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December 23, 2009
Junior Circuit Jumble
Signed LHP Mike Gonzalez to a two-year, $12 million contract. [12/18]
Signed 3B-R Garrett Atkins to a one-year, $4.5 million contract. [12/22]
Is this good news, or bad? To some extent, I like these moves as an indication that the Orioles don't have to pay the Angelos tax any more, getting baseball professionals to grudgingly agree to come play for a mismanaged outfit heading nowhere. Blame the economy, blame the imposition of adult supervision on Clan Angelos, or blame the obvious, burgeoning flow of interesting talent to the team, but donning orange-and-black no longer seems like retiring to a leper colony.
That said, there are problems. My expectations for what an Atkins diet does for you on offense around sea level are hypoglycemia-low, so this seems like money discarded. Happily, it's a one-year deal, and it does mean they've turned the page on the Melvin Mora experience, but this was a lot of money to throw at a player who may not be an upgrade on Ty Wigginton on offense (Atkins' career rates on Earth as opposed to Planet Coors are .252/.324/.411) or defense (FRAA liked last year's limited work, but other systems, especially Plus/Minus, aren't fond of him, although even there, Atkins managed a -1 in '09). Not that Wigginton's a major asset (FRAA abhors his fielding, and Plus/Minus scored his work there -6 in '09), but he did hit .273/.314/.400 in the better league last year, he's already under contract, and whichever one of them you use is still really only being tasked with keeping the spot warm for Josh Bell. There is also the possibility that Atkins (or Wigginton) gets to play a lot of first base, but that takes us from weak placeholder to Potemkin player, because even if you don't like Brandon Snyder much, there are better bats than Atkins or Wigginton to wind up with at first base.
In contrast, signing Gonzalez seems eminently reasonable, even allowing for the reservations everyone should have about relief pitchers in general, and relief pitchers who've lost as much time to injury as Gonzalez has. That said, the 2007-08 absences were because of the elbow injury that ended up requiring TJS, not a myriad of hurts, and between his stretch work in '08 and his full season in '09, he seems to be back in the pink. It does cost them a second-round pick next June, which is worth something, but for the cynics among us, I'd suspect that Gonzalez's contract, relatively reasonable by industry standards for closers or closer-designates, might make him flippable later, and after the payoff for George Sherrill, the chances of getting something just as good in trade as you might have gotten for that pick should provide some consolation.
In terms of performance, we can worry about the sort of challenge moving from the weaker league to life in baseball's strongest division will do, but other than a slight spike in his walk rate against right-handers (only 18 of the 26 were his, with the other eight belonging to Bobby Cox), but a nine percent walk rate against the opposite-handed is endurable. By way of contrast, Sherrill was at 12.4 percent for his unintentional walk rate in 2008, and at 7.3 last season (Dodgers-inclusive). He'll get touched for some power, but he's not a LOOGY being asked to do something he shouldn't. He's effective from the stretch, and he managed to rank 18th in the National League with a 2.64 WXRL with a high Leverage score for a non-closer, also contributing a 3.21 FRA. (Sherrill was posting a 2.59 FRA before he was dealt in '09, and 5.43 in '08.) Is it a great addition? 'Great' would be a bit strong, and it isn't like a nominated closer candidate is going to do much for the Orioles in the immediate future, beyond send folks home on a high note en route to a fourth-place finish in the East.
That said, it is only a case of recycling money that would otherwise sit in the Clan Angelos account, and the element that goes into both of these signings is how it might be seen in both the stands and the clubhouse. I don't think Orioles fans should be any less jaded; whatever moderate enthusiasm exists will still be generated by the young and upwardly mobile on the roster. But I do think there's a value to being able to show that nucleus of talent that the front office was willing to spend money on a closer with heat after trading away Sherrill, and there might be some transient value to showing Atkins off as a case of bringing in somebody who started for a pennant-winnner relatively recently as a way of showing they care before transitioning to Bell. OK, I can't really talk myself into believing that signing Atkins makes any sense, but a quality reliever isn't the worst thing to add, and given that you'll end up attaching his name to some save statistics, he may prove convertible in July 2010 or 2011. If not, maybe you settle for two years of solid relief work; it isn't as if the payday for either player takes the O's out of the market on some major add-on, because whatever hopes they have are vested in the young pitching, in Matt Wieters, in Adam Jones, and in Nick Markakis.
