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December 8, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Catching Heck

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Tomo Ohka to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/5]
Noted their contribution to balancing the trade deficit by letting RHP Tom Mastny sign with the Yokohama BayStars. [12/8]

Remember when Tomo Ohka was a going concern? I know, it started coming apart around the same time that he became one of the last targets of Frank Robinson's ire, which got him dealt to Milwaukee for Junior Spivey, and he rounded out an adequate 2005 season at the back end of the Brewers rotation, finishing with 29 starts, 180 1/3 IP, and a 3.2 SNLVAR. His next season, he was plagued with shoulder and hamstring woes that limited him to 18 starts for Milwaukee (and a 1.8 SNLVAR). He drew plenty of interest as a free agent after the season, but as an increasingly marginal fourth- or fifth-starter type in the NL, he made the signal mistake of signing with the better league, getting his head handed to him in ten starts as a Blue Jay before earning his release, then bouncing to the Cardinals and Mariners organizations. The blush being totally off, he settled for a non-roster contract for 2008 with the White Sox, and it says something about his stock that at no point during their problems keeping the rotation manned in the second half was he given a shot. With the Knights, he didn't really earn it, surrendering 23 homers in 135 2/3 IP. A ratio of 112 strikeouts to 32 unintentional walks is pretty good, and he also logged 11 quality starts (one blown) in 20, but we're talking about a 32-year-old veteran in Triple-A; his DERA of 5.32 suggests that we're still talking about the same guy, someone who might be able to avoid doing too much damage as a fifth starter if the kids more likely to man the back end of the rotation falter early. He's more probably going to wind up spending the summer in Buffalo.

DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired C-R Gerald Laird from the Rangers for RHPs Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo. [12/8]

As I note in the Rangers' segment, Laird's not really a good everyday catcher-by definition, people who can't hit right-handed pitching aren't-but he has his virtues as a good receiver who inhibits the running game relatively well. I don't see him as someone who should legitimately box out Dusty Ryan for a job this next season as much as he makes for a solid veteran to partner up with the prospect in a job-sharing arrangement. I know, the Tigers sort of had that already in Brandon Inge, but if Inge is still stuck in a Mike Ivie-style pout over donning the tools of ignorance, then it might make more sense to see if anyone would deal for Inge to play third for them-assuming anybody wants any part of Inge's $12.9 million salary over the next two seasons, a big if-and then move Carlos Guillen back to the hot corner before they take moving Guillen to left any further than they already have. Despite last season's heightened expectations, the Tigers' lineup generated a merely mediocre .264 Equivalent Average as a unit, and they're already looking at losing ground offensively at third, catcher, and short relative to what they employed last season. While they're going to be a better defensive team whether they go get Adam Everett or settle for Ramon Santiago at short, and should also enjoy Laird's fielding if not his hitting, I'd still rather have Guillen's bat at third and make space for Marcus Thames and Matt Joyce.

All of which is the long way around to saying I don't see the decision to get Laird as really mattering all that much. Although a good backstop, he's not really that valuable, he's about to get more expensive, and they're already stuck with turkey deals with Inge, Gary Sheffield, and Dontrelle Willis. If the Tigers wanted to mount a challenge for the division title in 2009, Laird doesn't really hurt, but he also doesn't really help them all that much. Finding a guy who can catch and hurt the occasional lefty just isn't that difficult, and it certainly doesn't have to cost you $4 or $5 million over two years (or more) through arbitration. While surrendering a pair of worthwhile low-level arms was probably affordable, it can just as easily bite them on their collective striped tails. If the Tigers have priorities as they try to get back to contending, this shouldn't be seen as really addressing any of them.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Jason Childers to a minor league contract; re-signed LHP Jeremy Cummings and 1B/OF-L Chris Richard to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/5]

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Dealt C-R Gerald Laird to the Tigers for RHPs Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo. [12/8]

You might be asking yourself, two years of a start-worthy catcher, in this market, and that's it? Keep in mind that Laird's going to be arbitration-eligible both seasons, and that'll run his employers perhaps as much as $4-5 million over that time. Even so, if you're a Rangers fan who harbored high expectations for what Laird might bring you, this has to be a bit of a disappointment. It's important to remember that, outside of his big year in 2006, he hasn't really hit all that much, nor should he be expected to-his career mark against right-handed pitching, .240/.293/.355 in almost a thousand PA against them really tells you he isn't an everyday player. So, not only was Laird very much a movable item in the process of becoming a needless expense, it's also important to ratchet down the expectations of what he might fetch in return. (In other words, no Ed Hearn-for-David Cone-level heists.) Even so, getting an old A-ball pitcher didn't necessarily add talent worth grabbing, and it didn't create space on the roster. If this was intended to be a favor for Laird, it's nice for him on that level, but the package is a bet on the organization's scouting acumen, one it'll take a while to really evaluate.

