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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

32 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

BillJohnson

I wonder: If Noah Lowry is able to go at all (and accepting that there is every chance that he won't be), might he be the type to benefit from a Dave Duncan-style makeover? I don't see him as a future Brewer as much as I do a future Cardinal on a low-base, high-incentive contract that allows him to be defenestrated painlessly if he really can't pitch.

Nov 04, 2009 15:22 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

It's worth noting that it seems as if a lot of Duncan's successes with pitchers seem to be with right-handers with some sort of velocity, not lefties who struggle to dent bread when they're healthy.

Nov 04, 2009 20:35 PM
 
BillJohnson

Point, but remember that there are more semi-hard-throwing right-handers out there than there are soft-tossing left-handers, so it stands to reason that Dunc, or any successful pitching coach, will find more successes in the first group than the second. No Cardinals fan can look at any junk-balling lefty and not have fantasies involving John Tudor in 1985, although the game has changed some since then...

Nov 05, 2009 20:51 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Christina has been touched by his noodly appendage!!!

Nov 04, 2009 16:14 PM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I describe myself as an agnostic pastafarian if only because, as someone with a gluten allergy, I either need to appeal to his manifestations in quinoa or rice, or just settle for risotto-oriented apostasy.

Nov 04, 2009 20:32 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Christina, and I mean this as a compliment, but can I hire you to write cover letters? I could never quip that rhapsodic and that kind of prose is bound to get some kind of attention from prospective employers.

Nov 04, 2009 21:51 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I'm flattered, but my advice to all job applicants in all fields of work: avoid using "apostasy" in a cover letter. The upside risk is you get ignored for using a big word; the downside, they burn you at the stake in the conference room.

Nov 05, 2009 09:49 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Well, since they tend to ignore my cover letters anyway, then at least I'd make a memorable impression on HR by being torched.

Nov 05, 2009 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

The Pirates got Iwamura, a better player than Sanchez for cheaper (a middling middle reliever) and will end up paying Iwamura less too.

Even if they aren't able to flip Iwamura for a great prospect like they did with Sanchez, I do like the thought process.

Nov 04, 2009 17:20 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Yes, he's cheaper, and yes, he's probably going to be better, and better the stuff they got from the Giants for Chavez and one less year of adequacy than Sanchez. But that's not to say they haven't wound up with just a placeholder at second for 2010, which means holding into abeyance a judgment of the deal until we see whether they get additional value out of Iwamura.

Nov 04, 2009 20:39 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I could see them signing Iwamura to a multi-year extension to enhance his cost-control and then pawning him off to another team ala McLouth. Yes, we don't know what the Pirates will do with him eventually, but since I doubt they signed him to push the Pirates into contention, I'm betting they signed him for some interim offensive/defensive value (which increases the value of their pitching staff through improved numbers) and then will flip him over the next year.

Nov 04, 2009 21:54 PM
rating: -1
 
SC

Iwamura could also bring some draft picks if he's not extended, unless his contract somehow prevents them from offering arbitration, thereby eliminating the opportunity for a compensation pick.

Still don't know how the Twins failed to grab Iwamura, he's a perfect fit, reasonably priced, is capable of hitting more than .220, unlike their current 2b/3b, Nick Punto.

Nov 05, 2009 07:43 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

To be fair, it takes two to tango, and I wouldn't put it past the Rays to have seen something in Chavez (between the gun reading and the impressions his slider's made now and again) to decide he's good clay. This is the team that got more out of Grant Balfour or Troy Percival than a lot of people expected, and turned J.P. Howell into a serious asset. They are, of course, also the team that got over-excited about Joe Nelson, but that's a note struck in a minor key.

Nov 05, 2009 09:42 AM
 
Michael
(736)

Maybe Christina is off her game this one time or maybe I'm just cranky but don't Rich Hill's latest surgury and the possibility of Sean Rodriguez playing 2B for the Rays both merit some mention when reviewing these transactions? On the other hand, since I knew about them, I shouldn't mind that they were omitted!

