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January 26, 2009

Transaction Analysis

NL West Moves

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Signed INF-S Augie Ojeda to a one-year, $712,500 contract. [12/10]
Signed UT-S Felipe Lopez to a one-year, $3.5 million contract; acquired LHP Scott Schoeneweis from the Mets for RHP Connor Robertson; non-tendered LHP Wil Ledezma, C/UT-R Rob Hammock, 2B/OF-R Chris Burke, and OF-L Jeff Salazar. [12/12]
Signed LHP Travis Blackley to a one-year contract. [12/19]
Agreed to terms with RHP Chad Qualls on a one-year, $2.54 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]

The big moves here need to be seen in the context of size being a relative consideration-we are just talking about the additions of Felipe Lopez and Scott Schoeneweis, after all. Schoeneweis certainly addresses the team's years-old need for a situational lefty better than the Doug Slatens or the Randy Choates. The question is whether or not Schoeneweis is that man, because while he's a perfectly effective situational option, he's been so hopeless against right-handed hitters of any stripe throwing in somewhat more pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium that his new home, Chase Field, might well describe what should happen with him any time a non-lefty steps in. The question really boils down to a matter of confidence breeding opportunity; Schoeneweis is a better-known commodity than Slaten, and will probably get greater benefit of the doubt from Bob Melvin as a result. That can come with some obvious penalties, but if Melvin uses Schoeneweis with the kind of precision such a pen weapon requires, it needn't end in tears.

The decision to entrust first dibs on second base to Lopez is a pretty interesting risk to have taken on, but the question there is whether or not Lopez is the sort of hitter who gets an outsized advantage from hitting in a hitter's park. We know that strikeout-prone batters get a benefit from hitting in Coors Field, for example, but is Lopez the kind of talent who can be extra-dreadful in a neutral environment, but get mistaken for a commodity given everyday at-bats in bandboxes like the Great American (Batting Practice) Ballpark or Chase? It doesn't have to be a F-Lop-specific issue, even; we did all just see what Jerry Hairston Jr. did in Cincinnati, right? At any rate, if Lopez returns to his former status as a park-aided asset with the D'backs, that's worth something to them that's different in terms of valuation than, say, he might have for the Padres. While this is obviously a bit speculative, not everyone derives these same benefits-just look at Augie Ojeda-so it's not an unreasonable gamble early on. I might have preferred taking a look at Ray Durham, but you can understand how a team that needs Brandon Webb getting ground-ball outs on right-side grounders might be a bit leery of taking a spin with an aging Little Bull.

To move over to one of the re-ups, no, Ojeda's not a great player, but beyond the ready lovability and fan appeal that comes with any player named Augie, he's still the same player he was seven or eight years ago, albeit a bit slower: decent defender up the middle, will take a walk, bunts well, and he's not a slug on the bases. You don't win with him playing regularly, but if you happen to favor these skills in a bench player, that's reasonable enough, and at this price, it's nice to see him get a measure of job security just shy of his 34th birthday. As a steady reserve to sub in for the always-unpredictable Lopez, he makes a decent amount of sense, although if F-Lop lives down to past shortcomings, the problem is that the Snakes won't really have a good fall-back option for everyday play.

If the name 'Travis Blackley' rings any bells, you may remember him from such shoulder-slagging mayhemfests as the Mariners organization of a few years ago. The Aussie import doesn't have anything left as far as velocity and took a real beating drifting through the Phillies' organization last season, but he's left-handed, and ... well, he's left-handed. If he masters some measure of command, he might pan out in some sort of relief role, but he hasn't yet, and that's a bit of a problem as far as forecasting his use anywhere beyond Reno's roster as an innings sponge.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Agreed to terms with RHP Huston Street ($4.5 million) and LHP Jorge de la Rosa ($2 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/19]
Agreed to terms with RHPs Taylor Buchholz ($1.055 million) and Jason Grilli ($800,000 base) and MI-R Clint Barmes ($1.625 million base) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed INF-R Mark Loretta to a one-year, $1.25 million contract. [12/10]
Non-tendered RHPs Takashi Saito, Scott Proctor, Yhency Brazoban, and Mario Alvarez and SS-R Angel Berroa. [12/12]
Re-signed SS-S Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $30 million contract with a $12 million vesting (or club) option for 2012. [12/19]
Signed RHP Claudio Vargas to a one-year, $900,000 (base) contract. [1/5]
Released OF-R Andruw Jones outright. [1/15]
Signed RHP Jonathan Broxton ($1.825 million) and C-R Russell Martin ($3.9 million) to one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]
Signed C-R Brad Ausmus to a one-year, $1 million contract. [1/21]
Noted the retirement of 2B-R Jeff Kent. [1/22]

