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December 15, 2009

Transaction Analysis

NL Action

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Agreed to terms with INF-S Augie Ojeda ($825,00) and RHP Blaine Boyer ($750,000) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration; non-tendered 1B-L Josh Whitesell. [12/12]

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Traded RHP Rafael Soriano to the Rays for RHP Jesse Chavez. [12/11]
Agreed to terms with OF-R Matt Diaz on a one-year, $2.55 million contract, avoiding arbitration; non-tendered 2B-L Kelly Johnson and OF-L Ryan Church. [12/12]

The comment-worthy development here is that the Braves non-tendered both Johnson and Church, since I could have seen an argument for keeping Johnson as a potential outfield spare, Chipper Jones spotter, and Martin Prado replacement if Prado suffers a catastrophic failure as bad as Johnson's last year. Some of that may be wishful thinking, of course; for all the talk about how sagely Bobby Cox used Johnson last year, the old skipper only used him as a second baseman and pinch-hitter, and what else do you do with a guy if he isn't your starting second baseman? Admittedly, having Omar Infante around cuts into a bench player's utility applications, since anything you can do, he can do better. Still, Johnson's had some work as an outfielder, and some at infield positions besides second, and given that Diaz isn't a great choice as an everyday player, it wouldn't have been the worst thing to have kept Johnson around as a spare. That the Braves did not suggests coming activity to add a temp-type left-handed bat in the outfield, which we can judge then once we find out if, and who.

As far as Johnson himself, I don't share the mania of others for him as some potential comeback star in the making. As much as he was hit-unlucky in 2009, with a ghastly BABIP and a slack line-drive percentage, we're talking about a hitter that has basically had 11 bad months out of 12 in the last two seasons, at a period when he's supposed to be at his peak. It's important to distinguish between symptoms and causes, and BABIP and line-drive rates aren't automatically the latter. So many of Johnson's other numbers were around where they've been before: his walk rate, strikeouts, popups, ratios of extra-base hits, ground balls, homers to flies, you name it, last year's marks were basically consistent with past practice. If anything, his strikeout rate was down, and his line-drive rate was consistent with his good year in 2007. What dropped compared to his good year in 2007 was his pitches per plate appearance-ergo the drop in his strikeout rate-and that was dropping in 2008 as well. I look at all that and see a guy pitchers have figured out and who hasn't adapted, and one happy September punches up his numbers enough to inspire a happy race to claims that BABIP regresses because that's what BABIPs do.

Finally, there's the question of Jesse Chavez, and whether that's payment enough to soothe a bruised front-office ego. I figure it's better than nothing, but going back to what I said when the Rays got him for Akinori Iwamura, a second-rank reliever used in a second-rank role isn't exactly a hard-to-find item. Maybe Chavez learns how to put some english on his mid-90s fastball, maybe he takes something off of it, and maybe pitching coach Roger McDowell teaches him something new. He's good material with a sub-mediocre track record. The back end of bullpens across the game are stocked with their like, but once in a while, one of them becomes something. The Braves have managed to milk utility out of guys like Tyler Yates, Buddy Carlyle, and Chad Paronto, so it isn't inconceivable that Chavez turns in a nice season as their fifth or sixth guy out of the pen. That's not a bad payoff for misreading the market and having to avoid a potentially expensive lesson.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Signed UT-R Chris Burke to a minor-league contract. [12/10]
Non-tendered OF-R Jonny Gomes. [12/12]

The interesting thing about the Gomes negotiations to my way of thinking was that there appeared to be considerable distance between the two parties, leading to this decision to cut things short. What I'm wondering about is whether Gomes really has a good read on his alternatives. Sure, getting out of Cincy and landing on a contender would be nirvana-we'll all have our fantasies, and this one's certainly worth exploring. But Gomes is a guy whose one significant skill is hitting homers; he can't field well, probably needs to be spotted against a large number of right-handed persons by a left-handed person, and not striking an agreement might cost him a shot at calling one of the most generous environments for home-run hitting home. There are a limited number of DH opportunities. There are a limited number of teams willing to put up with Gomes's defense. The Reds were one of them, but the Reds could also afford to save a few pennies and just take their chances with Wladimir Balentien. We'll see where Gomes lands, but if he's thinking he'll get the job security that seems to be granted to Rocco Baldelli or Gabe Kapler, or the kind of money that's going to go to Xavier Nady, my expectation is that he won't.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Agreed to terms with C-R Chris Iannetta on a three-year, $8.3 million contract, with a $5 million club option for 2013, avoiding arbitration. [12/11]
Non-tendered 3B/1B-R Garrett Atkins. [12/12]

