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January 22, 2010
Overpaying Pineiro and Little Sarge's Big Apple Adventure
Signed RHP Joel Pineiro to a two-year, $16 million contract. [1/21]
Traded OF-S Gary Matthews Jr. and $21.5 million to pay him with to the Mets for RHP Brian Stokes. [1/22]
With Pineiro, there are so many unknowns that it makes the proposition that he'll deliver on this deal seem dubious, even after working through the historical track record and the math, as Eric Seidman did on Wednesday, comparing Pineiro's prospective value to Jon Garland's. Even with Mike Scioscia, as fine a handler of pitchers as you might find in any dugout, this just doesn't seem like it'll go well. While the Angels aren't a bad defensive team, they're also not an especially good one, and they did just lose Chone Figgins in the offseason. Even if you consider the move from having to work around Skip Schumaker at second as a possible benefit, there's a worse collection of outfielders, plus one-ninth of the opposing hitters aren't patsies.
Even if Pineiro was sticking around in St. Louis, I don't know if I would have that much faith that he'd be anything more than mid-rotation filler and a better asset to have over the regular season than someone you need at the front end to take postseason starts; effectively, that's what the Angels are paying for, having lost John Lackey, and having shelled out this kind of money for Pineiro. Perhaps the proposition that you can keep bottling lightning and sell it on the open market works, but I have my doubts. A full-season career-low ratio of homers per fly ball seems likely to regress, even if he keeps generating a 2:1 rate of ground-ball outs to fly-ball outs.
Consider the recent big-name defectors from Dave Duncan's rotations: Jeff Suppan's been an ongoing disaster in Milwaukee, and Braden Looper joined him in Brew'd ignominy last season. Matt Morris produced plenty of heartburn in San Francisco. Jason Marquis turned out better than expected, which is interesting, but if not for last year's success with the Rockies, it also wouldn't exactly be called an endorsement to employ ex-Cardinals. And I'm assuming Anaheim-gelenos haven't forgotten the explosively unhappy Kent Bottenfield experience. More like Morris or Suppan or Marquis, Pineiro was a top pitching prospect in his own right back in the day, and before the Cardinals put him back together again as a ground-balling machine, and maybe that's enough to go on. Considering Pineiro's one of those players whom I think none of us have a good sense of what to expect, it will be interesting.
As for eating most of the expense of employing Little Sarge the next two seasons, I guess I'd consider the relative silver lining involved. They get back $1.2 million over the next two years, not a lot, but since they have to pay out at least $800,000 for the roster spot over that same span, it's something. They got a right-handed person who can pitch as an 11th man somewhat cheaply, and to his credit, Stokes can get his fastball into the mid-90s; maybe the Angels can get better results with him than the Mets did, maybe not, but since he won't be making much more than the minimum for another season, they can take a look and see before they get into any real money. As far as replacing Matthews, that's easy enough, in that they get to swap in Reggie Willits more solidly into the roster spot that had been expended upon Matthews, and that gives them a better pinch-runner. Maybe that affords them the space for a Chris Pettit or Terry Evans or Freddy Sandoval as the 13th position player, or a third catcher to set Scioscia's mind at ease as far as his dealing with Mike Napoli's defense or Jeff Mathis' bat. Regardless, it spares them at-bats wasted on Matthews. Just because Matthews was a sunk cost didn't mean the Halos had to sink towards living with it to the bitter end.
Signed RHP Shawn Hill to a minor-league contract. [1/22]
You can consider him an active example for why some of us say health is a skill, as it's one that Hill obviously lacks. Hill's recovering from his latest elbow surgery, and is about as reliable as a junkie with your home appliances and the keys to your car. Sure, it might go well, but do you really expect it to? Of course not. He might be recovered from his second TJS (his most recent in a long litany of elbow problems) in plenty of time to contribute during some stretch of the season; he might even last multiple turns in a rotation. That's not snark, or at least I wish that it was, but just keep in mind that he hasn't made more than 20 starts in any single season, all levels combined, major and minor, since 2003. Hill can be a joy to watch when he's healthy and when he's on; I was in the press box for his five-inning no-hit effort against the Marlins for the Nats, but even then, he was on for three innings, and obviously hurting and laboring through the last two, before heading to the DL immediately afterward. There was a point in time when he was an exceptional, noteworthy talent; now he's starting pitching's answer to Chad Fox, and a flyer that teams perfunctorily take, and just as readily discard when they see him break down on their watch as well. It's a bit jarring to see that he'll only be 29 this spring and think that, now that the Canadian's been taken on by Canada's remaining team, you can hope he'll end his career on an up note.
