January 26, 2010
Sheets, Miggy, and Chooch
Signed INF-R Miguel Tejada to a one-year, $6 million contract. [1/25]
I don't know what's sillier, touting this as a happy event, or pointing to how one-year rentals of Tejada and Garrett Atkins demonstrates progress as much as nailing down placeholders until real progress can be made. Employing Tejada won't substantively affect where the Orioles finish in the standings, it's just Angelos money trickling down into another wealthy person's pocket, and Miguel Tejada ceased being a big deal a few years ago. If this is cause for nostalgia, what is it nostalgia for, the ill-spent recent past in Orioles history? Putting Tejada in the toughest division in the tougher league isn't going to help him any, and headed into his age-36 season, he's hardly primed for a happy reunion. Projecting him as an Astro for 2010 already involved a likely decline to a .257 EqA, which is playable at short as bats go, less so at third, and you can expect his updated projection to drop once it's made for the AL East, to the point that he may not be a sure thing as far as improvement on Ty Wigginton or Michael Aubrey. While it's probably better to have renewed a relationship with Tejada than ever getting involved with Atkins, doing both isn't progress, it's more like Melvin Mora: The Return by another name, another expensive and underwhelming pantomime of major-league moves while waiting on Josh Bell. (Brandon Snyder's going to have to hit a lot more than he has to really make a good prospect at first base, which is why I find the rumor of Nolan Reimold moving to first so entirely believable.)
The question worth asking is whether or not Tejada will be a good third baseman. The assumption is generally yes when we're talking about a shortstop moving to a less-difficult position, and Tejada's always seemed to have the arm for third base. Evaluations of his performance at short in recent seasons have varied, with FRAA and Plus/Minus suggesting he's been around adequate or so in two of the last three years, and UZR just one; taken together, that seems to dovetail nicely with a general expectation that he's overdue for a move away from short. Even so, I don't think we can take quality work at third for granted; we'll see if he ends up having any A-Rod-like struggles in adapting to the position, but given that it's just a year's worth of the Orioles' time, and that they won't contend anyway, if it goes badly, there's no great loss, and if it turns out well, that's nice for the pitchers in-season and Miggy's next spin with free agency subsequently.
Outrighted 4C-L Jeff Larish to Toledo (Triple-A). [1/25]
This was the belated after-effect of the Valverde deal, as it took MLB that long to sign off on the contract, creating the need for a subsequent move to make space on the 40-man roster. You can wonder whether they wouldn't have been better off outrighting utilityman Don Kelly or an upside-free utility right-hander like Eddie Bonine, but that's picking nits: Larish isn't much of an asset anywhere afield but first base, and his power didn't pop quite enough to make him seem like a useful bench alternative to Brandon Inge at third. Kelly, in contrast, might do enough other things to make a more viable big-league reserve, between his batting lefty, his baserunning, and an ability to play everywhere but pitcher or catcher.
Designated SS-R Mario Lisson for assignment. [1/25]
This was the other element from their signing Rick Ankiel, and they're already locked in at 40 on the 40-man. While Lisson has more power than most minor-league shortstops, he's failed to hit with much authority above A-ball these last two seasons, his walk rate's bounced around six percent, and he's no lock to stick at short. Heading into his age-26 season, of course his spot on a 40-man should have been at risk, if not now, then later, whenever a non-roster invite struck Trey Hillman's fancy.
Agreed to terms with INF-S Maicer Izturis on a three-year, $10 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/25]
Izturis is a lovely little insurance policy to have around, whether against further frustrations with Howie Kendrick, or should Erick Aybar get injured, or just in case Brandon Wood's bid to be a latter-day Matt Williams-type falters. Regardless, he's a good enough offensive contributor to add value whatever the position among second, short, and third, and a good enough defender at any of them to be playable, even with recent statistical suggestions that he's losing ground at short. The Halos now have him under team control through his age-31 season, rather than risk his walking via free agency after the 2010 season. All in all, it's not too shabby a turn of events for a throw-in on Jim Bowden's predictably dumb deal that briefly, regrettably put Jose Guillen in DC for Izturis and Juan Rivera.
Signed RHP Ben Sheets to a one-year, $10 million base contract. [1/26]
With reports zig-zagging between $8 and $10 million as far as how much his deal stands to be worth, it's important to keep in mind that this isn't really about signing Ben Sheets to inspire hope and faith in Oakland. In a sense, it's about doing Ben Sheets a favor. Rather than put the comebacking pitcher through the difficulties of sorting through which notional contender he should sign with, his agent has landed his client in the closest contretemps to a sure thing as far as winding up in a playoff race as is possible this late in the signing season: Oakland.
