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January 21, 2009

Transaction Analysis

Central Housekeeping

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Bartolo Colon to a one-year, $1 million (base) contract. [1/14]
Agreed to terms with RHP Bobby Jenks on a one-year, $5.6 million contract. [1/19]

Let's face it, this may not be a great risk, but putting Colon together with Ozzie Guillen might just be the sort of entertaining combination of oddball talent with outspoken manager that turns into a happy patch for a rotation that needs the assist. That, or a running brushfire war in Alex's Monday quotables, since neither man is notably shy. There aren't a lot of apologies to make for Colon-he managed only ~120 total innings in 2007 coming back (and not very well) from a 2006 almost wiped out by shoulder woes, and last season's back problems and season-ending sulk over a bullpen banishment don't engender a lot of optimism that he's fully functional even when he's fully functioning. Even so, it's a relatively minor financial commitment to make, and if he doesn't pan out by the point at which Jose Contreras returns, the Sox might nevertheless not have to worry about choosing two from among their initial crew of candidates for the fifth slot to round out the rotation.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Signed C-R Matt Treanor to a one-year, $705,000 contract. [12/18]
Agreed to terms with RHP Fernando Rodney ($2.7 million) and OF-R Marcus Thames ($2.25 million), avoiding arbitration with both. [1/14]
Agreed to terms with RHPs Edwin Jackson ($2.2 million) and Joel Zumaya ($735,000), LHP Bobby Seay ($1.3 million), and C-R Gerald Laird ($2.8 million), avoiding arbitration with all four. [1/20]

Treanor's a perfectly reasonable backup catcher, of course, assuming you've got a solid regular, but the problem is that the Tigers don't-they have Laird, who's sort of the deluxe edition of a backup catcher, someone good enough to use in a job-sharing arrangement while breaking in a kid, someone good enough to work into a full-scale platoon arrangement, and somebody whose limitations as a hitter are such that he sticks the team with a second lineup hole outside of shortstop. I guess if the argument is that the Tigers are going cheap as well as temporary in terms of their catching options now that Brandon Inge is back at third base, I really wonder if the combined investement in Treanor and Laird wouldn't have been better thrown at Joe Crede as a free agent on a one-year deal. A healthy Crede might at least do some damage on offense, and he's been an excellent defender in the past; admittedly, the speculative element is "a healthy Crede," but at least that would have been a play with some upside, where Laird, Treanor, and Inge have their recent pasts to suggest their own liabilities.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Re-signed LHP John Bale to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. [12/16]
Signed LHPs Heath Phillips and Lenny DiNardo, RHP Oscar Villarreal, and OF-S Tommy Murphy to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/17]
Re-signed RHP Luke Hudson to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/18]
Agreed to terms with RHP Joel Peralta ($640,000) and C-R John Buck ($2.9 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]

CINCINNATI REDS
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Non-tendered RHPs Matt Belisle and Gary Majewski and OF-R Norris Hopper. [12/12]
Signed OF-L Laynce Nix to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI; re-signed OF-R Norris Hopper to a one-year contract. [12/15]
Signed OF-R Jonny Gomes to a split contract with a spring training NRI. [1/19]

