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November 20, 2008
Dempster-Diving and Going Coco for Coco Crisp
Outrighted LHP Alberto Castillo to Norfolk (Triple-A). [11/3]
Hennessey and Murphy have been at times vaguely interesting, but Murphy's more of a utility infielder who can't really play shortstop well enough to stick there, and whose bat doesn't deliver enough sock to win him everyday play; if he sticks, it'll be a matter of managerial preference. Hennessey's the more interesting pickup because he makes for a pretty useful utility pitcher, with plenty of experience both in a big-league rotation and as a closer du jour. While I don't expect Hennessey to ever match his 2007 WXRL of 1.972, the 19 saves and 3.88 FRA that he logged that year is swell evidence that he'd do well enough if thrown into the bullpen mix as a spare sinker/slider guy. As a starting pitcher, I guess I worry that his change isn't a good enough pitch to keep lefties honest after a first pass through the lineup, and he managed only seven quality starts in the 21 he made for Fresno, while generating only a 5.49 DERA for the Grizzlies; even so, you can do worse for candidates for fifth starter, and the Orioles too frequently have. I don't want to call it a genius move, but it's a nice bit of early-market shopping by a team that needs pitching help in any and every shape and size, because they can definitely use Hennessey, and it's easier on the organization to have him off of the 40-man over the winter.
It might seem shocking that the Sox have dealt Crisp for "so little," but I really take this to mean two things. First, they must really, really like Ramirez. Two, though they might not really have all that many concerns about their payroll, the $13.75 million that Crisp was due over the next two years (assuming his 2010 option gets picked up) might have been more than the Sox wanted to pay for a reserve center fielder on a team that might prefer to have a fourth outfielder better able to replace the offensive production of J.D. Drew or Jason Bay should either get injured.
Liking Ramirez makes sense, though in the context of liking him so much that you might trade Crisp for him, that seems a bit much. He came into his own with the Royals this past season as a situational right-hander gifted with low-90s heat, taking something off of it now and again and mixing in two- and four-seamers, but he's really not someone with a reliable off-speed offering he can get opposite-handed batters out with. As much as last year was a breakout for him, lefties nevertheless hit .300/.370/.375 against him when he wasn't dicing up right-handers at a .153/.244/.212 clip. Recognizing that Ramirez had his limitations as well as virtues, Trey Hillman used him with a certain amount of care, having him issue a team-leading six intentional walks (evenly split between righties and lefties), but Ramirez also responded well to pressure situations, limiting opposing hitters to .220/.313/.285 with men aboard. From our own suite of metrics, Ramirez had a FRA of 2.32, and a WXRL of 2.221, marks that would make him the obvious choice to set up Jonathan Papelbon. However, while that's all valuable, taken as a whole it describes a group of specialized virtues, a situational demi-god at the height of his powers in his late 20s. And given that pinning down relief performers you can consistently rely upon is a fool's errand, you're banking on Ramirez doing all of this again. If Red Sox scouting sees something extra they might do with him, that's great, but on the face of it, in some ways this looks like finding someone for the pen who did what Justin Masterson did for them down the stretch and into October. They already have that, and this was not a lot to get back for Crisp.
Which brings us to the next point, money and the fact that I think we all know that there's definitely another shoe or two about to drop. I see their acquiring pitching to mean that there's anther deal in the offing, with some of their own young pitching talent and perhaps Masterson in particular either going to Texas for a catcher, or maybe even San Diego for Jake Peavy. Another consideration is that of course Masterson may well be headed back to the rotation, as his current rivals for that last starter's slot-Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden-get dangled all that much more aggressively in these same sorts of deals.
As for the commitment to Jacoby Ellsbury that's implicit in this move, it would be easy to exaggerate Ellsbury's struggles last season. His good April was followed by three bad months, but from August onwards he delivered at a .314/.352/.463 clip, as he went from some early-season passivity to showing a better balance of patience and aggressiveness at the plate. While that's a lot of batting average to bet on should the late kick be the shape of things to come, I guess I like what it represents in terms of his adaptability in-season. We're not talking Melky Cabrera here. If moving Crisp frees the Sox up to find an outfield reserve whose bat might play better in the corners, then I like what this commitment represents that much more.
