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December 15, 2009
Brewers and Astros Moves
Acquired RHP Matt Lindstrom from the Marlins for SS-R Luis Bryan, RHP Robert Bono, and a PTBNL (Rule 5 pick 3B-L Jorge Jimenez). [12/9]
Signed 3B-R Pedro Feliz to a one-year, $4.5 million contract. [12/10]
Signed RHP Brandon Lyon to a three-year, $15 million contract. [12/12]
Signed LHP Gustavo Chacin and OF-R Jason Michaels to minor-league contracts. [12/14]
I don't mind what the Astros gave up to get Lindstrom, since let's face it, "Astros prospect" borders on oxymoronic. The problem is whether or not this is sort of baseball's answer to George Allen with the Potomac Drainage Basin Persons in the '70s, dealing away draft picks willy-nilly for players to fuel increasingly desperate playoff bids. Lyon's deal is a modest disaster, given his peripheral data's all-around ugliness and the expense, but this is Ed Wade the Munificent we're talking about; there isn't a relief pitcher in baseball who doesn't want a shot at putting his agent in front of Wade when the general manager starts scratching his arms and wondering what Rheal Cormier's going for these days, cuz he just has to, has to, has to have a quick injection of relief. With a few hundred pushing their wares any given winter, Wade can afford to be spendy and non-discriminating (with other people's money, of course), producing these kinds of results.
That's not Lindstrom's fault, of course, he only just got here without contributing to the decision or exploiting another adult's foibles. Whether he'll thrive in Corporate Fruit Beverage Ballpark in Houston is a different matter, of course. Four career innings over a three-year career tells us squat, and this year's injury-afflicted performance record isn't a ton of help. There's something to be said about the state of pitching today when a right-handed closer can't even manage an inning per appearance on his career, having not done it in a single season during his three-year spin as a Fish. However hard he throws, he's never been especially unhittable, he's wild, and now he's leaving a friendly park for a venue that more reliably punishes mistakes. The cost in terms of talent won't really haunt the Astros, and certainly won't haunt a borrowed-time GM like Wade, but the quandary is that they've now noisily "fixed" their bullpen by acquiring a set-up man coming off of an outlandishly successful season and a fragile non-dominant "saves guy." Sure, it's only money, but if these are the fixes, what does it say about the Astros' ambitions, beyond their easy thwarting?
As for the decision to sign Feliz, it's a selection both mortifying and amusing. On the one hand, this seems like a signing motivated by a desire to fulfill the basic requirement to field a third baseman because the rules sort of insist on eight defenders, but if you really want Pedro Feliz, why not wait? The market for an inoffensive glove man only worth a one-year investment isn't about to get away from you, and indeed, waiting to see how things shape up could have saved you a few million, especially when you're talking about such a modest offensive contributor. On the other hand, I wonder if the Phillies wouldn't have been better off getting him to stick around with a deal this short than throwing four times as much cash at Placido Polanco for three times the length.
Signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins to a two-year, $7.5 million contract. [12/10]
Non-tendered RHP Mark DiFelice and Seth McClung, and C-R Mike Rivera. [12/12]
Signed LHP Randy Wolf to a three-year, $27.35 million contract, with a $10 million club option for 2013; re-signed INF-L Craig Counsell to a one-year, $2.1 million contract. [12/14]
Signed LHP A.J. Murray and re-signed RHP Mark DiFelice to minor-league contracts. [12/15]
To some extent, I was so impressed by Ken Funck's exercise on what this might do for the Brewers that I wasn't initially sure what to add, since I think he did an outstanding job of running through the scenario. I like the idea of stapling Hawkins into the eighth inning ahead of Trevor Hoffman in no small part because his track record for pitching effectively is significantly longer than the likes of Mark DiFelice (even allowing for the fact that DiFelice is already done for the year with shoulder surgery). Life isn't so simple that we get to treat these as so many Legos, of course, so I think of this as having a good bit of additive power: having Hawkins propels Todd Coffey and Mitch Stetter into earlier in-game roles, which doesn't simply secure the eighth, it gives additional hope in the sixth and seventh. Add in the eventual return of David Riske from TJS at some point in-season, plus the presence of Carlos Villanueva for middle relief and mop-up chores, and that really doesn't sound like an all-bad relief corps.
Of course, staffing and fixing a bullpen is to baseball what whittling used to be for hobbies: it's a year-round occupation. The larger question by far is whether or not Randy Wolf gives the team the one-two punch it needs atop the rotation in concert with Yovani Gallardo. It's not the least-probable solution, because at this rate Wolf's been proving doubters (myself included) wrong ever since he was traded to Houston for the stretch run in 2008. The three-year deal isn't cheap, but it also isn't quite like a pre-crash contract for the Carl Pavanos or the Jason Schmidts of the world. He appears to be healthy, he passed a physical, and last year's performance was exceptional, with a .565 SNWP that surpassed Gallardo's .551.
That's not the standard in play, however, it's about fixing a rotation that was busted across four different non-Gallardo slots. Jeff Suppan (.420), Dave Bush (.416), and Manny Parra (.379) are all still in play for roles in that rotation, despite having failed so badly last year. At least Bush can point to injuries; Suppan's failures go back to his minting as a Brewer, while Parra's post-demotion performance (five quality starts in 14) isn't exactly inspiring. Their 2008 work shouldn't inspire any faith in the Regression Fairy's magic wand to turn back the clock: Bush's SNWP was .504, Parra's .479, and Suppan was at .457. That's the sort of work that ought to comprise part of your list for the fourth and fifth slots, not your first-rank choices for three slots.
Now, the Brewers are understandably handicapped by Suppan's deal, so they can't just conjure up a rotation. That said, potentially blowing their bankroll entirely on Wolf could end up being as crippling next year as it's purportedly encouraging in mid-December. At the very least, they need to fix one of the three and make him into an above-average starter to make a real run at the top of the division, especially when there's a pretty large chance that Carlos Gomez and Alcides Escobar contribute to take the offense down a notch or two. Maybe this encourages a deal that sends Mat Gamel somewhere for a starting pitcher with upside, but unless it's someone in the last year of his deal, and many of the best choices from among that seem almost perversely planted in the Brewers' division (Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo with the Reds, for example).