Having the courage to admit a mistake is always impressive, even when it costs you $21 million to make Jones go away, but let's face it, this was pretty creative of the Dodgers, in that once this was in the cards and Ned Colletti decided he had better uses for the roster spot, they came up with a very reasonable solution, spreading that money between here and 2016 (which may well prove to be here to eternity for the Colletti regime), meaning that it's only a $5 million hit this year. Spreading out the ill effects of the Andruw contract is a sensible bit of money management. Even if you think that Jones has some amount of upside left in him-especially relative to Juan Pierre, who has none-given the ill will on both sides by last season's end, and the absence of any guarantee that they'd get a svelte edition, you can understand how the team might be willing to live with Pierre's tepid contributions as a reserve for another $28.5 million over the next three seasons, but unwilling to take that less predictable risk with Jones. Someone might still trade for some fraction of Pierre's contract, after all, if they decide they're one almost-adequate center fielder short of October action, but it looks like nobody wants a piece of Andruw these days. It'll be interesting to see if Jones gets a break with anybody, or if he has to put in an appearance in the indie leagues-or Mexico? Japan?-to be taken seriously again, and if he's even up for playing on in those circumstances. I don't think we should rule it out, because even if he's set for the next several years financially, there's the opportunity to earn more if he shows something in a comeback.

At this point of the Hot Stove season, the boldness of getting rid of Andruw represents an echo of the similarly canny decision to take advantage of Raffy Furcal's apparently fluid sense of commitment and keep him in-house. As we saw last season, even if Furcal isn't going to be the guy who hit .366/.448/.597 a month-plus into last year, he makes a significant difference in terms of the kind of lineup the Dodgers field, and if durability is an issue, given the limited pickings on the market available to the team, you can understand the decision to buy high on him. The question to ask, however, in light of the decision to eat Andruw's contract, was whether or not the Dodgers shouldn't have instead invested the money spent on Furcal and the money saved from moving around the debt to Jones to make a better play at retaining Manny Ramirez, and then taking your chances with either Ivan De Jesus Jr. or Chin-Lung Hu at short. That might sound like a bad proposition, but taken in tandem, these decisions mean that the Dodgers are in danger of going back to Juan Pierre, everyday player, and Pierre isn't a great bet to outplay either shortstop in any phase of the game. Obviously, getting Manny under contract for anything like the money going to Furcal seems improbable, but since we're in a market where signing Pat Burrell was relatively cheap, I guess if you reduce the choice between one of the kid shortstops or Pierre, I'd rather follow the branches of a decision tree that keeps Pierre on the pine electively, because playing him will just end up involving a lot of jogs back to the dugout anyway.

The tradeoffs between value and utility in the decisions to bring in Loretta and Ausmus are slightly less complicated. Loretta's a decent fall-back proposition if Blake DeWitt's attempt to stick at second base doesn't go well, and adding him lets them take their time evaluating what Tony Abreu is going to be good for coming back from injury, as well as perhaps also letting them take their time selecting which side of the bag De Jesus winds up starting at. On paper, should all the kids have to go back down, Albuquerque's infield could have Abreu moving between second and third, De Jesus moving between short and second, and Hu starting at short, but I like the possibility that having Loretta in hand might make it easier for them to utilize Hu and De Jesus as bargaining chips before that gets overly unwieldy. As for Ausmus, there's no reason to get upset over what he isn't-an adequate replacement for Russell Martin-because if anything happens to Martin, the season's going to go south in a hurry regardless. What Ausmus really represents is a veteran backstop that Joe Torre might start often enough to ease Martin's workload behind the plate so the starter can retain his productivity later into the season. While Ausmus isn't going to hit that much better than Danny Ardoin, if his virtues as a known quantity can give the Dodgers at least that, plus whatever additional gravitas his rep as an outstanding receiver grants them, that sounds like a worthwhile choice as a reserve catcher.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Non-tendered RHPs Clay Hensley and Charlie Haeger. [12/12]
Signed OF-L Jody Gerut to a one-year, $1.1775 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/19]
Claimed RHP Virgil Vasquez off of waivers from the Reds Sox. [1/9]
Signed MI-R David Eckstein to a one-year, $850,000 contract; claimed RHP Jae Kuk Ryu off of waivers from the Rays. [1/15]
Signed RHP Heath Bell to a one-year, $1.225 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]
Signed C-R Henry Blanco to a one-year, $750,000 deal. [1/21]
Designated RHP Virgil Vasquez for assignment. [1/22]

