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November 4, 2009

Transaction Action

Backwater Piracy and Sabeanesque Splurges

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted LHP Rich Hill and RHPs Alfredo Simon and Bob McCrory to Norfolk (Triple-A). [10/30]

While adding Rich Hill was a defensible risk at the time, the once-fearsome curveball fiend doesn't seem to have made any progress at beating his control problems or inspiring any new confidence, and with the O's organization burgeoning with pitching talent, there was obviously a clock ticking away as far as their willingness to take a look. As a former Cub in Andy MacPhail's organization, he may still have a home there, but he might be just as well off washing up elsewhere to see if the standard change of scenery changes his fortunes. People will always be interested in seeing if some vestige of the pitcher of 2007 is still somewhere in there, but he'll be 30 next season, and he can't count on anything more than non-roster invites.


CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted LHPs Mike Gosling and Scott Lewis and INF-S Niuman Romero to Columbus (Triple-A). [10/30]

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted 3B-L Brian Buscher to Rochester (Triple-A). [11/3]

The future owner of the hot corner at Target Field may not yet be Danny Valencia, but it's certainly more likely than it's going to Buscher. It would be easy to crack a gag at the Twins' expense about their failure to identify the value of OBP, but Buscher's viability is sort of like Glenn Gulliver's-a good organization doesn't wind up having to ask questions where he's the answer, or at least not for very long. Since they have no locked-in answers at second, short, or third, and a pair of moving parts in Brendan Harris and Nick Punto, they can afford to make space for the odd waiver claim or future Rule 5 pick, as well as keeping an eye on the cheaper options available via free agency.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted OF-L Matt Carson and RHP Chad Reineke to Sacramento (Triple-A). [10/30]

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted 1B-L Chris Richard to Durham (Triple-A). [10/30]
Traded INF-L Akinori Iwamura to the Pirates for RHP Jesse Chavez

This was essentially an exercise of getting something for nothing for the Rays, since they didn't seem likely to pick up Iwamura's option for 2010. So they basically went on a scouting raid, getting a live arm they liked for an infielder they wouldn't hold the rights to for much longer. I'll set aside what this might say about the Rays' finances, and stick with the talent. Chavez wasn't that special for the Bucs, so he isn't exactly a huge prize on the basis of his big-league performance; by rate metrics, he only delivered a 4.98 FRA, and that was in a low-leverage role in a Pitt pen so moribund that not even the Meek inherited the earth. (Joel Hanrahan did.) However, he does throw heat that's reliably into the mid-90s if not with a ton of movement, and he gets good marks for a power slider he probably didn't mix in often enough. It'll be interesting to see if the Rays make something of him, but we are talking about a second-rank reliever in a world full of second-rank relievers; that bush is in bloom year-round. If nothing comes of their adding him, the money they'd have had to spend to retain Iwamura (to then still wind up shopping him around), is still saved. With Ben Zobrist and Willy Aybar handily under contractual control, they should have second base covered for 2010 and beyond, and they can apply the savings towards Jason Bartlett's coming arbitration-induced raise.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claim 2B-R Jarrett Hoffpauir off of waivers from the Cardinals; designated LHP Bill Murphy for assignment. [11/3]

It says something about Hoffpauir's declining status within the Cards' organization that in a season in which they wound up needing infield help, he never really entered into the picture, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he wound up being available on waivers. It's also reflective of the Jays' lack of depth as far as position players that they can easily, electively grab the man and afford the roster space. He had a decent year for Memphis, hitting .291/.357/.486 in his age-26 season, which translates to a start-worthy .274/.333/.458 (and .270 EqA). His glove work is generally graded as workmanlike, and it isn't like he's going to push Aaron Hill, but he's worth having when you're not so very far removed from the days of having to put Russ Adams back onto the 40-man.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Noted that RHP Doug Brocail filed for free agency. [10/30]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired INF-L Akinori Iwamura from the Rays for RHP Jesse Chavez. [11/3]

You don't have to be a Pastafarian to decry the sorry state of Piracy today, but it probably doesn't hurt. Instead of winding up with brag-worthy swag, we're dealing with another bit of Steel City expediency. It's easy in the abstract to like a deal that involves exchanging a reliever for a useful lineup regular, but it is five years of team control of the reliever for one year of the infielder, and it doesn't come cheaply, because Iwamura's $4.8 million option for 2010 will presumably get picked up. It's just a year's worth of control because his contract requires he either get an extension or free agency afterwards, so arbitration-driven retention of the former Japanese leaguer beyond his fourth season in MLB apparently isn't an option.