Signed C-R Paul Lo Duca and OF-R Jay Payton to minor-league contracts. [1/21]
Both players are trying to get a new lease on life before moving into the retirement-oriented parts of the program, but both seem more likely to be headed for Colorado Springs, providing token veterandom on the big-league bench only should someone get hurt. It's generous of the Rockies to afford them the opportunities, but Lo Duca's barely serviceable as a big-league backup, and Payton's best employment might be as an infrequently employed fifth outfielder in a rosterscape not known for having many of those about.
Traded RHP Brian Stokes to the Angels for OF-S Gary Matthews Jr. and $21.5 million. [1/22]
"Mets land Matthews to bolster outfield!"
On what planet? The one where armless dwarves with gloves glued to their heads were the only available alternatives? Here on Earth, Little Sarge is probably one of the best thousand outfielders we've got. Major League Baseball needs fewer than 200 of those, however, so generally speaking, that isn't really the relevant standard in play, not unless we're stocking rosters for whatever notional baseball-playing nation/state is supposed to help fill out the slate of teams in the World Baseball Classic.*
That doesn't necessarily make him a good big-league outfielder, let alone one who can help the Mets in a substantive role. In a fair fight, he shouldn't beat out Angel Pagan for the right to absorb Carlos Beltran's playing time for however long the starter's missing due to his ongoing knee problems. The argument that Matthews "only" costs the Mets $2 million over the next two seasons to employ assumes that he's worth spending $2 million on; while a million bucks per season is less than the going rate for many scrubby outfield types these days (Mark Kotsay's getting $1.5 million for 2010, for example), Matthews' production has descended from his career-year spike in 2006 (.285 EqA) down to below a .250 EqA the last two years. Even allowing for how his production might improve in the weaker league if he were entrusted with everyday play, that's in his age-35 and age-36 seasons, and in a pitcher's park. He's probably an improvement on Jeremy Reed, and maybe on Cory Sullivan as well; that it's less than a sure thing put the question of whether he was worth getting at this price into reasonable doubt.
*: Since Andorra already has its first professional baseball player (Aroldis Chapman), I suggest Matthews might be best employed by one of the other noxious Euro-banking bandit statelets, say, Liechtenstein. Recent crackdowns on tax sheltering and Russian mob accounts or no, wouldn't you still want to sock away your paydays in the Alps? That would certainly make Matthews an appropriate mercenary addition to a club that plays in Citi(zens' Corporate Shakedown) Field, because publicly-funded ballparks named in respect for the suggestion of superior private industry competence seems so delightfully symbolic and disconnected with reality as is.
Agreed to terms with RHP Joe Blanton on a three-year, $24 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/21]
Agreed to terms with CF-S Shane Victorino on a three-year, $22 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/22]
A million here, a million there, and it all starts to add up, but the Phillies have bought out the last year of Blanton's arbitration eligibility plus the last two Victorino had, so that's sensible enough. Victorino's deal won't get much argument from me: buying out the arbitration years plus his first year of free agency seems like a good bet, given that these will be his age-29 through age-31 seasons, and near-term projections convey a certain reliability in terms of his comparables and ability to stay around the same level. A playable center fielder who can chip in an EqA of .270 or better at the least is a good thing to have around, even if he loses ground in terms of his production at the plate over the life of the contract. After that last season, the Phillies can re-evaluate. Maybe Tyson Gillies will be ready by then, maybe not, but that's related to my next point.
