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January 12, 2010

Transaction Action

Getting Short-y

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed UT-R Andy Gonzalez to a minor-league contract. [1/11]

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 2B-R Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league contract. [1/12]

Grudz didn't miss the entire 2009 season, he squeezed in two weeks' worth of action with a pair of Twins' farm affiliates at the end of July and beginning of August. That's the extent of his on-field action in almost 18 months, since his 2008 season was cut short in August. Even so, given that the Tribe's looking at Luis Valbuena and Jason Donald as its leading in-house options for second base, this seems like a great little economical solution, even for a 40-year-old who may not have much left in the tank. Sure, there are a number of alternatives on the market, but consider the 'who' and the ages involved in that proposition:

  • Orlando Hudson (32): He would do wonders for this pitching staff, but he also wouldn't come cheaply, since he should run at least $4 million no matter how flat the market may be. Add in a checkered health history, and he's an expensive proposition they couldn't even guarantee to have around to flip at the end of July if/when it comes to that.

  • Ronnie Belliard (35): They've been here before, and while Belliard's flexibility might come in handy if Valbuena or Donald earn any additional consideration, in mid-January he may still harbor hopes of a salary in the $1-2 million range.

  • Adam Kennedy (34): A hot streak in September garbage time helped make 2009 his second-best season at the plate ever, with a .272 EqA. This came on the heels of three disappointing seasons. Not a bad pickup since he might be useful as a lefty bat for second or third base, but here again, there's considerable downside, and do you really want to spend seven figures to find out?

  • Felipe Lopez (30): Yeah, because his phoning in significant chunks of his career has turned out so well, you'd definitely want F-Lop around on the off chance that he shows up.

  • Miguel Cairo (36): The very act of mentioning him is considered cruel and unusual punishment in several jurisdictions, and may well be barred by nuisance laws like Kentucky's insistence that its residents bathe at least once a year.

So, if that's the field, why not take a spin with Grudz? He was one of the game's best on turning the deuce, and might have some wisdom to impart to Valbuena. Valbuena bats lefty, so there are platoon or job-sharing possibilities there. Grudz has been a remarkably reliable source of well-hit balls in play (his BABIPs in his last six seasons were all around .330), but that's about the extent of his value, since he's not a power hitter or a walker or a runner; play him every day, and he might have enough left in him to lace 30 doubles, but he'd probably break down before reaching that point. It isn't a brilliant signing, just an understandable and reasonable one.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Brett Myers to a one-year, $5 million contract with a mutual option for 2011; designated OF-R Jason Bourgeois for assignment. [1/12]

Ed Wade signs former Phillie, film at 11.

That's the easy and sarcastic punchline, of course (not least because Eric Seidman was playing Kreskin on this particular pickup five months ago), but I think it's not that bad as mid-rotation pickups go. Wade didn't give Myers three years and $24 million or something, after all, and while Wade has his favorites, who doesn't? I'd argue that, while Myer's past run-ins with John Law and assorted sawbones and physical therapists might make him less attractive than most, Wade kept his enthusiasm for his former farm system's product in check, and made a reasonable mid-market addition to a rotation that may well need innings as much as anything else from a starter slotted between Wandy Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt up top, and Bud Norris and whoever survives that epic Felipe Paulino vs. Scuffy Moehler cage match for the fifth slot.*

From a performance standpoint, I can buy the proposition that he'll provide quality starts half of the time out there or more after going 6-for-10 and 17-for-30 through six IP the last two years. His Support-Neutral Winning Percentage last year was .459, and was .495 in 2008. Once upon a time, of course, he was better than this, but you have to go back to 2006, when his SNWP was .544. That was before injuries and questions over his role mounted up, of course. He reportedly recovered fully from last year's hip injury, and his subsequent upper back injury wasn't seen as a normal cascade injury or the sort of thing you could really anticipate, but at this point, Myer's issues have piled up enough to make his health a less than certain thing in any season to come.

Will he far any better in Houston? His ISO allowed was .190 on the portion of his Phillies career pitching on CBP's mound, and is .189 away from Philly, so it isn't like there's a ton of reason to say getting out of Philadelphia's going to radically alter his fortunes, although if he continues to get pulled by right-handed hitters as often as he was last year (insert pro forma injury-related caveat here), he'll be turning to his right to see another Crawford Box souvenir land safely in its recipient's lap more than is cause for joy for the hometown nine.

Is that really any good, though? Is it value for the money? Does it matter? Remember, nobody really relished taking this job, but Wade's past association with Tal Smith made him an obvious apparatchik to select, even beyond his pitch that they wouldn't have to tear down. I've been referring to Wade's entire, brief, two-year tenure as a kamikaze run from the moment of takeoff; we're now heading into Year Three, with no targets acquired. Wade didn't sign Oswalt or Lance Berkman or Carlos Lee to their contracts, he inherited them, and that was locked-in budgetary escalation going from $39.5 million to that trio in 2008 to $47 million in 2009 to $48 million in 2010 and $49.5 million in 2011 (if they pick up Berkman's option). We can argue over whether or not he signed Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon and Kazuo Matsui for far too much; believe me, I buy that argument, because it would have been better to bundle that money to buy a single meaningfully above-average ballplayer. The Miguel Tejada trade added expense that didn't advance the team any closer to delivering a title with that trinity, and might represent the signal mistake made, but getting Michael Bourn and junk for Brad Lidge and junk doesn't look so bad two years out. Was there something significant he could have done to add meaning to the tail end of the Astros careers of Oswalt or Berkman? Maybe, maybe not, but it would have had to have been with the money budgeted for Tejada and the money spent on second- or third-rank free agents, and instead making a push to add a fourth man monster contract. That was possible, but even then we're talking about a very few players at a very few open positions. As the Tejada deal reflects, the Astros were willing to take on salary, but had nothing in the way of meaningful prospects to offer.

