... well, you have a post-hoc explanation for his downfall. The good news is Ruiz—whose game has always been about breadth rather than depth—still managed decent average and on-base marks with the diminished pop. Besides, "Chooch," who is a year removed from a banner season, has always defied normal career arcs.

But none of that quite justifies the third guaranteed year. What does, at least to a degree, is the low AAV and the news that Boston was pushing hard for Ruiz's services. Those factors should make it easier to stomach a potentially rough final year. Agree with it or not, the Phillies are pushing for a playoff spot. Letting Ruiz walk meant another some other backstop in his place at who knows what cost. Factor in Ruiz's familiarity and you can understand why, even if you don't like it. (The option year merits mention: it could be sweet if he remains productive, but it's tough to envision it being exercised in three year's time.)

One aspect worth touching on is whether one good year makes the deal tolerable, a concept rooted in the wins-to-dollars theory. It's worth considering the contrasting real-world ramifications from the two scenarios. If Ruiz averaged a win per season the next three years, he'd technically be worth as much as if he had a five-win season followed by back-to-back sub-replacement-level years. But, in reality, the first route might be enough for him to retain a starting job, while the latter would require the Phillies to use more resources to replace him—thereby artificially increasing his cost to the club. Of course, that's just one evaluation method and one qualm among many. It's just something to consider this winter.—R.J. Anderson

Fantasy: It was a disappointing season for fantasy owners who waited on Chooch through his suspension, but he did finish strong--over the last two months of the season, Ruiz hit .288/.343/.444 with four homers in just 153 at bats. Aside from the rumors linking him to the Rockies, ending up back in Philadelphia is the best news for his fantasy value both this year and beyond. The Phillies have some organizational depth at the position, but the two more long-term solutions (Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle) have their flaws and have seen their prospect shine wear off a bit as they've ascended. Ruiz should be a solid option in 2014 for those in 12- to 14-team mixed leagues that wait on catcher until very deep in drafts, and he becomes a top-10 catcher in points leagues.—Bret Sayre

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Reportedly agreed to sign RHP Tim Hudson to a two-year deal worth $23 million. [11/18]

Hudson returns to the Bay, albeit on the other side. Handing a two-year deal to an older, non-elite starter four months removed from a season-ending injury seems like a questionable idea, but it makes sense in context. Hudson's boo-boo was a fractured ankle, not a torn ligament or shredded shoulder, and that—excuse the morbidity—feels like an easier injury for a pitcher to fully recover from. Another bonus is Hudson didn't require draft-pick compensation or a long-term deal.

In fact, it's hard to find a deal-damning negative. Hudson is older, but his game is built around finesse. He knows how to pitch—using a deep arsenal that includes a sinker, cutter, curve, and splitter—and generates groundballs by the bushel. The Giants don't need Hudson to replicate his best years in Oakland in order to fit his role anyway; he's the third or fourth starter, depending on Tim Lincecum, and San Francisco should add another veteran in the coming weeks.

Perhaps Hudson doesn't come back at full strength or begins to feel the effects of nearly 3,000 career big-league innings. For now, it looks like a sensible deal on Brian Sabean's part.—R.J. Anderson

Fantasy: From a fantasy perspective, there weren’t many better landing spots for Hudson than San Francisco. A few naysayers have pointed out that Hudson isn’t helped as much by his new home’s pitcher-friendly dimensions because he’s a groundball pitcher, but that seems like a groundless quibble. Hudson should be helped, both by the move to AT&T Park and to the NL West. Hudson is unlikely to return to being a 200-plus inning workhorse in his age-38 season, but his numbers should remain solid. He’s a decent no. 3 starter in NL-only and at the very least a match-up play in mixed. His value moves up a little, but he would have been solid in any non-Colorado park.—Mike Gianella

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Requested release waivers on INF-R Mauro Gomez. [11/14]

When the Blue Jays designated Gomez for assignment back in September, I wrote, "[His] career is at a fork in the road: Over there is Japan, over here is Triple-A; which way will he go?" Following a short detour through the Nationals system, it appears Gomez is headed to Japan to join the Hanshin Tigers. It's a sensible arrangement: the Tigers get a potential masher whose skill set plays better in their league, and the potential masher gets a raise and an opportunity to improve his stock. A good stint overseas and Gomez could find himself back on American soil with a big-league job in hand.—R.J. Anderson

Fantasy: A nice upside pick in your NPB league, Gomez has the kind of pop that can be hard to come by even at a corner position. Of course, some of the shine comes off if he does sign with Hanshin as Koshien Stadium has a park factor of 67 (100 is average) for right-handed power.—Bret Sayre

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
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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