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December 3, 2009

Transaction Action

Wagnerian Solutions and a Successfully Shopped Shoppach

by Christina Kahrl

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CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded C-R Kelly Shoppach to the Rays for a PTBNL. [12/1]
Signed RHP Jason Grilli, LHP Mike Gosling, 3B-L Brian Buscher, and INF-S Luis Rodriguez to minor-league contracts. [12/2]

So, with that, the Lou Marson era gets inaugurated, cause for tepid celebration at least in some quarters, but I guess I take it about as seriously as I took the kickoff of the Andy Allanson era in 1986-after starting his career 10-for-20, he was then Andy Allanson, and will be Andy Allanson, to the very end of his days. To be fair, the Indians didn't get Sandy Alomar Jr. until after the 1989 season, so they had to consider the prospect of the Andy Allanson era from '86 on as their lot in life. The present's much happier, in that there's a good chance that who they get from the Rays will be someone worthwhile, and Lou Marson only has to be a placeholder, because Carlos Santana owns the future.

As for the minor-league pickups, I guess I take some small amusement in seeing Rodriguez in the group, since he was one of the high walk-rate guys I deliberately avoided bringing up in my bit on OBP-oriented assets. He might have a pretty solid shot at a job, because while Asdrubal Cabrera seems locked in at short while Jhonny Peralta's moved over to third, the departure of Jamey Carroll via free agency may well press Luis Valbuena into the regular job at second, and whether he thrives or not, there'd be space for a utility infielder. Since I expect some of the second basemen on the market will wind up getting some very low offers this winter, it'll be interesting to see if the Tribe gets in on any of them, pushing Valbuena back to a utility role. Buscher's another walker, which fits here better than it seemed to go over in Minnesota, while Grilli and Gosling are utility pitchers.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired C-R Kelly Shoppach from the Indians for a PTBNL; designated RHP Jeff Bennett for assignment. [12/1]
Released RHP Ramon Ramirez. [12/2]

Because Shoppach figures to cost better than $2 million next season via arbitration, he was readily available, and the Rays dove in. They were appropriately disgusted with the predicament of sorting out which version of Dioner Navarro is going to show up next year, and equally unenthusiastic to get into quibbling over which awful veteran free-agent backstop was the one they wanted as their guy to go with as a rival or job-sharing solution for Navarro's flailures at the plate. While some are oversold on his 21-homer campaign in 2008, Shoppach's not a great solution, but he's a useful enough one as a one- or two-year add-on to a job-sharing solution. Maybe having him around spurs Navarro to bounce back again.

If not, Shoppach will contribute a decent OBP, almost as much because of his propensity to dive into a pitch's path as any actual patience, since almost four percent of his PAs the last two years ended up as HBPs. His slugging should move back up over .400 as a matter of his BABIP simply moving back towards his career rate and the MLB average, and spotted to take most of the starts against lefties (whom he's slugged .614 against on his career) will help as well. However, Navarro's no slouch against lefties on his career, and despite being a switch-hitter, he has no consistent track record as a left-handed batter to make this an easy, obvious, snap-in platoon arrangement. It really should end up being more of a classic job-share, which doesn't hurt when it frees up Joe Maddon to pinch-hit for his catchers and not feel like he's taking a big chance.

If there's any question to ask over this deal, it's who the PTBNL will wind up being, because I might argue that taking a chance on Shawn Riggans finally being healthy and letting him split time with Navarro would achieve much the same thing-less Navarro, a tick more offense, and the tactical flexibility. That said, if it winds up being someone they won't miss-and given the Indians can use everything-there's not much harm done in deciding to skip on Riggans for now and just trust in Shoppach.


ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed LHP Billy Wagner to a one-year, $7 million contract with a $6.5 million vesting option for 2011. [12/2]
Signed RHP Takashi Saito to a one-year, $3 million contract. [12/3]

Because it's the Braves doing something about their being on a multi-year run without the big win, and it comes on a big date in Napoleonic history-December 2 is the anniversay of his self-coronation as well as of Austerlitz-I guess I can't help but think of this latest gamble on one of the game's great grognards in Wagner, and think of this as a last roll of the dice, a Hundred Days-style gamble to try and wind up back on top.

Life isn't quite so simple, as it wasn't then; the Braves of Frank Wren have more than their fair share of worthy foes with their own burgeoning collections of talent, who work on keeping the Braves in history's dustbin of expensive non-winners. The Phillies, the Mets, and the Marlins are all going concerns, each in their own ways, so a fourth-place finish isn't inconceivable, were Wren to sit still.

Happily, he hasn't. If you frame this in terms of what the market might give the other available closers, this might be the best possible deal for a team shopping for the guys who come with the official fireman's hat and everything. It's a deal for less per year than Brian Fuentes got last season, for example, but also for less time, and for a reliever who may be more effective. Wagner had a 3.09 FRA in 2007, which bumped up to 3.67 in 2008, and came back down to 2.96 this year in his six or seven weeks of regular-season activity. His strikeout rate was up, but we're already well into the territory of wishcasting some pretty meagre data; his mid-90s velocity was consistent with his work before his surgery, he's throwing his breaking stuff as before, and it seems like a reasonable bet that he'll be Billy Wagner.

Taken altogether, I also like the deal because it helps scratch another item off the Braves' Hot Stove wish list, because as they move into the Winter Meetings, they are in the nearly unique position of being able to part with a rotation regular to address one of their shrinking list of needs: first base certainly, and perhaps an outfielder if the right guy was available.

I'm considerably less enthusiastic about signing Saito for this kind of money, however. While his 3.30 FRA seems reasonable, and his strikeout rate was tasty enough, the Sox took great care to avoid using Saito very much, letting him pitch on consecutive days only five times all season, something that Bobby Cox might not relish adding to his bullpen's mix if Saito can't work any more regularly than that. The Sox also generally used him only late in games with big leads or down by a lot, so while he may once have been a high-leverage reliever, he isn't one now, and his stuff was also less effective. Maybe the Braves feel more assured about how to handle a fragile reliever, having carefully handled Peter Moylan this past year, differently than they had before surgery. I guess I see this as a case of taking a flyer, which is fine, but to pay $3 million for it, on the bet that you can ease him back into a more significant role and get more out of him? Even then, I suppose it's only money instead of trading away someone of value, and there's a form of utility to their having addressed their need for relievers this way, rather than dangling one of their starting pitchers. So the upside, to some extent, is that if Saito flops, he's replaceable with cheaper talents.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed LHP John Halama to a minor-league contract. [12/1]

I wouldn't stress too much on the potential threat of the Brewers actually using Halama anywhere above Triple-A. It's possible, of course, and this is the one team in the National League that couldn't manage to get a quality start in as much as 40 percent of its ballgames. He pitched a bit in Gwinnett last year in the second half; it didn't go well, but I suppose that if Mark Hendrickson can keep getting spins in the majors, Halama might be able to latch on as a utility pitcher on a bad staff, in pretty much the exact same way Hendrickson's managed to perpetuate himself. The challenge for Doug Melvin and company is to wind up with a staff strong enough that John Halama gets to spend his spring and summer no closer to Milwaukee than Nashville.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHP Jeff Karstens and LHP Justin Thomas to Indianapolis (Triple-A); signed LHP Wil Ledezma to a minor-league contract. [11/30]

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

Related Content:  A's,  The Who,  Kelly Shoppach

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