Not too shabby as minor move-making goes. Eckstein's utility as a starting infielder who can play second but more probably will wind up getting a lot of starts at short makes sense for a club that wants to see what it has in Matt Antonelli, but also can't yet count on him. Sure, spotty defense and no power and no speed doesn't sound like a lot, but an OBP in the .330-.350 range in a low-offense environment can make Eckstein's defense playable while giving the lineup somebody who can help out in one of the front two slots atop the order. I guess I especially like the move because it was a maybe-shortstop the Pads needed more than a maybe second baseman; even if Antonelli flounders, Travis Denker makes an interesting dark horse, and Edgar Gonzalez isn't the worst fall-back option. In contrast, the organization really has nothing at short. I guess I see the Blanco addition as being something of a piece with getting Eckstein, but that's because I anticipate he's in a solid position to claim more than just the semi-coaching sort of role as Nick Hundley's backup. Hundley's really not that good a prospect, so the real need here is to have somebody able to play more than the Luke Carlin types should Hundley need to take a refresher course in the minors. Blanco's a little better than your good catch-and-throw guy, in that he throws exceptionally well, bunts well, and can usually paste a southpaw's junk with some consistency. To put it another way, Blanco is a good enough option for the Padres that he might play his way into a 50/50 split with Hundley even if the kid delivers on his modest upside. Even that split in terms of the actual starts winds up being a little front-loaded, and if it might help make Blanco a bit more attractive to a catcher-needy contender at the end of July, so much the better.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Signed LHP Randy Johnson to a one-year, $8 million (base) contract. [12/26]
Agreed to terms with LHP Jack Taschner on a one-year, $835,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/20]

Putting the Big Unit in the China Basin might sound cryptic and possibly naughty, but the meaning is actually pretty clear: the Giants take themselves seriously. While that may seem laughable on some level, settle down and ask yourself, can you blame them? The Dodgers and D'backs haven't made the sorts of moves that convincingly elevate them past the 85-win range, and while so much of the Giants' limited success last season depended on happy accidents in their record in one-run ballgames (going 31-21, and tying with the Angels in that record), and at the even more pathetic Padres' expense, there's some reason to take them just about as seriously. They're not the team that fielded an almost entirely putrid lineup last season, they're the one we saw at the tail end of the season, the one that had a few interesting prospects on the field. The team needed help in the bullpen, and Brian Sabean's tried to scare some up. The team needed a plausible regular at short, and whatever else you may say about him, Edgar Renteria is exactly that. The team still needs some power in the lineup, which is why we keep hearing Manny Ramirez rumors, though the shame of that would be how it might suck playing time away from Fred Lewis, one of their better hitters, but if Lewis reduces Randy Winn to a less-regular starter, even that could turn out well. I admit, I'd be a little more enthusiastic if they came up with a power-hitting third baseman who lets them relegate Pablo Sandoval to sharing playing time at first with Travis Ishikawa and behind the plate with Bengie Molina, but we'll see if Joe Crede proves himself healthy enough to engender any interest in his coming workout.

So, put Randy Johnson onto that sort of team in this sort of division, and yeah, I like it well enough. He'll get his 300th win as a Giant-he's just five away-and make me feel good about saying on-air a decade ago that he was one of the active players with a shot at 300 when he was only just getting past 150. Extraordinary talents make their own rules, and in the same way that the roll of the dice the Yankes have taken with CC Sabathia this winter might seem extraordinary, it's worth remembering that back in the '90s there was a lot of speculation over how well a different power lefty with an unusual build would last. I didn't have any special genius then or now, but I am glad to see Johnson closing in on the mark. He should be effective enough, he saves Team Sabean from having to count too heavily on Noah Lowry to round out the rotation, and I guess there's something sort of amusing about having someone who reduces Barry Zito to not merely an expensive mistake, but the most expensive fifth starter ever now, or that may ever be, barring Weimar-style hyperinflation. Although in light of the times we're in, perhaps it's better not to kid about such things.


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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