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December 10, 2009

Prospectus Today

Wheeling and Dealing in Indy

by Joe Sheehan

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The Texas Rangers made as much news yesterday as they have in any offseason since they signed Alex Rodriguez back in 2000. Just one of their moves is official, but it looks as if they've made at least one substantial upgrade as they keep pace with the Mariners in chasing the Angels.

The Rangers' one move in the bag is a dump of Kevin Millwood, sent to the Orioles along with a check for $3 million in exchange for Chris Ray. There was a time when acquiring Chris Ray would have been a baseball move, but that time has passed. The AL abused him in his return from surgery last season, allowing eight homers-and 56 other knocks-in 42 2/3 innings. He's a relief pitcher, so there's always a chance that he'll bounce back and string together 130 good innings, but in that he's no different from 30 other guys. He's here so that it's a trade and not a straight sale of Millwood.

This is purely a cash grab by the Rangers, who save $8 million on Millwood's deal. I'm not convinced that this was such a good idea for them; they're not so loaded in 2010 starting pitching that they could afford to just give away a starter who's generally been good at taking the ball when it's been his turn: 125 starts in the four seasons under his current five-year contract, and while the ERAs have been high, the peripherals have been acceptable; until this year, he was pitching in front of some terrible defenses. Millwood at $8 million for one year is a solid pickup for the Orioles, who get an innings guy to anchor the rotation as they bring along a number of good young starting pitchers who will require some careful handling, and they do so without giving up talent or committing past '10.

For the Rangers, the $8 million was critical. Jon Daniels seems to have to make improvements while keeping the payroll neutral relative to last season. The money saved in this deal is apparently earmarked for Rich Harden, who is rumored to be close to signing with the team for about that much money for one season. To move from Millwood to Harden for the same amount of money would be something of a coup, likely improving the team's upside and base performance expectation-Harden is much, much better on a per-inning basis-while increasing the downside risk-Harden has thrown 162 innings once in his MLB career. The deal reported last night had Harden signing a one-year deal for $7-8 million. If that really is the deal, 29 teams should have been in on Harden, because it's a great deal for any team. We'll see if the details hold up.

Finally, the Rangers appear set to trade Max Ramirez for Mike Lowell and all the money necessary to pay Lowell. This doesn't make much sense; even noting Ramirez lousy, injury-plagued season, he has value as a prospect with strong hitting skills and some potential ability to catch. Less value than he did a year ago, to be sure, but still… value. Mike Lowell doesn't, especially to the Rangers, who have a third baseman, Michael Young, who plays 97 percent of the available innings. For the Rangers, Lowell is a right-handed 1B/DH, and the "first base" part of the proposition is pushing it-his experience there consists of four games in Triple-A in 1998. The standard for being a bat, only a bat, is very high, and I'm not sure Lowell, who may now be the slowest player in baseball, meets it. This is one of those deals that sounds good, "Hey, a free Mike Lowell," but when you look at the specifics, it doesn't work for the team involved. The Rangers are giving up all of Ramirez's potential, diminished though it may be, for the kind of player, a right-handed DH, that exists for free throughout the industry. It's a waste of a resource in Ramirez. I might compare the move to the Dodgers' acquisition of Casey Blake in that the team's refusal or inability to take on salary forced them to give up a good prospect. I do not-have never-understood the administration of baseball teams on a penny-wise, pound-foolish basis.

Teams other than the Rangers got active yesterday, most notably the Brewers, who signed Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins to bolster their staff. Neither deal is unreasonable-I'm genuinely surprised that Wolf came in under $10 million per season, and Hawkins has been fairly productive in a decade as a reliever-but there's an air of desperation here, as the Brewers scramble to assemble a pitching staff worthy of their offense. This is what they were going to have to do, but signing midrange thirtysomething pitchers coming off some of their best seasons is usually a disastrous approach. Wolf is risky; as a lefty who works up in the zone, the second he loses a little velocity, he's going to see his ERA go up two runs. The Brewers may be working with a short time horizon here; if they're not contending come late July, I could see them mailing off Prince Fielder and anything else other than Ryan Braun and starting over.

The Yankees reached an agreement with Andy Pettitte on a one-year deal, and since I haven't had a chance to make this point this offseason, I'll do so now: you can never make a bad one-year deal with a good player. The risk with free-agent contracts is always in the need to guarantee money for performance three, four years down the road, and we just can't do that well enough to justify the investments. With a one-year deal, you can be pretty sure not only of what you're getting, but how to value that expected performance. Pettitte will once again be the Yankees' third starter, league-average or a bit better, providing balance to a heavily right-handed staff and stability in a situation when the starters behind him are in question. There's probably some value, as with Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, in retaining a popular player associated with the team's success as well. If any team can pay for that goodwill, it's the Yankees. It's not clear that Pettitte would have played for any other team.