Certainly, all of this ends up resembling noisy, pointless activity, with the difference being that Wade's indulged himself with that while (presumably) he and his team of sidekicks is busily trying to help fix up a pathetic player development program. If that latter mission winds up being accomplished, and if the pointless noise helps keep them mid-pack in attendance, I'd suggest that maybe the noise wasn't so very pointless from a business perspective. The alternative of a whole-scale tear-down might have seen attendance flatline, and if Drayton McLane's looking to sell, would that have really helped his position? It's easy to assert inaction as the best course in the abstract, but here again, I'll buy the argument that getting a million more people in the seats than Pittsburgh does is a great incentive to avoid the appearance of right-now utter hopelessness. The real question is whether or not players like Myers, Feliz, Lyon, and Lindstrom plus a feverish, burning case of Manzella (Tommy Manzella) is enough to inspire season-ticket renewals.

*: It gets even more exciting if you make it a three-way scenario and throw Yorman Bazardo into the mix. Throw non-roster invites Josh Banks and Gustavo Chacin into the mix, and we're well into Jackie Chan's Big Brawl territory; since Lenny Montana was in that, I can suggest as straight-faced as I get that we'll enjoy figuring out who's going to wind up swimming with the fishes in Lake Tahopekaliga come March.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Scott Dohmann and INF-R Argenis Reyes to minor-league contracts. [1/11]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Brian Bass, C-S Luke Carlin, and OF-L Brian Myrow to minor-league contracts. [1/12]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B-L Aubrey Huff to a one-year, $3 million contract. [1/11]

I guess what I find especially fascinating about this deal is the decision to sign Huff, as opposed to waiting out the major alternatives still on the market: Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, and Adam LaRoche. There are also alternatives out there who might be cheaper than Huff, and who might be no less certain or uncertain propositions: Hank Blalock, Mike Jacobs, or Chad Tracy, or maybe even a return engagement for Ryan Garko at a compensation rate less than arbitration was going to get him (there's that particular pesky market dynamic again, foiling past assertions that arbitration only limits compensation). Because of the multitude of options, Brian Sabean made a point of picking Huff as their first-base answer, a decision all the more extraordinary because it also means that they'll also be putting Mark DeRosa in left and leaving Pablo Sandoval at third, and while the latter isn't a bad idea, the former's an odd choice if you're subsequently left with the proposition that you wanted DeRosa in left field instead of Jermaine Dye or Johnny Damon, or even Rick Ankiel, Ryan Church, Jonny Gomes, or Gabe Gross on the lower end. Even so, getting DeRosa doesn't seem so bad if you could make Freddy Sanchez go away, but the decision to give Sanchez a big deal early on this winter might be considered the Giants' original sin of the 2009-10 Hot Stove League.

Taking that group alone, let's take a look at what we've got in terms of recent performance, throwing together the outfielders and first basemen, but then segregating them into the groups we might expect will make more than $3 million, and the ones we might expect to make less:


                 Three-Year  Age in    Giant
Expensive Guys      EqA       2010    Expense?
Branyan, 1B        .291        34
Delgado, 1B        .292        38
LaRoche, 1B        .289        30
Dye, RF            .277        36
Damon, LF          .287        36
Cheaper Guys
Blalock, 1B        .270        29
Jacobs, 1B         .260        29
Tracy, 1B/3B       .251        30
Garko, 1B          .276        29
Ankiel, OF         .272        30
Gomes, OF          .277        29
Gross, OF          .261        30
Church, OF         .278        31
Giants         
DeRosa, 2B/3B/OF   .279        35      $12M, 2010-11
Sanchez, 2B        .262        32      $12M, 2010-11
Huff, 1B           .272        33       $3M, 2010

So, that $15 million buys you... well, Mark DeRosa, a guy in Sanchez who's not as good as Mark DeRosa at anything, and an unglovely platoon first baseman. Accepting the wisdom of signing DeRosa to fix any one of a variety of problems, and as long as you're willing to accept Sandoval at third base (and make his winter miserable keeping him in shape to manage it, apparently), why go for Sanchez and Huff if you're going to wind up with somebody besides Sandoval at first and somebody new in left field? DeRosa at second can be part of a winning lineup; Sanchez, not so much, because you've got miles to go at offense-oriented positions, and that's something Huff doesn't do for you.

By elimination, why not save the $9 million for Sanchez and Huff in 2010, and instead go for LaRoche or Branyan or Delgado? I don't think two years and $18-20 million gets you Damon, but it's worth offering. It certainly gets you Dye with money to spare, if you decide he isn't done or wouldn't be able to squeeze something out of the end of his career coming over to the weaker league. And you can probably afford the big bat and an outfielder or first baseman who's going to help you more on offense than Freddy Sanchez. Why not Delgado and Church instead of Sanchez and Huff? Or Branyan and Ankiel? It's easy to play with other people's money, of course, and anything I come up with will probably cost slightly more, but you can protect yourself with make-good deals that demand that Delgado and Ankiel or Blalock get big-league playing time.

As for Huff, sure, he's coming to easier league, a one-year deal's as far as you want to go with him, and he might slug .500 against right-handed pitching. That's a big maybe, because he's topped that figure exactly once in the last five years, and tied it a second time. That's essentially what he's for in the best case, because he's managed a 10 percent walk rate just once in his career, and his career SLG vs. lefties is .420, and his best defensive position is DH. Asking why you pick him from the field is sort of like asking why you pick Aaron Rowand or Dave Roberts or Randy Winn or Freddy Sanchez. There's a basic qualitative difference, and a failure to discriminate leaves your world just a little bit the poorer for it.



Thanks to Will Carroll and Eric Seidman for their input.

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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