Nothing major here, just a nice indication of the fact that the job behind the plate is Iannetta's, now and into the future. Ideally, the Yorvit Torrealba mania will die down a bit, but in a world overrating the lesser Molinas and lathered up over Jeff Mathis, that might be wishful thinking. Happily, in a market swamped with catching help of that ilk, there's no reason to pay a premium to stick with your favorite flavor.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Traded RHP Matt Lindstrom to the Astros for SS-R Luis Bryan, RHP Robert Bono, and a PTBNL (Rule 5 pick 3B-L Jorge Jimenez). [12/9]
Non-tendered UT-S Alfredo Amezaga; agreed to terms with C-R Ronny Paulino on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/12]

As much as I have faith that Larry Beinfest and Michael Hill know how to extract value in these situations, some of these deals look worse than others, and expecting talent from the Astros-one of the worst farm systems in baseball-doesn't inspire a ton of confidence. Did they get value for three arb-eligible years of Lindstrom? If they did, it'll be years before we really know. Bryan's a rough-as-sandpaper Dominican shortstop with a scatter-shot arm but the athletic tools to stick at short. He made his stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League at 18 last year, so the sushi-grade raw element isn't about to disappear from his profile. At the plate, he's all about contact, but he's not a simple slapper, managing a .151 ISO. He's the actual prospect in this trade, and the guy we'll have to anticipate for a while before we know how this deal worked out.

Bono's a soft-tosser from the Sally League who struggles to top 90 mph on the gun, and he was eminently hittable. A 2007 pick in the 11th round out of a New England high school, you might favor him with some consideration as someone who almost certainly got less time on the mound as an amateur than Florida, Texas, or California prospects, but we're still talking about someone who doesn't throw hard, and might be hard-pressed to survive Double-A, let alone turn into a prospect.

Jimenez is more than a little interesting as a guy who might wind up sticking on the roster. Not least because he's competing in a world populated by Emilio Bonifacio, who as roadblocks go is about as squashable as Luxembourg but not nearly so pretty. The Marlins might leave Jorge Cantu at third, of course, but they could also flip him between first and second, and pending Logan Morrison's arrival to take over at first, they could construct a platoon of Gaby Sanchez and Jimenez across the two corners. That's because Jimenez hit right-handers at a nice .310/.387/.471 clip in Double-A last year, with an unintentional walk rate of 8.9 percent against RHPs, struck out in just 10 percent of his PAs, not hugely special for a guy in his age-25 season, but better than his full-season stats, and did I mention that Emilio Bonifacio's to be found among the competition? His defense isn't terrible; despite 23 errors at Portland, he managed to get a zero (as in runs gained or lost) via Clay Davenport's minor-league fielding translations. Give his age, he's not really a prospect either, but he's the immediate payoff for Lindstrom, and a player with a reasonable shot of sticking on the roster.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Purchased Rule 5 pick LHP Armando Zerpa from the Rays; purchased Rule 5 pick RHP Carlos Monasterios from the Mets; signed RHP Josh Towers to a minor-league contract. [12/11]

NEW YORK METS
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Released INF-R Andy Green. [12/10]
Sold Rule 5 pick RHP Carlos Monasterios to the Dodgers; re-signed RHP Elmer Dessens to a minor-league contract. [12/11]
Non-tendered RHPs Lance Broadway and Tim Redding and OF-Ls Jeremy Reed and Cory Sullivan. [12/12]

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Signed LHP Bill White, INF-R Cody Ransom, and OF-L Chris Duffy to minor-league contracts. [12/11]
Non-tendered RHP Clay Condrey. [12/12]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed INF-R Bobby Crosby to a one-year, $1 million contract. [12/10]
Agreed to terms with SS-R Ronny Cedeno on a one-year, $1.25 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [12/11]
Non-tendered RHP Matt Capps and LHP Phil Dumatrait. [12/12]

There are your Pirates shortstops for 2010: Cedeno and Crosby. Derision aside, it's actually not a bad way for them to go. If Cedeno can deliver anything like the power he flashed in 2007 in Iowa or as a Pirate last year, you could have a good-glove shortstop with an ISO around .150, albeit one with a sub-.300 OBP in all but the most wishful scenarios. (Which, come to think of it, probably involve a good number of intentional walks from the eighth slot, which he could get if he makes good on the .150 ISO part of the program.) There isn't a strong statistical consensus among the various metrics that Cedeno's as good a fielder as his reputation, of course, but there also isn't a lot of indication that any defensive stats hold deterministic value within the industry, and when there's a lack of congruence, can you blame those on the inside?