Nov 05, 2009 06:46 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Nah, it's a fair point re: Rodriguez, and something I touched on when they got him in the Kazmir trade. That said, they do have guys they might turn to ahead of him, and to some extent on this roster as currently constructed (and as a result of Zobrist's flexibility), Rodriguez would be battling for at-bats and a roster spot with various outfield aspirants, not least the much-ballyhooed Matt Joyce and top prospect Desmond Jennings. Much depends on what's to come with the Rays, since I doubt they'll simply let it ride this winter. But until they do make a move or two, Rodriguez is one (talented) player from within a crowd who needs a good winter and/or a good camp, and create his own opportunity.

As for Hill, his labrum repair isn't supposed to keep him out of action too long into spring, and the concerns about him transcend just that one injury.

Nov 05, 2009 09:36 AM
 
Michael
(736)

Thanks Christina!

Nov 05, 2009 13:39 PM
rating: 0
 
sunpar

Are we sure that the Pirates are gearing up to make a run at relevancy as soon as this year?

They've got a pitching staff of 4 useful pitchers (Duke, Ohlendorf, Maholm, and Morton), all of whom are hitting their primes right now (they are all either 26 or 27 years old). Beyond that, they have a fairly strong group of defensive players to support that non-power armed pitching staff.

Andy Laroche (a 3 win player last year), Andrew McCutchen, and Garrett Jones (barring regression) make an ok core. Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez aren't too far away from the big leagues. Iwamura adds another solid piece to the puzzle there and you're not sacrificing any future payroll flexibility there. Brandon Moss had a down year at the plate, but he's a plus-plus defender and may be due for a rebound next year. And on top of all that, they've got a big-league payroll of just 17.6 million this year (with Iwamura's 4.8 mill), so they may try to fix the bullpen and add some additional bats this offseason.

Ok, so it's a stretch to say they'll be playoff contenders. But if they can get to 75-80 wins on the cheap while maintaining future payroll flexibility, I'd say that makes good business sense.

Nov 05, 2009 07:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

The sheer size of the Pirates teardown implies they're shooting for 2011 or 2012. In the meantime, they're restocking their farm system with a bunch of dice rolls.. and with that many chances, someone's bound to break out.

Personally, I like what they've done, as opposed to a team like the Royals (*mutters about the Teahan trade*) I doubt the Pirates would've done that one if they had Teahan.

Nov 05, 2009 09:06 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

It's a stretch, in no small part because nobody in that rotation's somebody about to become a top-shelf starter, but like you, I could see a best-case scenario where they get into 75-win territory in 2010 if they keep Doumit (and get 400 PA out of him), Alvarez proves ready and steps in at first, Jones doesn't go Kevin Maas on us, LaRoche and Milledge turn corners, and Ronny Cedeno sticks with the Jose Hernandez Lite act. It wouldn't be a great team with a ton of upside potential, but it would be a much more interesting one than the last lot.

Nov 05, 2009 09:47 AM
 
CRP13

That's a lot of "if-everything-goes-perfectly's". The Astros tried that philosophy last year. Worked like a charm.

Nov 05, 2009 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

A lot would have to go perfect for the Pirates to contend in 2010, but the Astros comparison isn't quite comparable since the Astros signed a bunch of aging veterans and had a paper-thin rotation.

The Pirates would be better off not thinking their contenders in 2010 and again flipping parts for increased value. Then, as Alvarez and Tabata emerge in 2011, they'll have enough of a major and minor league farm system to acquire a star or two that can push them over the hump.

Nov 05, 2009 10:45 AM
rating: 0
 
sunpar

I agree that their real ambition is to contend in 2011 or 2012, but I don't think they can time it so well as to say "we'll wait till we get to X time and then spend money."

They didn't give up any pieces for Iwamura and he's likely not a part of the 2011 plan either. At the very most, they likely hope that he has a good year and they can get some arbitration compensation (or flip him at the trade deadline), though that would just be a bonus.

More likely, they saw an opportunity to obtain a 3-win player at a 2-win price (totally making up those numbers up, but the idea holds). That 4.8 million for Iwamura and whatever else they have to spend (within reason) to get to 75 wins may make good business sense.

