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January 21, 2010

Transaction Action

Signing and Selling

by Christina Kahrl

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TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed INF-R Khalil Greene to a one-year, $750,000 contract; designated CF-R Greg Golson for assignment. [1/21]

The Rangers have more than their share of experience in working with players with troubled pasts, so I'm glad to see Greene land here, where he might have the benefit of more than just a nice place to hit. At this point, there's no way to really know what to expect from him, but if the Rangers help him get his career back in order, score another one for them. Ideally, he can provide power and defense at second, short, and third; pragmatically, if it doesn't work out, they didn't really extend themselves very far financially. Here's hoping it works out.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Purchased RHP Merkin Valdez from the Giants. [1/20]

As a nice bit of alert roster raiding to pre-empt having Valdez go through waivers, kudos to the Jays for a minor investment of time and roster space. Valdez may or may not pan out, but pitchers with his kind of high-90s velocity are rare enough to make room for, especially when there's little at stake in the immediate future beyond sorting out who's a keeper. It's certainly worth a roster spot to find out if he can be the new Brandon League, or has to pitch in a different one.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-L Cory Sullivan to a minor-league contract. [1/20]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RF-L Andre Ethier on a two-year, $15.25-million deal, avoiding arbitration; agreed to terms with RHP Jonathan Broxton on a two-year, $11-million contract, avoiding arbitration with him as well; re-signed RHP Vicente Padilla to a one-year, $5.025-million contract. [1/21]

Since the club already has Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, and Chad Billingsley set in the rotation, with James McDonald, Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger, and perhaps also non-roster bodies Russ Ortiz and Josh Towers floating around as back-end options, it's not hard to see that a moderately useful mid-rotation type was about as ambitious as the Dodgers were going to get. Padilla managed to allow a pedestrian 4.64 RA/9 between the Rangers and Dodgers last season, but his seven-start spin with the Dodgers no doubt helped him get bid up by his most recent employer, especially since his strikeout rate spiked with a trip to the easier league, jumping to almost a K per frame, a much happier tally than his season-total clip of 5.8 K/9. If Padilla can repeat his performance with the the Dodgers, he's going to be a bargain, and the odds of that are aided by a staff where he's likely to get hooked after five or six frames instead of being treated like a workhorse. That's an anticipated team-specific advantage, in that the multiple quality options that Joe Torre's been able to rely upon in middle relief should make Padilla a more endurable proposition, and worth the relatively modest investment.

Whatever the root cause of the Dodgers acting only now on this front, it's worth noting that since Brad Penny got half again as much money from the Cardinals earlier in the offseason, as a market-relative benefit for having waited, score another one for the Dodgers. Padilla outproduced Penny last year and the year before via SNLVAR, but you can argue the Cards are paying an additional premium for Penny's even more impressive run with the Giants and his ranking among the game's best starters in 2007; take it back to 2006, and Penny and Padilla were roughly equi-valuable. If Padilla's lower price was partially a product of the noisome reputation he developed in Texas, the Dodgers have the additional benefit of having already gotten to decide for themselves it's not that unmanageable, but as a rough sort of comparison to Eric Seidman's valuation exercise yesterday, the Dodgers seem to have favored the suggestion of Padilla's somewhat relative predictability.

The larger question about the multi-year arbitration avoidance tacks taken with both Ethier and Broxton after doing likewise with Matt Kemp is somewhat related to a point I made earlier today in the comments segment about the Kemp contract: it isn't remarkable that Ethier and Broxton have deals, since they were going to be Dodgers one way or another. What is interesting is segregating between who did and did not get multi-year extensions: handing these out to Ethier, Kemp, and Broxton all made some sense, whereas the relatively disappointing and less predictable Russell Martin, James Loney, and Chad Billingsley, or the so-very fragile Hong-Chih Kuo did not. Again, I wouldn't ascribe any particular genius here in terms of what seems like a sensible division in terms of who's in which group. At this rate, if Loney doesn't improve, he may not be their starter in 2011, while Billingsley has to live up to his billing. Martin's evaporating power production argues against any kind of long-term commitment, lest you wind up overpaying for the back half of any multi-year agreement.