It's probably just me, but Jocketty seems to be assembling at least a plausible group of outfield options. Adding Gomes seems like a more than reasonable risk, not at all unlike Wayne Krivsky's decision to haul in Jorge Cantu at the tail end of the 2007 season. As in the instance of that then-fading Ray, Gomes is a defensively doubtful right-handed hitter with some pop and little discipline coming to a small park that turns dying quails into big blows. Add in that the Reds currently have a pair of younger, relatively unestablished lefty batters currently slotted to start in right and left in Jay Bruce and Chris Dickerson, and Gomes looks like a good addition whether you consider him veteran insurance against either kid's flopping, a platoon option for either starter, or just a fourth outfielder who might be able to do some park-aided damage. Gomes is a hitter whose virtues are well-suited to the park, better than, say, Hopper's are, but even there, Hopper makes a nice speed-and-defense alternative in his own way. While the decision to entrust center field to Willy Taveras is lamentable, add in that Nix has his virtues as a modest power source, and while it doesn't make for an All-Star crew, Dusty Baker has some playable choices for the corners and for the bench to select from.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Purchased Rule 5 pick C-R Lou Palmisano from the Orioles. [12/11]
Non-tendered 3B/LF-R Ty Wigginton and OF-R Reggie Abercrombie. [12/12]
Signed OF-R Jason Michaels to a one-year, $750,000 contract. [12/15]
Signed INF-R Aaron Boone to a one-year, $750,000 contract. [12/18]
Agreed to terms with RHP Jose Valverde on a one-year, $8 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/12]
Agreed to terms with C-R Humberto Quintero on a one-year, $610,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/19]
Agreed to terms with RHP Brandon Backe ($1.5 million base) and LHP Tim Byrdak ($1 million) on one-year deals, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]

The Astros are slowly being stocked with a cast of extras you might normally have anticipated populating the rosters of the Senior League with. Boone and Michaels on top of Darin Erstad and Geoff Blum? At least Michael's only turning 32 this year; the other three will all be 35 or older. If this was a young team you were shoring up with a few solid citizens, that might make sense, but it isn't-it's a club that's going to ask Boone and Blum to play third, on a team where Erstad stands a fighting chance of winning away a lot of the playing time in center for himself, because the competition is Michael Bourn. While last year's kamikaze run was amusing enough, this is really degenerating into a simulacrum of a big-league ballclub, where it's staffed by people you've heard of for that very reason-you've heard of them, so it doesn't seem quite so transparently cheap as asking whether Scott McClain's available or if somebody's got Ernie Young's phone number. Add in that Quintero currently stands to start the majority of games behind the plate, and this could be a triple threat of entertainment: a team that doesn't score runs, doesn't do a great job of preventing them either, and worst of all, might just be deadly dull in the doing of it.

If there's a silver lining, while the Astros may end up offering Palmisano back to the Brewers (from whom the Orioles selected him), this is one Rule 5 pick who might stick. He's a decent receiver who had two years at Double-A under his belt before this year's injury-plagued wipeout, he has modest sock, and a 9.8 percent career UIBB rate in the minors reflects a modicum of command of the strike zone. Maybe the injury-plagued 2008 even provides the added benefit of cover, in that it could be quite plausible to deposit him on the DL for an extended stretch, as so many other Rule 5 picks have been done with in the past.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Non-tendered LHP Chris Capuano. [12/12]
Re-signed LHP Chris Capuano to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/16]
Signed OF-Ls Trot Nixon and Chris Duffy to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/18]
Agreed to terms with SS-R J.J. Hardy on a one-year, $4.65 million deal, avoiding arbitration. [1/12]
Signed RHP Trevor Hoffman to a one-year, $6 million deal. [1/13]
Agreed to terms with RHP David Bush on a one-year, $4 million deal, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]
Agreed to terms with RHP Seth McClung on a one-year, $1.6625 million deal, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]

I suppose signing Hoffman represents the big news, and he arrives a few million more cheaply than last year's investment in Eric Gagne, if unfortunately a few times more expensive than either spin with Danny Kolb, and no less certain in terms of the result. As cool as it might be that strains of "Hells' Bells" will rock Miller Park, the problem's going to come from the likely rockings that will come shortly thereafter. If Hoffman's change can't fool lefties reliably any more (and last year's homer every 17 plate appearances against them certainly suggests as much on top of his struggling against them in 2007), he makes a pretty poor investment as a closer, and spending $6 million on a ROOGY isn't what the Brewers were supposed to be doing here. Beyond that, you could try to parse a happy thought by citing his career performance in Miller Park, but because of the uneven schedule, his tally was built on an inning here or there every year going back to Miller's opening, so even that bit of joy is a matter of small sample sizes being tallied sporadically; is it useful or useless to know he got Chad Moeller out in Miller Park in 2006? I suspect he could still, because it's Chad Moeller, but hopefully you see my point.