Long story short, it's bad managing to take a 65-win team and make them into a 75-win team by signing aging vets to long, expensive, flexibility-killing contracts. But it's good managing to acquire aging vets on a short-term deal to improve the product on the field until you get better talent to the majors.

To use a non-baseball analogy, it's kind of like how Bill Parcells operates every time he switches organizations. He always bring along a few key aging vets (hi, Vinny Testeverde!) who are way past their prime to provide an immediate lift while he builds the bulk of the team's talent through the draft.

Nov 05, 2009 13:08 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Hey, like I said, "best-case." Unlike the Astros, however, I don't think the Pirates count on this as their only conceivable outcome.

Nov 05, 2009 11:41 AM
 
CRP13

I know you weren't suggesting that you thought all of that would come true. I just felt that a sarcastic jabbing at the Astros and their sun-shines-out-our-butt philosophy was due.

Nov 05, 2009 12:49 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

"We would have won the World Series, too, if it wasn't for those darned kids."

Nov 05, 2009 14:36 PM
 
CRP13

Just because they're hitting their numerological prime doesn't mean that their prime is major-league average or (with luck) above-average. I'd take Oswalt, Lilly, Carpenter, or Harang past their expiration date over any of those pitchers you mentioned in their prime. Moss has never had an "up year" at the plate, and the only currently interesting players you mentioned were McCutchen and Jones, who is due to struggle a bit when the league scouts him a little better and adjusts. If their touted prospects live up to their tout, the Pirates are still at least two or three years away from .500, much less contention.

Nov 05, 2009 10:31 AM
rating: 0
 
sunpar

I was using their age as an indicator of regression/progression. Duke and Ohlendorf put up better than league-average production last year while Maholm and Morton were just below league average. As these guys are all entering their primes, I don't expect regression and it's probably fair to predict that they improve next year as a group.

Obviously the guys you named are better pitchers and will likely continue to be better, age notwithstanding.

Nov 05, 2009 12:51 PM
rating: 0
 
sunpar

Also, I said Moss had a down year at the plate because he put up a Major League Equivalent .281 EqA in Pawtucket last year, .253 in Pittsburgh and a .265 in Boston. He regressed and put up a .237 EqA this year, but was still a 0.7 WARP1 player due to his defensive value.

If he can maintain the defensive value (and for whatever reason, the Pirates seem to be able to get the a lot out of their players defensively) and "rebound" offensively, he could be a nice piece in the outfield.

Nov 05, 2009 12:56 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

I agree that Moss is interesting, but I don't think he'd ever be confused with a major-league outfielder on a contending team. He's more fourth-or-fifth outfielder type until he can prove he's not a Quad-A player. But the Pirates really don't have better options.

Nov 05, 2009 13:11 PM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

While I agree that The Giants overpaid for Freddy Sanchez, both in talent and dollars, by Sabean's standards, it isn't a horrible deal. It isn't $9m/year for Randy Winn, for example, who had a roughly equivalent EQA playing an outfield corner position. It also isn't like the Giants have a lot of really good options at 2nd. That said, I probably would have trotted Burriss or Matt Downs out there next year and saved the money for a down payment on Jason Bay or Matt Holliday.

Nov 05, 2009 13:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

But that's the thing. The Giants could have picked up someone of Sanchez's "caliber" for less cost. Not to mention, he was injured at the time of the trade. Meanwhile, players like Julio Lugo and Jeff Baker were picked up cheaply.

Then, since the Giants gave up a prime prospect, they're also inclined to compound their mistake by giving Sanchez an extension.

Just like Winn, it's a misallocation of resources.

Nov 05, 2009 14:59 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Here we sort of get into the latest round-robin of what you'd rather have, though. I guess I'm stuck on the Sox potentially getting Teahen; I'd rather have Iwamura, even if that means leaving Beckham at third base. I'd also rather have Iwamura at his price for one year than Sanchez for his for two.

In the realm of the possible, I think crediting Huntington and company for this move looks more and more appropriate by the hour.

Nov 05, 2009 16:11 PM
 
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