As much as I might gladly see Crosby outside of the East Bay, I could see how a change of scenery might make some difference. Before injuries altered the shape of his career with the A's, whatever it might have been, he did at least provide a few good seasons afield; here again, the metrics are mixed as far as his 2008 work, but seem generally more positive before. A big problem for Crosby in recent years has been his propensity to pop up, which contributes towards reliably lousy BABIP marks, and just as reliably representing a short-circuiting of whatever power potential he once had. Maybe the change of scenery will help, and maybe working with a different collection of coaches will help him fix it. I wouldn't bet on it, but it's exactly the sort of chance that the Pirates can and should be taking.

Addendum: As I noted in today's chat, while I understand folks in Pittsburgh are upset about Capps getting non-tendered, I guess I'm more comfortable with the suggestion that if the market's going to pay J.J. Putz $3.3 million, and Capps made $2.3 million in a horrifying bad year, a year after shoulder problems, and two years removed from his big season, I guess I see Neal Huntington's choice as that of a rational actor in the marketplace before we even get into talking about the Pirates knowing his arm and his health better than we do. That said, it's up to the Bucs to spend those bucks wisely, having saved them, and not just by letting it get absorbed in arbitration. Faith can be earned by action, even actions such as these.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Released RHP Eulogio De La Cruz. [12/9]
Re-signed RHP Kevin Correia to a one-year, $3.6 million contract, avoiding arbitration; non-tendered RHPs Mark Worrell and Jackson Quezada. [12/12]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Signed RHP Tony Pena Jr. to a minor-league contract. [12/11]
Non-tendered 1B-R Ryan Garko. [12/12]

Discarding the general so casually might make acquiring him in the first place seem like wasted effort, especially since Scott Barnes wasn't chopped liver. But when you're dealing with a potentially expensive replacement-level first baseman, the Giants made a reasonable decision to look for better. If there's a part of the decision tree to regret, you need to trace it back to the root, with the failure to adequately address the team's need for a real first or third baseman (or, wherever Pablo Sandoval ain't). Garko's .266 EqA on the year isn't an asset, it's a leech, the sort of thing that sucks life out of an offense at a position where you're supposed to get it. While losing Barnes might make this an expensive lesson, better that the Giants learn it and go after better options than keep Garko and pretend they've solved the problem.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Released RHP Zack Segovia. [12/10]
Signed C-R Ivan Rodriguez to a two-year, $6 million contract; signed RHP Ryan Speier to a minor-league contract; traded Rule 5 pick OF-R Jamie Hoffman to the Yankees to complete the deal for RHP Brian Bruney. [12/11]
Non-tendered RHP Mike MacDougal and LHP Scott Olsen. [12/12]
Re-signed LHP Scott Olsen to a one-year, $1 million contract. [12/14]

I guess I find my position on the Pudge Rodriguez signing more than a little opposed to Kevin Goldstein's, in that I figure any kind of agit-prop value this is supposed to engender among potential season ticket-holders is only going to wind up biting you in the keister when Pudge doesn't hit. Fans aren't paying for Pudge Rodriguez or the legend of Pudge Rodriguez or what Pudge Rodriguez used to be-this is baseball, not a last-decade Sinatra concert. Any one of us will be thrilled when we see Pudge make a snap throw to the bases, and remember what it used to be like, but if his value's symbolic, so too will be most of the contributions we can measure. It shouldn't make any difference in terms of the team's perch in the basement, any more than adding Paul Lo Duca did. The more important question may well be whether or not employing Pudge might be great for the young pitchers, and maybe it will be, but here again, I don't think that's something we could measure in terms of CERA, it's something we'd only get a sense of from a few subsequent, incisive oral histories by the likes of a David Laurila, to learn what they learned from working with Rodriguez, and how that helped them in their careers subsequently. Positing it doesn't mean it'll happen; it might, and for the Nats' sake, I hope it does.

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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