The Astros replaced Jose Valverde by trading for Matt Lindstrom. Something doesn't match up with the big right-hander, who throws 96 mph on average but who strikes out just 7.5 men per nine innings, while walking nearly four. A reliever with his stuff should be harder to hit, but Lindstrom hasn't been, getting by prior to 2009 on his ability to keep the ball in the park. This is the kind of move that seems to make sense for the Astros, not giving up much for a power/ground-ball reliever with closer upside, but something doesn't click in Lindstrom's track record. I don't know if this move will work or not; I like the idea of it, but I'm just not sure if a 30-year-old Matt Lindstrom is of any value.

Trading for Lindstrom is positively inspired compared to giving Brandon Lyon a three-year contract, however. We used to joke, when he was in Philadelphia, about Ed Wade's middle-reliever fetish. It hadn't shown up in Houston, but when it did, it was a doozy. In eight major-league seasons, Lyon has three ERAs under 4.00. He's been a good pitcher three times in his entire career; the Astros are giving him a contract for as many years as he's been good in his life. The Astros have no catcher, third baseman, shortstop, or third through fifth starters, but have $15 million to commit to Brandon Lyon for three seasons. This is pretty self-destructive behavior. The Astros aren't good enough to win in the short term, and making an investment in middle relief is the very image of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Lyon isn't a bad pitcher, a durable middleman whose command keeps improving; he's just a pointless acquisition for the Astros.

That wraps up Wednesday's moves. I'll have a fairly long wrap piece that covers whatever happens Thursday plus some stuff-like Chone Figgins, that I never got to-in the aftermath of the Meetings.

It figures, you know… the first one I miss since 2001, and they're the most active Winter Meetings in memory. Maybe they can pay me to stay away from Orlando next year.

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

Related Content:  Matt Lindstrom,  The Who

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

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Richard Bergstrom

From the Rangers aspect, I would've rather kept Millwood than take on Harden. Millwood has been consistent and has shown he can throw in Arlington. Harden, less so, and by the end of the year, was barely a 5 IP pitcher. That's not the kind of guy you want starting in the playoff rounds.

Dec 10, 2009 08:31 AM
rating: 0
 
Adam Madison

You don't care about who starts there, you care about getting there. The upside when Harden stays (mostly) healthy enhances their chances at GETTING there than Millwood's consistently mediocre seasons will.

Dec 10, 2009 14:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

That's the thing, Harden doesn't stay mostly healthy... I'm a Cubs fan and I like what Harden did for us, but he hasn't averaged six innings a start over a full season since 2004.

Also, Millwood might not be leading the league in ERA (especially at Arlington), but we're not talking Jeff Suppan mediocre here. Also, Harden would be the defacto ace and the Rangers just don't have the pitching depth to overcome him going down with injury.

If you're going to pay for either Harden or Millwood, better to put it into the player that stays healthy.

Dec 10, 2009 15:35 PM
rating: -1
 
Ira

Rangers don't have pitching depth? I count 10 possible starters (Rich Harden, Scott Feldman, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Brandon McCarthy, Neftali Feliz, Dustin Nippert, Matt Harrison, Eric Hurley, C.J. Wilson) plus another 5 or 6 who will be waiting for their chance in Guillermo Moscoso, Martin Perez, Blake Beavan, Luis Mendoza, Kasey Kiker, and Michael Kirkman. That's not to mention Danny Guitierrez or Tanner Scheppers.

Dec 11, 2009 12:54 PM
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Richard Bergstrom

Feldman 189 IP
Holland 138 IP (6.12 ERA)
Hunter 112 IP
McCarthy 97 IP (career high of 101.2 in 5 seasons)
CJ Wilson 73 IP...

You get the point by now? Or maybe you just have a different definition of pitching depth? I just don't see any depth and reliable performance at the major league level after Feldman.

Sure, the Rangers have a lot of pitching prospects but you generally a playoff team doesn't have a rotation filled top-to-bottom with rookies.

Dec 12, 2009 07:42 AM
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Bill N

I thought it funny that initially was unclear what Andy Pettitte's role for the Yankees would be during last year's Hot Stove season: funny in that he ended up being a staff anchor after three pitchers notionally in front of him on the depth chart flamed out. It's nice to have money to keep a luxury contingency like him around.