Finally, the wee bit of savings is nice, of course, but the Red Sox' budget wasn't afflicted with any major back-heavy contracts; it's possible that with big arbitration cases with Kevin Youkilis and Jonathan Papelbon to resolve they're simply making room for those additions to the budget, but they could also be gearing up for a multi-year offer to Youkilis in particular, and perhaps another one to Dustin Pedroia as a way of cheating the arbitrators a year early. However, those costs were already built in; they didn't sneak up on Epstein and company. That's why I expect the modest savings pre-figure a much more decisive move involving a big-ticket free agent as well as a trade, because with this deal the Sox still have their stack of blue-chip pitching prospects and one less slot for them to fill, and that wee bit of additional financial flexibility just highlights that their ability to bid big this winter isn't going to be eroded by arbitration cases. With Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, and Curt Schilling gone, the Sox effectively have around $35 million off of the books relative to last season.
Agreed to terms with LHP Macay McBride on a one-year deal. [11/14]
This appears to be merely a matter of pre-empting his arbitration eligibility this winter, not that there's anything wrong with that.
Purchased the contract of C-S Brayan Pena from Omaha (Triple-A); outrighted C-L Matt Tupman and RHP Yasuhiko Yabuta to Omaha. [11/3]
I suppose I'll have my charter membership in the Rob Deer Fan Club revoked, because while Coco Crisp is anything but a Three True Outcomes player, so be it, I love this deal for the Royals. This latest Dayton Moore deal's an inspired move for a couple of reasons, not least because the price tag was pretty cheap. As nice as Ramirez was last season, consider the daisy chain of Moore's moves here. In one of his first moves back in July of 2006, he swapped aging infielder Tony Graffanino to the Brewers for control-handicapped lefty Jorge de la Rosa. Last March, he flipped de la Rosa to the Rockies for Ramirez. He then turned Ramirez's breakthrough year-one that looks a lot like it was as much the product of how Trey Hillman used him as it was from Ramirez's gifts-into Crisp. That's two years of a starting center fielder and a year of quality relief work for a problematic lefty and one of Allard Baird's recycled playthings. Page Candace Bushnell, because that, my friends, is trading up.
Even more impressively than dealing for Mike Jacobs a few weeks back, the trade also demonstrates a Royal commitment to take on salary. However, it's perhaps the best perfect balance of taking on salary while having an out: Crisp's tied up at $13.75 million over the next two seasons, but 2010 is an option year for $8 million. If Crisp doesn't earn his keep, Moore can duck that payday with a $500,000 buyout and revisit the center-field problem; if he does earn his keep, they're set. It's on the player to earn the payday, and I'm sure that will go over well with the Glass family.
More fundamentally, slowly but surely the Royals are starting to front something that resembles a big-league lineup. The question still remains whether it's a good lineup-guys like Jose Guillen, Mike Jacobs, and Crisp are merely adequate hitters at their positions, after all, not good ones, and David DeJesus' value relative to other left fielders isn't really special, not when all left fielders put up a .276 EqA and DeJesus delivered a .285 last year, which was his age-28 season, no less. It's worth noting, however, that the Royals are beginning to resemble a baseball team, one where you have a center fielder who can play his position and whose bat's an asset, among other things. If Crisp delivers an OBP in the .340-.350 range, throw in some speed on the bases and Gold Glove-worthy defense in center, and people might start talking about the second coming of Willie Wilson.
It isn't hard to add up how all of this might resemble the kind of defensive-minded adjustments that the Braves made in the winter before the '91 season, all to give their young pitching staff a few breaks. Certainly, an outfield alignment with DeJesus in left and Crisp in center will do fly ball-prone rotation regulars Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies, Gil Meche, and Zack Greinke all sorts of favors. (Obviously, the clunky-gloved Jacobs doesn't really live up to a Sid Bream comparison, but work with me.) If the talk about Rafael Furcal has substance, this kind of trade is of a piece with that kind of signing.
