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December 8, 2009

Transaction Action

Three-Way Fun

by Christina Kahrl

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DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed free-agent SS-R Adam Everett to a one-year, $1.55 million contract; signed LHP Brad Thomas to a one-year contract; traded LHP Clay Rapada to the Rangers; outrighted RHP Zach Simons to Toledo (Triple-A). [12/7]
Receive RHP Max Scherzer and LHP Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks and CF-L Austin Jackson and LHP Phil Coke from the Yankees in a three-way trade for CF-L Curtis Granderson (to New York) and RHP Edwin Jackson (to Arizona); signed C-R Robinzon Diaz to a minor-league contract. [12/8]

It might be easy to characterize this as the Tigers' legacy of monster contracts rising up and killing their brief bid for success in the AL Central, but I see it as a bid to sustain that success beyond the life left on the innumerable mistake contracts left over from the 2006 pennant team. Their 2010 bid for success was tough enough to rely upon, but instead, this was a great job of converting the two years you had left on Jackson for stuff that will sustain the Tigers far beyond that. Adding Scherzer behind a rotation built on Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello sounds pretty interesting as far as what that means for the next four or five years, certainly more so than betting your future on what Edwin Jackson becomes or fails to become before he reaches free agency. Putting Daniel Schlereth in the Motor City might provide the club a premium closer in due time, but at the very least gives them a flame-throwing lefty reliever who could be as much an asset to this club as Matt Thornton is for the White Sox-but with the benefit of cost control for the next six years.

(In such a circumstance, I'm willing to forgive the decision to re-up with the neo-Oyler, Mr. Everett. Why not give a young rotation the benefit of his work in the field, since winning's already hobbled by the money already committed to the halt and the lame for 2010? He won't help them win the AL Central in 2010-but the Tigers aren't going to win the AL Central in 2010, not unless 85 wins is out of reach for even its best club TBNL in an even more tepidly paced race.)

Certainly, thinking beyond next season was already the tack the team was on, once they were obviously happy to let Placido Polanco scoot as a free agent and presumably replace him with Scott Sizemore. That they also managed to add the man who should be the center fielder for that team over than same extended time frame, that's genius, especially in how it converts the new Andy Van Slyke-with all of the tremendous benefits but equally tremendous hazards and expenses-into an everyday player they can probably just plug right in next season and conceivably win with in 2011 and beyond. (Again, this is the AL Central we're talking about.) Not that getting Austin Jackson's an upgrade over Granderson, but the savings aren't inconsiderable, and there's nothing about this trade that eliminates the Tigers' freedom of action once they're no longer carrying Magglio Ordońez, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Brandon Inge after next season. Jackson, like Sizemore and Scherzer and Schlereth, will be a big part of that good team, one that wouldn't exist anywhere outside of Dave Dombrowski's daydreams if he doesn't give up something to get something. As much as five years of control of Granderson's the big chip, not Edwin Jackson; the latter's the chuckle-worthy benefit of having gambled and won by flipping the sabermetrically immortal Matt Joyce to the Rays last winter.

What all of these moves really bring home to me is the extent of the financial penalties involved with those past commitments, but also the hit in the pocket the franchise took with a decline of 700,000 in just paid attendance, and the perhaps more troubling hit they took in terms of premium seating and luxury suite sales, given the even more starkly ruined collapse of industry in the crumbly buckle of the Rust Belt. And I know, it's a canard that ticket sales aren't what fuels payroll, but that's a delightfully abstract argument when you're not the one taking in the money or making payroll or staring at an empty stadium. Not to be too sympathetic for the decision-making team that did, after all, stick itself with the liberally well-compensated broken former somebodies populating the roster, but it seems silly to just flat-out ignore the issue.


NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded RHP Brian Bruney to the Nationals for a PTBNL. [12/7]
Acquired CF-L Curtis Granderson from the Tigers for RHP Ian Kennedy (to the Diamondbacks) and CF-L Austin Jackson and LHP Phil Coke (to the Tigers) in a three-way trade. [12/8]

For the Yankees, this seems simple. Giving up Jackson and Kennedy to get a better answer for their lineup and their outfield seems like a straightforward challenge deal of sorts, in that better to have Granderson now to contribute towards a bid to win now and into the future than hope Jackson works out. Admittedly, Granderson's a platoon player-his career rate of .210/.270/.344 versus lefties isn't getting better, and it isn't going away. But as a tremendous source of lefty power in a park that seems to reward power, why futz about with the Melky Cabrera types when there are pennants to win? Perhaps Cabrera's future is as Granderson's caddy, but there's nothing that doesn't say that the Yankees couldn't just stick Granderson in the ninth slot against lefties and count on the rest of the lineup to deliver. Assuming of course Joe Girardi will think in such terms; Sparky Anderson was able to do this with Lou Whitaker back in the day, and no psyches were fractured.

Contractually, Granderson's a significantly better add-on than playing in the Holliday or Bay sandboxes, because he's younger and a better defender in that he's at least a playable center fielder (whatever flavor of defensive metric you use). But the other key consideration is that he's also cheaper-signed through 2013 for $23.75 million, for an additional $11 million if the Yankees pick up his club option. In some ways, it's similar to the Yankees taking on the heavier back end of Nick Swisher's deal he'd originally signed with the A's-why not grab a good player mid-career after a down year when you can afford him, and have the sort of offensive strength to afford the potential for a down year? After affording themselves CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett at prices the market couldn't match, the Yankees can move down-market by their standards and get quality at prices few others find reasonable. It'll be interesting what this does to either Holliday or Bay in terms of getting deals for eight-figure per annum, but I wouldn't see this as a positive for them.