Dec 10, 2009 09:00 AM
rating: 0
 
Alex Nixon

I disagree with the implication that the Yankees financial advantage really served them last winter with Pettitte. With Sabathia/Texiera/Burnett, sure, but Pettitte (as either a No.3 or No.5 starter) seems to be about market value.

Andy Pettitte cost the Yankees a guaranteed $5.5 million, with an additional $5 mil in incentives (the majority based on IP). It's probably the going rate for an Andy Pettitte type- Randy Wolf just got roughly $10 mil/season for three years, Jeff Suppan's about $12 mil/season, and they'll be vying for the honor of being the Brewers' No. 3 pitcher.

If he ended up being the Yankees 5 starter, they would've been on the hook for $7.5-9 mil, roughly (assuming 150-170 IP). Given that the Braves paid Kawakami a little over $8 mil to do the same thing, that seems pretty reasonable (especially given Pettitte's superior K/9 rate in a stronger league).

Either way, the Yankees basically paid Pettitte what he would've been worth to them. That's not paying for a luxury contingency, that's intelligent contract building.

Dec 10, 2009 15:34 PM
rating: 2
 
Bill N

It's not just about the role they performed, but also the ability to produce. The fact that they could afford to have Pettitte around when it was possible they did not need him at all is remarkable: as it was, he did need to step in and produced capably.

Investing in a year of Pettitte was absolutely a savvy move and one that paid off handsomely. But there are very, very few teams that can have such a talented player as a contingency. Look at even who the Red Sox were using: Junichi Tazawa and Paul Byrd down the stretch. How about the Angels? Matt Palmer and Darren Oliver.

Dec 11, 2009 09:55 AM
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Alex Nixon

Or you can look at the Phillies, who paid 47 year old Jamie Moyer $6.5 mil to play essentially the same role. The Mets paid Oliver Perez $12 mil to post a 62/58 K/BB rate. The Tigers paid Willis $10 mil last year.

As for the two teams you brought up. The Angels paid Oliver $3.65 mil last year and Gary Matthews Jr. $10 mil to be their 4th outfielder. Boston paid Brad Penny and John Smoltz $5 mil each with the same reasoning as the Yankees had for Pettitte. It just didn't work out (which is why the Red Sox wisely got rid of them).

You'd need to either have a lot of inexpensive youngsters or a minimum $75-$90 mil. payroll (at a $75 mil mark for your major league payroll, you'd have $3 mil avg/player to work with; assuming you don't stupidly overpay for your bench or relief corps, you can afford 5.5 mil for a Pettitte/Penny/Smoltz as a contingency, especially when the payoff is so potentially huge). So that eliminates 12 teams right there. But that still leaves 18 teams who have the financial wherewithal to do that.

Again, I don't disagree that the Yankees enjoy a huge financial advantage. I just don't agree that last year's Pettitte signing is an example of their financial superiority.

Dec 11, 2009 14:14 PM
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Matt Kory

I like the Millwood deal for Baltimore a lot. If Millwood is very good they can always turn around and deal him at the deadline to some desperate team in need of starting pitching, thereby turning Chris Ray and about $5-6 million into a half a year of Millwood and some quality minor leaguers.

Dec 10, 2009 09:28 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Are the Orioles taking a page out of the A's book (Holliday) and acquiring Millwood on the chance he gets them to the playoffs, and if not, flips him for prospects?

Haven't seen intelligence like that in the Washington area in a long time...

Dec 10, 2009 12:49 PM
rating: -1
 
baserip4

Nitpick: Millwood saves the Rangers $8mm, but costs the O's $9mm. (see paragraph 3).

Dec 10, 2009 09:34 AM
rating: 0
 
TGisriel

The deal saves Texas $8 million net: save $9 million on Millwood and pay Ray about $1 million. For Baltimore, the net is also a cost of $8 million: pay $9 million for Millwood, save $1 million on Ray.

Dec 10, 2009 12:15 PM
rating: 2
 
hangman

Yes, but mattymatty2000's scenario has the Orioles trading Millwood around the deadline which would mean they's only be paying him $6mil for April through July.

Dec 10, 2009 15:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

$6 mil for half a season of work and a package of minor prospects looks like a good deal for the O's and an interesting way to parlay Chris Ray's contract into something of more value. If only prospects are received, there's a chance a 40 man roster spot gets cleared out too.

Dec 10, 2009 16:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Bob

Are the Orioles paying Millwood $8 million after you factor in the extra $3 million Texas sent along with him or before you factor that in? It's not clear to me.