Moscoso's a stick-thin Venezuelan who'd been knocking around the lower rungs of the Tigers' system for three years, handicapped in no small part by shoulder woes that led to a labrum repair in 2005. This year's brief bit of work between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie was colored by statements that the shoulder's fine and he's throwing low-90s heat, and the signature stat being hung on him is 112 strikeouts in 86 2/3 IP, but a 24-year-old in High-A is an old man. In his six starts in Double-A, he gave up 17 runs in 34 2/3 IP, but more happily he had a 50/8 ratio of strikeouts to walks. There's the suggestion that he might move up faster as a reliever, in light of his already pitching out of the pen in winter ball; we'll have to see.

As for Melo, as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, he struck out 61 in 49 IP, while also throwing six wild pitches and hitting five batters-not bad, given that the team hit 83 in 619 2/3 IP-so it would seem safe to assume he has a live arm. If his fastball, apparently already consistently in the 90s, starts sitting in the mid-90s as he matures, he could become the real key to this deal, but since that he's not even pitched stateside, it would be ridiculous to start forecasting anything beyond that he's interesting, and two or three years from now, people outside of the organization might be drooling.

The real question is whether dealing Laird crimps Jon Daniels' style in fielding offers for any of his other catchers, but if anything, I think it puts the pressure on the shoppers. Given that there's some concern that Max Ramirez might not be a catcher years into the future, you might see the team's situation as more a matter of having two catchers-the double mouthful of Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia-and a very interesting bat that happens to catch a bit. There's no reason for the Rangers to deal one if they don't get the right kind of offer, but it will be interesting to see if Daniels signs a veteran catch-and-throw type to a NRI deal in the next couple of weeks, because that might be the prerequisite for making a deal of either Teagarden or Salty, as it could mean that they've lined up a reserve for the one of the two they decide to keep.

ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C-R David Ross to a two-year, $3 million contract. [12/5]

I've always liked Ross because he feeds that taste for backup backstops of the Mark Parent type handily enough, but it's important to remember how much Ross's rep as a slugger was a product of his association with the Reds and his profiting from getting to bop in the Gap. A little more than a third of his career PA have been in Cincinnati, where he's belted 27 of his career 60 homers, and slugged .523. Everywhere else, he's slugged .396. He's not the best defensive backstop any more, but he's not a butcher, does a reasonable job against the running game, and at the plate, beyond that occasional tater, he can bunt and will take the occasional walk. I wonder how well he'll hit getting only infrequent at-bats behind Brian McCann, given his long stroke, but that doesn't change the underlying skill set, it just makes it more difficult for him to show it to good effect. Obviously, this is a bonanza for him, and it's great to see him get this kind of security. It's also nice for the Braves that they've got a known quantity behind McCann who bats from the opposite side of the plate, but if Atlanta has financial limitations to worry about this winter, this seems like an odd way to spend it. However, as with the decision to trade for Javier Vazquez, the decision to sign Ross is telling, insofar as it reflects that the Braves still take themselves and their chances quite seriously.

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed UT-S Matt Kata to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/5]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Daniel Haigwood to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; outrighted C-R Raul Chavez and RHP Jason Davis to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [12/5]

You may remember Haigwood as the other guy sent to Philadelphia in the deal that put Jim Thome on Chicago's South Side, as he was packaged with Aaron Rowand and Gio Gonzalez. (To his credit, Kenny Williams filched Gonzalez back along with Gavin Floyd a year later by sending Chief Garcia to Philly.) You may also remember that Haigwood was sent to Texas seven months later for power lefty Fabio Castro (a Rule 5 pick in danger of being crowded out), then he was flipped to the Red Sox the next spring, at which point he started having leg and groin problems. So he's been something of a roster hot potato, but left alone in the Eastern League last season, he did decent work as a utility pitcher for Portland, and he might wind up having some sort of value as a situational lefty (having held them to .182/.305/.299 last year), although command remains an issue. Basically, this is how a low-end prospect becomes a journeyman, but he might have the kind of ability that lets Neal Huntington feel comfortable offering John Grabow around.

My own curiosity about such things aside, the real news item here is the Pirates clearing away two spots on the 40-man. While you can wishcast that into something that might pre-figure a deal that adds another team's talent already on their 40-man, a few too many years' worth of Jack Wilson rumors have me thinking the more likely avenue for filling these two spots will be the Rule 5 draft later this week. Certainly, while Chavez might catch on as somebody's backup catcher, and while Davis' fastball still might engender some sort of interest somewhere, both of these guys are NRI types who shouldn't be on anyone's 40-man this time of year.


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

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