Nevertheless, Iwamura gives the team a lefty bat for the top of the order as well as a regular second baseman, so this is a deal that notionally delivers two real benefits to the Pirates: the obvious, immediate value of a short-term, one-year fix at second until they find someone worth relying upon at the keystone, and the presumable future value of Iwamura in trade at the deadline next July or August, since there's not a lot of point to keeping him for what little it matters to the Pirates' long-term picture. If Neal Huntington winds up with something better than Jesse Chavez in that deal to be done later, the money's well spent. If all he gets for his trouble is a year's worth of perfunctory usefulness out of his team's second baseman du saison, it's hard to say that this achieves anything beyond an equally perfunctory observance of a desire to be competitive, if not overweeningly so.

Admittedly, there is just one problem I have with having had to do this, in that they notionally had already acquired a patch-worthy, startable veteran second baseman in signing Ramon Vazquez before last season. But Vazquez proved to be money ill-spent, flailing at the plate when he wasn't coming up short afield. After the club dealt away Freddy Sanchez, you might have expected they'd have turned to Vazquez out of conventionality as well as thriftiness, but to the credit of Huntington and company, they instead did something kooky and creative in using the last two months to look at Delwyn Young. Young's track record as an infielder was ghastly enough to have gotten him pushed to the outfield, where his bat really won't play, so this seemed like a reasonable experiment given that there was nothing at stake-another losing season was already a certainty, so why not do something like this in the interests of science?

Defensive metrics such as Plus/Minus or Clay's metrics generally concede that Young was predictably something less than good in the field around the bag, as Vazquez was as well, while differing in their evaluations of Sanchez, the man they'd replaced. They're similarly divergent on the virtues of Iwamura, so it seems worth conceding that Iwamura's value in the field will get them back to a Sanchez-like stability on defense while providing the lineup with a batter who should give them a nice OBP atop the order, for a few months at least.

As far as their winter shopping for their offensive needs, this may leave them with just one lineup slot where they really do have to find some help, either first base or right field-or, wherever Garrett Jones isn't. That's assuming that third-base prospect Pedro Alvarez doesn't just move across the diamond and shunt Jones out to right with a good camp, but I guess I'm willing to believe that Alvarez could wind up as the eventual answer at third that Andy LaRoche and Neil Walker don't appear to be. That's not to say they don't have other potential irons in the Hot Stove fires; they could explore what kind of value Ryan Doumit might bring, for instance, since some catcher-needy contenders might still rate his 2008 highly, and be willing to pair Doumit with a catch-and-throw type in a solid job-sharing solution.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 2B-R Freddy Sanchez to a two-year, $12 million extension; outrighted RHP Kelvin Pichardo to Fresno (Triple-A). [10/30]
Noted that LHP Noah Lowry and RHP Justin Miller have filed for free agency. [11/3]

The Sanchez deal seems to be justified if you limit your frame of reference to his recent compensation and his missing out on getting his initial option for $8 million in 2010 to vest. However, a .261 EqA on the year, even with his injury as a Giant cutting him down from his .277 clip with the Pirates, does little more than suggest that he had an exceptional bounceback campaign by his own lights while remaining fundamentally a mediocre player at a position where it isn't very hard to find adequate talents. His getting $12 million over two years seems less of a bargain than being of a piece with past decisions to overpay Randy Winn or Aaron Rowand or Edgar Renteria, stocking the lineup with another merely decent performer when it's desperately short of actual punch.

Miller was one of the initially successful elements of Brian Sabean's bullpen overhaul project from last winter, doing his usual good work as a situational right-hander before elbow woes tripped him up in the second half, that before they shelved him entirely down the stretch. If he can pass a physical, in the age of the seven-man bullpen he can be useful enough, assuming of course that a low-leverage ROOGY is a priority for somebody's feverish La Russian obsessions.

As far as physicals are concerned, you might say as much about Lowry, but at this point rumors of Lowry's former utility and comebackery have been so often repeated and taken at face value that it's worth remembering how much they're a matter of legend. Even if you can set aside his hard-earned, extensive reputation for fragiligy, his .536 SNWP of 2005 remains a distant high water mark for his career, although his decline in value wasn't exactly preciptious when he could pitch, dropping to .528 in 2006 and .512 in 2007. Cut from the bulldoggy cloth of the Greg Hibbard class of battling southpaws, you might wishcast his control back into the three-walks-per-nine range while also hoping he somehow gets some wee bit of lost velocity back, but it's important to remember that Jamie Moyer's the exception, not the norm. Lowry's upside was as a functional fourth starter, but now, two years removed from being able to pitch, he's sort of like the left-handed example of Voltaire's Holy Roman Empire, being neither functional nor a worthwhile fourth starter. It's hard to take seriously any suggestion that he's much more than a flyer to take if you're short on cash and long on open rotation slots. A Brewer of the future, perhaps?


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Released RHP Brad Thompson; outrighted RHP Matt Scherer and UT-L Joe Thurston to Memphis (Triple-A); noted the loss of 2B-R Jarrett Hoffpauir on a waiver claim by the Blue Jays. [11/3]

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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