Dec 10, 2009 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
TGisriel

Millwood's contract is for $12 million in 2010. The Rangers are sending the Orioles $3 million in the deal, so the Rangers save (and the Orioles pay) $9 million for Millwood.

Ray's contract for 2010 is about $1 million. The Rangers pay, and the Orioles save $1 million.

The net savings for the Rangers and payment by the Orioles is $8 million.

Dec 10, 2009 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Bob

Thanks TGisriel. That makes sense now.

As an Orioles fan, I like the idea of having Millwood in the rotation--he's aging but still solid. And to the extent that these things matter, he should be a great influence on the younger pitchers on the club. Aside from the money, the Orioles don't seem to be losing anything here.

Dec 10, 2009 13:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Ira

The word I have heard is that the deal for Harden is a 1+1 deal for $7.5 million in 2010 with a mutual option for $11 million in 2011. In my mind, you get Ray + Harden + the ever popular PTBNL (who will probably be a rule 5 type semi-not-quite-prospect) for Millwood, but you also get two extra years of Ray, which may or may not be a good thing, and the chance at an extra year for Harden. (though, with a mutual option, if he does well, he leaves, if he does hideous, he leaves, and if he's just marginal, he stays.)

With the depth at starting pitching the Rangers have, but the lack of experience (Feldman, Hunter, Holland, Harrison, Feliz, Nippert, McCarthy, Hurley, possibly Wilson, with more on the way like Poveda and Perez and Beavan and Kiker and Main) having Harden only start 25 games is fine. It allows you to tell Wilson to go back to the pen, leave Feliz in the pen to start the year, and begin with a rotation of Harden, Feldman, Hunter, Holland, and McCarthy, with a Pen consisting of Francisco, Wilson, Ray, Feliz, Nippert, and Harrison as the second lefty, while easing someone like Pedro Strop or Willie Moscoso into the mix in long relief. And have Hurley start the year in AAA to make sure he's healthy (which he probably isn't).

On to the Lowell-Ramirez deal. I haven't heard anything about this, but it seems like there's something going on with Max Ramirez. He's about to be in his fourth organization and he's still in the minors. Sounds to me like his prospect status is starting to wear.

Dec 10, 2009 10:56 AM
rating: 2
 
LouisArighi

Your last paragraph leads me into something I have been wondering about recently, and that is whether a prospect changing organizations means he's really good, really bad, or means nothing. It seems like when Andy Marte was getting traded around, organizations were always trading FOR Marte (at least by press reports), and not getting as much back as outside observers expected. He then proceeded to flop, suggesting that maybe they knew something we didn't. Or, did it maybe suggest that prospects sometimes just inexplicably flame out? Jack Cust has been with 5 different organizations, didn't get regular playing time until his second time around with one of them, at which point he excelled. Did he get moved around because everyone thought he was terrible? Or because everyone thought he had value?
Just some thoughts, thanks for providing an opening.

Dec 10, 2009 13:38 PM
rating: 1
 
dpbuckle
(867)

"Lyon isn’t a bad pitcher, a durable middleman whose command keeps improving; he’s just a pointless acquisition for the Astros."

Just slightly less pointless than hiring Ed Wade to be your GM.

Dec 10, 2009 12:37 PM
rating: 2
 
hessshaun

I just have to say thank you. In Philadelphia, most people I talked to absolutely hated Wade's middle reliever fetish. We knew what was coming every off season and at every trade deadline. He strikes again! My friends and I never read anywhere about Wade's fetish (love the adjective), until now. Also, I was not a member here while you were all joking about him as the Phils GM. Thank you.

Dec 11, 2009 08:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

Hey Joe,

Your article says, "The standard for being a bat, only a bat, is very high, and I’m not sure Lowell, who may now be the slowest player in baseball, meets it. This is one of those deals that sounds good, "Hey, a free Mike Lowell," but when you look at the specifics, it doesn’t work for the team involved. The Rangers are giving up all of Ramirez’s potential, diminished though it may be, for the kind of player, a right-handed DH, that exists for free throughout the industry."

Granted that I'm in agreement on everything you said, the question I have is can you give me a few examples of veteran (5+ years) right handed DH's who are available for 1 year, $3 million who can out produce Lowell's fairly consistent .800 OPS?

And don't say Vlad, because he certainly wants more than that. Whats worse is that the deal is on hold while MLB considers whether or not to approve the $3 million increase in the Rangers Payroll.

Dec 11, 2009 13:02 PM
rating: 0
 
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