Given the $7 million he's due in 2010, Blanton's now making just $2 million less than Cliff Lee stands to make as a Mariner, and there isn't much cause to believe that Blanton will deliver Lee-like quality. Purportedly Blanton's relative untradeability was because it was expected that he'd cost around this much via arbitration, which says something about lower expectations, and also how much value the Phillies surrendered in dealing Lee. Affording Victorino for three seasons certainly puts a dent in the proposition that Gillies is going to be an answer to any outfield issues towards the end of those three years, which more solidly places responsibility for delivering on the deal any time sooner than that on Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez. Maybe that pans out, but I've already enlisted among the doubters, taking as a given what they gave up in Lee.
To his credit, Blanton's durable, and his improved strikeout rate in the National League (and especially his slight gain in swinging strikes generated) doesn't owe only a little to the benefit of facing pitchers at the plate; even taking opposing pitchers' flailing out, he set a career high in his strikeout rate, and whether he's achieving that through fair means or foul (on BP's internal listserv, at least one colleague noted Blanton's being spotted with pine tar on his cap), that's still translating into outs in a tough park. His SNLVAR has bounced from his 2007 high-water mark of 6.0 to 3.3 in 2008 back up to 4.3 last season; for the sake of comparison, Lee was at 8.1 in 2008 and 7.7 last year, Cole Hamels was at 7.0 and 3.8, and J.A. Happ was a 5.4 last season. A track record that comes with durability and some improvement has value, so while he's no Cliff Lee, he's a reasonable enough proposition as a third starter if you compare the expense of employing him to, say, the much more more speculative Brad Penny ($7.5 million) or Vicente Padilla (just over $5 million).
It's taking that out a couple of years where there's a little more faith invested, especially since Blanton's probably already achieved the extent of any upside he has. Retaining him isn't really the issue, as much as his presence and this commitment represents the upshot of the misstep made with Lee. The Phillies will remain the favorite in the division, certainly, but what they surrendered was a better shot at another crown, not merely another exercise in thwarting the Mets and Braves.
Signed C-R Steve Holm and RHPs Craig Whitaker, Osiris Matos, Eric Hacker, and Santiago Casilla to minor-league contracts. [1/21]
Signed C-R Bengie Molina to a one-year, $4.5 million contract; designated 1B-R Jesus Guzman for assignment. [1/22]
In what might seem like the latest semi-disappointing development, the Giants decided to spend a goodly chunk of change on Molina, presumably to push Buster Posey's eventual arrival back towards some point in the second half, if not all the way into 2011. This might not seem like really good news, but it's a reliable feature of Brian Sabean's teams to sign up available mediocrities, and let's be fair, Molina certainly is better than some. It's easy to decry the expense if you put it in the context of what they might have spent on better options at some of their now-stocked positions; I'll keep going back to the early-offseason handout for Freddy Sanchez, especially with Orlando Hudson's price dropping and with Mark DeRosa's subsequent signing. The money spent on Aubrey Huff seems wasted as well. But even without those sorts of comparisons, I find re-upping Molina's relatively defensible. Having a veteran placeholder in case Posey isn't ready seems sensible enough, especially since Eli Whiteside is never going to be an everyday option. It's only a one-year deal, so whether Posey proves ready to go by April or July, they can bring him up and split the playing down the stretch easily enough. If anyone gets hurt, they have depth. If Posey's really ready and Molina gripes about starting only two or three games a week, his contract's brevity and value is such that he wouldn't be untradeable.
It's easy to flagellate Molina for what he isn't or shouldn't be: a cleanup hitter, for example, or because he's a guy who doesn't walk all that much. With the current shored-up roster, however, I'd expect that he'll wind up much lower in the order, so we shouldn't blame him for what he was asked to do last year. No, he doesn't walk, but his EqA for a catcher has been around the MLB-wide average in the low .250s for five of the last six years. It's easy to see how it could be worse, too: Omir Santos, anybody? Or Jason Kendall? If Posey's blocked, at most he's blocked for a year, but if Posey's as good as we expect, he'll play his way into a job-sharing arrangement at the very least, in the way that a prospect's performance can have a way of setting its own timetable.