Purchased the contracts of RHP Anthony Ortega and 1B-R Mark Trumbo from Salt Lake (Triple-A). [11/17]
Sold the contract of RHP Darrell Rasner to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League. [11/15]
In a lifetime's worth of strange suggestions, perhaps the strangest I've received was an offer to take a certain kind of job in Japan, because it would lead to an awful lot of money. While that was no doubt flattering in some (dim) light, the point of the story is that you don't usually have to go if you don't want to, and the Yankees selling off Rasner to the Japanese leagues isn't some form of elaborate wage bondage and indentured servitude, it's a matter of putting the proposition to someone willing to go, and lubricating the transaction with the right amount of cash for the team and the player. In this case, that adds up to $1 million to the Yankees, another $1.2 million to Rasner, and an option with the Golden Eagles for 2010 that might net him another $2.3 million. With as much young pitching as the Yankees have in their possession, you can understand a certain desire to make this happen to open up space on a 40-man that will no doubt get crowded with free-agent additions, especially if, in their own estimation, they decided they preferred Sergio Mitre to Rasner to help out at the back end of the rotation.
All of this said, I'll pass along the advice that I was given: hold onto your passport, because you wouldn't want to lose it.
The "bet," such as it is, is that this isn't the worst single-season selection to stock the team's DH slot, especially with the relative expense it might otherwise take to add somebody who offers no less uncertainty; Milton Bradley, say, except that Hasbro wasn't going to come back on a one-year deal, and was going to cost a whole lot more than that. So, what is Blalock going to deliver if he's healthy-which is at this point as big an if as it would have been with Bradley-something like his career rates of .274/.337/.465? Something closer to last year's .287/.338/.508? Eh, it'll do, but here's hoping this means the Rangers are being more creative on other fronts.
Released RHP Jean Machi. [11/12]
Re-signed RHP Ryan Dempster to a four-year, $52 million contract. [11/18]
I dealt with this a bit yesterday in talking about the Cubs' willingness to afford themselves fielding one of the best rotations in baseball-on paper-while also finding strength in numbers to keep them in good shape if/when Rich Harden breaks down, and if there's a cow (skip a mere chicken) coming home to roost atop Carlos Zambrano's right arm. As a result, maybe this is me being lazy, but let's give this what we might call the grand CRUI treatment:
Cost: Technically, it isn't a straight $52 million over four years, it's three years for $34 million and a 2012 player option for $14 million. To pick a few unfair comparisons, that's not Zito money ($18.5 million in each of the next three years, plus another $19 million for 2012, and then those other two years), nor is it even Suppan money ($25 million for the next two years, plus either another $12.75 million for 2011 or a $2 million buyout). It's a lot more than Lohse money ($41 million over the next four years), but that's Kyle Lohse after the best year of his career (5.4 SNLVAR, a 44th-best SNLVA Rate of .566) as opposed to Dempster after the best year of his (6.8 SNLVAR, and MLB's 11th-best SNLVA Rate of .611). More precisely, it's Meche money ($35 million over the next three years), and Meche seemed to have a whole lot less going for him after the 2006 season than Dempster has going for him now.
So in terms of the expense, it's reasonable in light of the market, and it's a whole lot less than what Derek Lowe's going to command starting next year in his age-36 season, let alone what CC Sabathia's going to run you. If there's a relative financial risk that might have been worth running instead, it would have been trading for Jake Peavy, because Peavy's going to run his employers $60 million over the next four seasons if his 2013 option isn't picked up, and $78 million over five if it is. That's close enough to make you say hmmm, but where Dempster only cost you money, Peavy would cost you money and the talent to acquire him from his employers. Felix Pie, for starters, and who knows what else, and while you've got ready-now fourth starter types to spare, the Padres need prospects, not Chad Gaudin, and the Cubs don't have many prospects. So even there, the math's understandable, especially once you move on to...
Risk: Let's give the man his due, he's now several years removed from a surgery-affected season, and the damage that Jim Leyland visited upon him almost a decade ago. This year's funky new glove wiggle aside, Dempster's motion doesn't seem unusually risky, and if anything, it appears he was throwing more fastballs working in the rotation than he had been as a reliever. As opposed to betting on an especially unusual body type (Sabathia) or value from a guy up to and perhaps beyond his 40th birthday (Lowe), you're banking on a player who's been relatively healthy the last several years staying so in his early to mid-30s. That doesn't seem all that unreasonable.