Add it all up, and the financial commitments in terms of their 2010 payroll for the players who will be on the roster just went past $90 million. While Ned Colletti's had to keep spending in check during the winter of McCourt discontent, I guess I'm becoming less sold on the proposition that's an entirely bad thing; it isn't like their being free to go all in on the next Juan Pierre was a guaranteed good thing, after all, even setting aside that Pierre's a ghost payroll entry for another two seasons yet. The worthy frustrations over not offering Randy Wolf arbitration aside, the club's arbitration-related payroll spike was a guaranteed expense coming down the pike, a symptom of the talent so assiduously assembled by Logan White's crew in scouting and DeJon Watson's in player development. While affording someone better than Padilla might have been nifty, a faith that Billingsley can be that pitcher seems to me to be of a piece with a commitment to Loney. If they don't pan out, is that to the players' discredit? The organization's? Colletti's? I'd suggest it's a reasonable, if moderate risk, especially in a market that wasn't awash in quality starting pitching. The creativity we've seen from general managers like Jack Zduriencik, Brian Cashman, Jon Daniels, and Ruben Amaro Jr. in making deals to work around that market shortage speaks to their initiative, not to a set of options available to everyone in the industry.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Octavio Dotel to a one-year contract with a club option for 2011; designated RHP Antony Claggett for assignment. [1/21]

It's an interesting tack to take, and in the absence of financial information, we'll have to see if Dotel's making more or less than, say, the immortal Matt Capps ($3.5 million). Dotel's had a pronounced platoon split the last two seasons, so while coming out of the Cell and moving to the easier league should help him, I guess I'm already anticipating game-losing shots allowed to Prince Fielder or Joey Votto or Lance Berkman in divisional action. Dotel was the pitcher's equivalent of a Three True Outcomes hitter, producing homers, walks, or strikeouts on almost half of his matchups in 2008, but that number came down considerably last season, as his strikeout rate against right-handers declined while he was also used with increasing care by Ozzie Guillen as far as which lefties he faced last season, facing even fewer while doing even worse. If that sounds like an ugly combination, it should. At best, this is a matter of designating an early-season saves-generator whose option might be affordable enough and whose performance productive enough to make him a nice late-July flip to a contender. Ideally, that'll involve getting back something better than what seems like the usual suspects from the Red Sox or Yankees: another corner outfielder without power, or another hard-throwing reliever who can't hit the strike zone or stay healthy, or maybe yet another aspirant for the fifth slot in the rotation who might establish himself as a solid fourth starter.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Sold RHP Merkin Valdez to the Blue Jays. [1/20]

It's technically a "trade for cash considerations," which will ideally amount to more than whatever it costs to cover takeout in China Basin for the next week or so, since the Giants did invest a goodly amount of service and development time on Valdez before deciding he had to be shunted aside for the great Aubrey Huff. Or perhaps they're waiting for the Jays to assign a price to their considerations?

"What'll you give me for... Merkin Valdez?"
"I'd buy that for a dollar."
"You're a loon. And Kevin Frandsen?"
"Hrm... do you take Canadian quarters? They get mistaken for yours all the time, and you might cruelly fool the odd waitress or check-out clerk with one."
"That's the one with a beaver on it, right?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter. No, that's the nickel, which gets mistaken for yours almost as frequently as the quarter. This, my friend, has a caribou on it."
"That isn't a moose?"
"It's a caribou. Really. We have those up here."
"I don't know, it all sounds like a coin-op conspiracy."
"Are we done with our cash considerations yet? I'd like to skip ahead to the part where I abscond with my ill-gotten roster goodie now."
"I can't believe I'm trading Merkin Valdez for this conversation."
"You're the one who got yourself into this situation, in a bit of a huff no less."
"Very punny."

At any rate, in any calculus involving a valuation of the expense of employing Aubrey Huff and his relative (or purported) value compared to employing Travis Ishikawa or bumping Pablo Sandoval over to first base, you have to add Valdez to the opportunity cost, since he wound up being the player who couldn't be retained on the 40-man.


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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