While most of the rest of this is just standard winter shuffling, the names of note are the additions of Duffy and Nixon to an outfield that may well end up having use for them. Duffy lost most of his final, desultory campaign as a Pirate to injuries, but at 29 he may still have something left in the tank, and if you want to get optimistic, his combination of speed, defense, and on-base skills might make a decent bench alternative to Mike Cameron in center. That's assuming they don't simply deal Cameron, of course; if that happens, Duffy might have a shot at the everyday job, but he'd have to fend off Kid Gwynn in that bid, and you could understand the Brewers' favoring going with their own in such a circumstance. Were they to achieve the long-rumored Cameron deal with the Yankees that makes Melky Cabrera their own problem, and while that might add another option for the Brewers, it wouldn't necessarily mean that Duffy's out of the running, given the quality of the competition. Nixon strikes me as a riskier proposition; he hasn't had a good season since 2005 (if you want to be charitable), or a really healthy one since 2003. Even so, I like what he represents if he's to present Corey Hart with a formerly famous competitor for at-bats in right field; not that Hart shouldn't win such a squabble handily, but last year's starter had a pretty mediocre age-26 season, delivering a few good-looking counting stat tallies that wash out over more than 650 plate appearances. Even if Nixon sticks as a sometime spotter for Hart and more frequent pinch-hitter, that might make some sense as long as Hart's going to struggle to post an OBP over .300 against right-handed pitchers.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed INF-L Ramon Vazquez to a two-year, $4 million contract; non-tendered RHP Denny Bautista. [12/12]
Re-signed RHP Denny Bautista to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/19]
Signed RHP Juan Mateo, 1B-L Garrett Jones, INF-R Andy Phillips, and OF-L Jeff Salazar to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/22]
Agreed to terms with LHPs John Grabow ($2.3 million base) and Zach Duke ($2.2 million base), RHP Tyler Yates ($1.3 million base), and 1B-L Adam LaRoche ($7.05 million base) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]

The interesting development here was the decision to add Vazquez. There's no particular genius in observing that a spike in his line-drive rate last season tracked with the spike in his batting average, and that when he hits fewer liners-as he will-his batting average will drop, his slugging will drop, and even his walk rate will probably have to deal with some erosion, and then people will get the memo and remind themselves that, while Vazquez isn't your prototypically punchless utility infielder, he's also not Babe Ruth. Or Johnny Ray. Nevertheless, while he's almost certainly not going to be as productive as he was as a Ranger in 2008, he makes for a nice add-on to an infield that has three regulars that bat righty at second, short, and third, plus two fragile quantities in Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez up the middle, and Andy LaRoche looking to make good on his former promise at third. It might not be a very sexy role for Vazquez to have taken what seems like a modest amount of money to join a non-contender, but he's probably assured of another 300-350 PA in each of the next two seasons. At the keystone, his batting lefty might make for a nice platoon at second should Sanchez remain as done-ish as he looked last season. At short, even if Wilson remains healthy this year, you can also hope that Neal Huntington finally does find someone to take him off of his hands, which could make for plenty of time at short for Vazquez. (Such a scenario would also probably involve an opportunity for Brian Bixler to come in for defense and start against lefties at the very least, and perhaps more if Vazquez is required to fill in at second or third.) All in all, while this seems like a strange little expense for the Pirates to have taken on, it seems like a reasonable investment given the specific problems they have in the near term, and the likely utility they'll receive from Vazquez.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart
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Non-tendered LHPs Tyler Johnson and Randy Flores and MI-S Aaron Miles. [12/12]
Signed 2B-L Joe Thurston and C-R Justin Knoedler to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/16]
Agreed to terms with RHP Todd Wellemeyer ($4.05 million) and LF-L Chris Duncan ($825,000) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/19]
Agreed to terms with RHP Brad Thompson on a one-year, $650,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]


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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