Utility: I've sort of already dealt with this in discussing his 2008 performance, but Dempster gave the Cubs 21 quality starts in 33, and that's after perhaps losing a few by being pulled after five frames at the end of the year, as Lou Piniella started resting people for October. While much was made of Dempster's home/road splits in the early going, by season's end, the man had ironed that out a good bit:
Place IP OAVG/OOBP/OSLG RA/9 BB% K% Home 129 .229/.313/.320 2.93 9.6% 21.1% Road 77.2 .223/.283/.375 3.82 7.3% 23.1%
Basically, he gave up a bit more power, and pitched a bit more aggressively. I don't think there's a reason to crown him the Anti-Whitson of Wrigleyville just yet.
Impact: By retaining Dempster early while everyone else is spinning their wheels hunting bigger game for bigger stacks of cash, GM Jim Hendry's free to deal with the much thornier issue of how to balance out his lineup, which is going to be complicated because of that forest of no-trade clauses among his regulars, and because there are only so many other guys who might fit well with the rest of the lineup. That's a big project, and if it can be done this winter, the more time spent on that while the Brewers are begging and the rest of the division tries to get a grip on what they should do, so much the better for the Cubs as far as positioning themselves for a third straight division title-something else the team hasn't done in a century.
Exercised their 2009 option on RHP Salomon Torres, only to find that he'd rather retire than return. [11/12]
Outrighted INF-R Tadahito Iguchi to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [11/13]
Signed RHP Justin Miller to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/1]
While it would be easy to call these a gaggle of little moves with differing price tags, I frankly like all three. Sure, Phelps is a massive disappointment, a rival with Andy Marte for the coveted title of "Brad Komminsk of the Aughties," but if he makes a nice platoon partner for Travis Ishikawa at first base, that's not so terrible. If that doesn't work, he's going to make some kids in Fresno very happy by launching a few souvenirs, and nothing wrong with keeping an affiliate happy, is there? Miller I like for more than his status as baseball's answer to Dennis Rodman-the game's great illustrated man has his uses as a righty specialist, so if he earns his keep in camp and gets a shot at situational stardom, I hardly see the harm in that. Who knows, maybe San Francisco is exactly the place for a man with as much ink as Miller to get props and a fan club willing to speak up for his right to wear short sleeves in the workplace.*
But it's Affeldt who is the big deal, because he's here for big bucks, and that's really what you want to know about. It's not really that complicated: it's a good deal and a reasonable price, a pickup of a lefty with heat who can pitch against anybody, not just in some matchup-minded do-si-do, and now that he's liberated from the Gap, his strong ground-ball tendencies should choke the life out of opposing offenses with that much less concern that a mistake up in the zone becomes instant runs on the scoreboard. Away from Rhineland's pachinko palace, Affeldt held major league hitters to .203/.271/.305 and a 1.77 ERA, against .302/.362/.488 (and seven of his nine homers allowed). His 2007 stint with the Rockies aside, he's had to spend most of his career playing for lousy teams in bad venues, and while the Giants aren't a good team-yet-he'll at least have a beautiful place to play, and he's making a pretty penny or two. I really anticipate that these next two years could set him up for a really big score on the market after 2010, when somebody's going to have the good sense to make him the new Dave Righetti. As is, if you had me picking between Affeldt or Brian Wilson to nail down close ballgames, I'd prefer Affeldt, but if this means that Affeldt makes sure those leads still exist after the seventh and eighth innings, and Wilson gets the glory stats until arbitration or good sense puts him someplace else, that works.
* Believe me, now that I managed to impale my right forearm on a shattering coffee mug-a face plant tripping over the dingo's lead has its dangers-and have added a long, winding scar that's going to need to be hidden away somehow, the workplace protocols over becoming a new sort of ink-stained wretch bear increasing consideration in these quarters. Help me, Kim Saigh, you're my only hope.
At times, Jim Bowden is baseball's answer to Inspector Javert, because you may rely upon him to get his man, although you may be left wondering what the bother was all about. The latest Jean Valjean to draw Bowden's long-term interest is Whitney, a Rule 5 pick last winter that the Nats wound up returning, only to finally get their better shot at him as a minor league free agent this week. Once seen as a premium power prospect, Whitney's going to be 25 next season, and still hasn't really mastered Double-A, having hit only .268/.356/.404 for the Aeros last year. While Akron was tough on him last season, it wasn't that tough. I think it's safe to come to a few conclusions, like that Bowden's probably innocent of any perfunctory Orleanist sympathies, nor do I think his moral turmoil over what to do with Whitney now that he's finally got him will eventually lead him to drown himself in the Anacostia.