Claimed RHP Freddy Dolsi off of waivers from the Tigers. [12/18]
A simple enough bit of grabbery of a guy whose occasional relationship with the strike zone is cause for frustration. Maybe pitching coach Don Cooper helps him harness his mid-90s heat and throw it and an occasionally effective curve with consistency, and maybe not. One of the few areas of consistency with Dolsi has been the consistent complaint that he rushes through a messy delivery, so that's one thing probably worth looking at. As a waiver claim, he's tasty, because people whose fastballs sit around 94-95 mph don't grow on trees. If he doesn't pan out, there's nothing at stake, but with five slots already set (Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton, J.J. Putz, Tony Peņa, and Scott Linebrink), he'll be trying to edge ahead of Jhonny Nuņez and presumed second lefty Randy Williams, not to mention being at risk from Dan Hudson's shot at sticking in a middle-relief role. All of which suggests that dealing Jenks might still happen, because that's a good amount of depth to deal from.
Acquired RHP Mitch Talbot as the PTBNL from the Kelly Shoppach trade, sending cash to the Rays; signed RHP Saul Rivera to a minor-league contract. [12/21]
Talbot was one of two players on a list the Tribe got to pick from, the other being Joe Cruz. Talbot lacks overpowering stuff, relying on a sinker/slider mix to set up a plus changeup, but he isn't a finesse right-hander as much as a guy who just wasn't going to outshine the pitching talent the Rays have coming out of their gills. He lost the bulk of the season to a sprained elbow, but came back to throw 10 starts for Durham, and then take a spin through the AFL to demonstrate enough health to satisfy the Indians' brass. I wouldn't build up any big expectations; to some extent he's the right-handed reverse image of their crowd of left-handed aspirants for the fourth or fifth slots in the rotation. If he beats out that lot and Carlos Carrasco and winds up among the rotation regulars, and if he contributes anything close to a league-average ERA, the Indians could content themselves with a wise choice.
The road not taken, Cruz, might have more upside, but not so much as to have made this an easy preference. At Low-A Bowling Green, Cruz struck out 99 in 98 IP across 21 starts, but he struggled to get strikes over against lefties. He boasts better gun readings than Talbot, but it also would have cost the club a player instead of cash to put him into the deal. Not knowing who they'd have had to kick back to the Rays, and considering we're talking about leasing out Shoppach, this seems like an OK exchange of right-now fixes for two teams that needed fixing up.
As for Rivera, consider this the non-shocking case of a manager getting one of "his" guys. Manny Acta got use out of the little rubber-armed right-hander in 2007 and 2008, which rank sixth and 10th respectively among the 10 best relief seasons in Nats history. Not that we're talking a huge span of time, but still, credit where it's due, and Rivera did manage a 2.56 WXRL in the former campaign and a 1.69 in the latter, good for anybody in any season, and if Acta knows where and when to employ him, that strikes me as progress in a pen more notable for never seeming to have any answers. If, on the other hand, Rivera has nothing left to show people, he's not on the roster, and the bats in camp may send the message noisily enough that even past associations won't save him. Again, it's the Indians, and they need everything, so I don't see the harm in taking a look.
Traded C-R Dusty Ryan to the Padres for future considerations. [12/21]
Signed OF-R Brian Anderson to a one-year, $700,000 contract. [12/23]
To Brian N. Anderson's credit, he can play center, and unlike most outfield reserves, he occasionally goes all Thor on some genuinely astonished pitcher and hammers the odd mistake into the cheap seats. He has two career homers off of King Felix, after all, more than he has against any other person on the planet. That's worth something, isn't it? He has six career hits against Carlos Silva! Oh, boy, won't the Cubs rue the day when they secure that matchup, Trey Hillman will have them right where he wants them, and he'll pulverize that guy! Wait, the Cubs aren't on the schedule this year? Rats, so much for fiendishly clever plans.
It isn't inconceivable that, were Mr. Anderson left alone in the lineup and absolutely everything broke his way, he'd slug .400 and manage a .300 OBP. (The N. stands for 'Nikola,' not Neo, so his relationship with reality's weighted down by modest ambitions.) It also isn't inconceivable that he'd be able to do that in a job-sharing arrangement with Mitch Maier. It wouldn't be great, of course, but it wouldn't be the sort of thing that lowers the Royals to sixth place in a five-team division and gets the folks in Memphis or Sacramento arguing in favor of relegation concepts. What with Anderson joining Josh Fields and Chris Getz, there's something sort of humiliating, that the Royals get to echo the KC A's relationship with the Yankees by stocking up on White Sox reserves and discards.