There are two additional considerations as far as what this achieves for the Bombers. First, it's about making sure the so-called "Core Four" get every opportunity to be-ring as many fingers on a second hand as possible. Granderson's headed into his age-29 season, so his future's now, and his value is for the meaning he'll add to the tomorrows he helps create for the careers of Jorge Posada or Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter or, presumably, Andy Pettitte. Wail about economic circumstance if you must, but this actually a happy thing to see-Brian Cashman knows the window won't be open forever, so why not make sure you go down with a bang, not a whimper?

Finally, the other interesting implication is what this might mean for any effort to re-sign Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui. Now, instead of absolutely having to find a DH and a left fielder as well as employ Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner in center, the question now is whether or not they want either man for the DH slot, and whether they'd be willing to live with Gardner and Cabrera absorbing the at-bats in left in an outfield rotation. (And will they want to add a right-handed lefty thumper to create a collection of mix-and-match outfielders to keep Girardi busy while he can leave his All-Star infield alone.) They can afford to go to both Damon and Matsui and offer mutually exclusive "take it or leave it" offers, and the first guy to say yes gets to stay and cash post-season shares, while the other gets to try and take a life and the tail end of a career away from the bright lights as a serious enterprise, with dignity. Good luck with that, loser-to-be-named-later of that particular dare, you'll find no envy here.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired LHP Clay Rapada from the Tigers for future considerations; outrighted RHP Willie Eyre to Oklahoma City. [12/7]

There are worse guys to have as your token lefty, and this really should spare them any further Everyday (or not so much) Eddie Guardado action after taking that far beyond EEG's expiration date last year. He struck out 34 percent of opposing lefty batters in Toledo last season, throws harder than most LOOGY aspirants, and held lefties to .210/.279/.274 last year for the Mudhens. We'll see what the future considerations wind up being, but this definitely sounds like a better use fo a 40-man spot than Eyre (or Guardado).


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Edwin Jackson from the Tigers and RHP Ian Kennedy from the Yankees for RHP Max Scherzer and LHP Daniel Schlereth in a three-way trade. [12/8]

So that's what happens when you leave Snakes out in the sun too long-they really do have brains to bake. Maybe I'm overreacting to this, in that I might risk trading Schlereth for Kennedy if I liked the headliners on an exchange. But this, I don't like, even as a past booster for Edwin Jackson. As much as I liked Jackson's unevenly great breakthrough season in 2009, I wouldn't want to trade two years of arbitration with him for Scherzer's future. Jackson's peripherals are nice enough-a 5.9 SNLVAR, .566 SNWP, yes, I want those things. Put him in the National League, and yes, maybe that helps him iron out his hard-earned reputation for inconsistency. But it's just two years, at a steep price, you're putting him in a bandbox of a ballpark, and it still leaves the Snakes waiting to sort out how to fix their offense. Maybe we can accept a casting exchange of Jackson and Brandon Webb in the 2010 rotation as a big step forward from Scherzer and Doug Davis.

Swell, fine, it's a modest cost savings compared to what the free market might get you, for a recently-minted starting pitcher of merit, albeit one whose performance record you'll find alongside the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "mercurial." Playing for the upside risk isn't the worst idea in the world, especially when you're going to need to take some risks with a team that's now two seasons removed from relevance. The real problem is that this is a gamble based on the proposition that last season's offense had enough going for it to win the NL West-and as we should be used to by now, it wasn't, not in a division that had the Dodgers playing for bigger stakes, and has the Rockies fairly well established as a team that can beat you with pitching and defense in any environment, and scores enough runs to make it play anywhere, home or road. Stephen Drew and Chris B. Young have come up short, Conor Jackson's recovery is far from certain, and I'm not getting on that Brandon Allen bandwagon any time soon. That, I'm not so excited about, and while an improved attack might bank a few more wins from Jackson's contributions than Scherzer's in '09, it's a sandcastle in the sky as likely to go to dust as it is to provide the foundation for a new run of success.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Brian Bruney from the Yankees for a PTBNL; released RHP Saul Rivera. [12/7]

Consider this another instance of ditching the disposable on the dumpster-diving neediest, because Bruney's blend of girth, fragility, and occasional dominance reminds me more than a little of the Bob James types of the world. If you're that fancifully attached to the notion, you might anticipate untapped value, and in the best of all possible circumstances, you wind up with a half-season All-Star reliever (gotta have a token Nat, after all) before you frantically exchange him. Me, I'm not buying any of it. Bruney's got a career 4.78 FRA, which isn't really very special. Maybe his strikeout rate comes up a bit from 20 percent of all hitters now that he's in the senior circuit, and maybe he's also due for a drop in his homers-to-fly balls ratio by moving to the easier league. Admittedly, he's a gift horse, and should be accepted as such-look too closely, and you'll start second-guessing the pity-plucks among your transactions, even if you do have to go to arbitration with him.


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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