Signed 1B-L Nick Johnson to a one-year, $5.5 million contract. [12/23]
The galling thing about this isn't that Nick the Stick's back in the Bronx, it's that he's back in the Bronx for perhaps less than he might have gotten from other teams (especially with New York taxes to consider), but that he probably chose the Yankees for the reasons we usually associate with a decision to don the pinstripes and join the Evil Empire: a ring. Can you blame him? Having to be a National was ignominious enough, so why not take a relatively modest one-year deal to DH, get on base, and score runs by the bushel? If healthy, you can anticipate another .400 OBP, another .300 EqA, and maybe a second 100-run season by one of the slowest people to do it since Mark McGwire. Johnson's full-season tally of -4.4 EqBRR in '09 isn't quite slow enough to have gotten him onto a "worst 10" list, and it was better than Jorge Posada's -8.0. (For what it's worth, Big Red's worst season in this regard with the Cardinals in '99 was only bad enough for -6.5, faster than Jack Clark '85 and Ted Simmons '75, but looking at the components of McGwire's stomping about the basepaths, it's worth noting that his most negative contribution was his inability to competently advance on base hits, not unlike Posada.
For the Yankees, this has the added benefit of giving them a patch at the position for almost exactly as they would want to have one in place. Not that Johnson's fragility wouldn't already encourage you to try and hold the line on a short-term deal, but with Jesus Montero clambering into the near-term picture as a bat-first prospect of the highest order, there's a very good chance they weren't looking for a fix any longer than a single season. As much as folks like to rich-mouth the Yankees, think on that: a blue-chip talent making the major-league minimum and starring for the Bombers. Think that won't look incongruous on that 2011 budget? I suppose it's possible Brett Gardner could be the other 2011 regular making less than a $1 million, but in the same way that I suspect Derek Jeter's going to get an eight-figure AAV on his next deal, I won't be surprised if the next-lowest salary beyond Montero's will be Curtis Granderson's $8.25 million.
Sent RHP Mitch Talbot to the Indians to complete the Kelly Shoppach trade, sending cash to the Rays. [12/21]
Like Jason Hammel last spring, this was another instance of the guy with no more options getting shed. It makes for a reminder that the Rays have what seems like a nice problem, in that they've developed so much pitching talent that can pitch in the majors, except that it winds up adding impetus to swapping out the guys who aren't in the front rank lest they risk losing them on waivers. As long as you're getting value, it isn't a problem, and converting Talbot's roster spot to Shoppach was an effective bit of transmogrification.
Signed LHP Darren Oliver to a one-year, $3 million contract, with a $3.25 million club/vesting option for 2011. [12/22]
I don't want to suggest this is a defection on the level of Johnny Damon becoming a Yankee, or as potentially galling as Ramiro Mendoza mole-ing his way in Beantown. As yet, the Angels/Rangers rivalry doesn't exactly have a ton of historical traction. However, it is sort of fun to see Oliver leave the Halos behind. He ranked 33rd in the majors in WXRL (outperforming his team's closer), and he's not merely a situational southpaw. We could already expect some regression, since his line-drive rate allowed was a career-low 12 percent, and while he has considerable previous experience pitching in the Ballpark, it was generally not good. However, he's much less wild these days, and his relative durability and experience should make him an asset who helps Ron Washington sort out how to use the other pitchers in the pen picture.
Certainly, having a pitcher as useful as Oliver might afford the Rangers the opportunity of holding onto their Rule 5 pick, power lefty Ben Snyder. But the other inference to make here is that signing Oliver should reflect how seriously the Rangers are taking the spring experiment with converting C.J. Wilson to rotation work. Snyder might have to beat out Clay Rapada to stick, but with Oliver secure in the top lefty's slot, Washington will have a collection of options to sort out there that is almost as interesting as the choices to be made in the rotation. The idea of a pen that has Frank Francisco and Oliver as the name veterans, with Neftali Feliz and ROOGY Darren O'Day already sounds pretty good, but will it be strong enough to help cover for Snyder, stashed at the end as a sixth or seventh reliever? How soon till pitchers and catchers report? This should be fun.