Not because the A's are going to contend, of course. They won't. But rather than do something noisome-say, like signing with the Mets-and guessing which interested team might be a contender this year, and then making a decision he might regret, he's settling for the next-best thing: playing for a team that's sure to deal him to a playoff race. Sure, Sheets is signed for a bunch of money, but it isn't like Oakland's going to be paying all of it. He'll get to spend four months pitching for a club where there no expectations, essentially rehabbing at the big-league level, prior to seeing a third of his season (and many of his paydays) come with the contender he'll be traded to sometime around the end of July. It's easier than picking from among the current suitors, certainly, and with Sheets' career already punctuated by so many injuries and absences, it's probably the canniest way of making sure that, if he's healthy at the end of July, he'll wind up in a pennant race. Why wouldn't you want to bet on Billy Beane's capacity to deal you, rather than pretend to know that the Mets will matter? If the Mets do matter, you might get traded to them, but you won't have shackled yourself to their mast in case they're already sunk by May.
The A's get tangible and notional benefits out of this, of course. They get attached to signing somebody for a good chunk of change, as opposed to trading for someone signed for big money (as they did with Matt Holliday last season), or merely re-upping somebody from within their own house. That ought to help them get taken seriously in future negotiations, regardless of whether or not they intend to keep such a veteran or merely rent him, a la Sheets. Whether or not you want to consider this a new market inefficiency or just a recent iteration of an existing one hardly matters: if Sheets is capable of being an ace-level pitcher again and delivers, you get the direct benefit of that for at least four months. When the standings then dictate that you convert the last two months of Sheets into the best available package of prospects, that's a reasonable conversion: four months of an ace equals goodies you don't currently have, and for the expense involved (say, $5-7 million), you're ideally acquiring somewhat finished products in terms of the prospects. If Sheets does less well, you get worse prospects. The worst-case plausible scenario is that Sheets gets hurt, but if the deal contains a good amount of hedging as far as the total outlay depending on games started or innings pitched, so much the better.
The least tangible element in terms of math or markets is that it isn't going to hurt to have a designated alpha A-one front-end starter in the house. Whether or not there's anything Sheets can impart to Brett Anderson or Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill or Vin Mazzaro, that's lovely. I doubt this means Justin Duchscherer's headed to the pen, although I wouldn't rule it out; such a scenario would depend on whether or not Sheets is ready to go on Opening Day and all of the kids having great camps. For now, it seems more likely that Cahill and Mazzaro and Gio Gonzalez will all be fighting among themselves to stake claims for the fifth slot, while an idealized front four of Sheets, Duke, Anderson, and Braden are tasked with demonstrating health and readiness.
Designated UT-L Joe Inglett for assignment. [1/25]
Agreed to terms with LHP Tim Byrdak on a one-year, $1.6 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/24]
With the Astros poor-mouthing their current lot, it's more than a little amusing to see them then turn around and waste this kind of money on a bad situational lefty. However nice Byrdak's ERA appears to be (3.23), he wasn't especially effective as a situational southpaw, giving up six homers to lefties in 125 PAs (.184/.312/.388 overall), and getting knocked around in tighter contests (contributing to his ugly -0.095 WXRL), rating him among baseball's least-effective relievers when it came to stranding inherited baserunners, all of which contributed to a more telling 4.31 FRA. This is exactly the sort of guy you don't go out of your way to invite to arbitration: he's a filler talent whose performance is easily overrated, and the sort any organization worth its salt should be able to replace from among the ranks of similar filler talents, probably with a few well-selected NRIs. You can be broke, or you can be smart, but either way, you don't want to afford yourself Tim Byrdak at four times the minimum.
Agreed to terms with RHP David Bush on a one-year, $4.215 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/25]
Agreed to terms with C-R Carlos Ruiz on a three-year, $8.85 million contract extension, with a $5 million club option for 2013 ($500,000 buyout), and avoiding arbitration; signed RHP Jose Contreras to a one-year, $1 million contract. [1/25]
You might mistake Ruiz for a young player-don't. He just turned 31, and he's older than Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth, and only a month or two younger than Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. So giving a catcher of that age a multi-year commitment of this sort isn't exactly risk-free. Sure, it's sensible, as they bought out his three arbitration seasons for a price that might have been less than he stood to win in three consecutive hearings if he remained healthy and productive. But there's the risk: he'd have to remain healthy and productive to guarantee himself those sorts of paydays. Offered this kind of security plus a tasty payoff for his age-34 season if he's still going strong makes plenty of sense for him, and it's entirely defensible for the cost certainty it provides the Phillies in the meantime.
A different question is whether or not he's really all that. As a Philly Phield-generated phenomenon, he's not really that special as offensive contributors go: his career road hitting clip is .238/.323/.343, with his home park adding a good 80 points of ISO to his clip. His walk rates aren't terrible, but eliminate the team-dependent factor of his getting to hit eighth most of his career (with the intentional freebies that come with the job), and he's drawn walks in 9.1 percent of his plate appearances, and would probably drop even further were he tasked with a more significant role than he has to be as a Phillie. Happily, that doesn't appear to be a problem: snuggled down that low in the order, and backed up with a quality reserve in Brian Schneider, he'll have the benefit of missing the odd tough right-hander, and getting decent rest from the daily grind of receiving. Chooch's offensive numbers should drop from last season's spike, but not all that steeply, since he'll still walk a little and the physical fact of the park should mean he'll continue to hit for power at home. I wouldn't bet against a .400 SLG and an OBP around .340 the next couple of seasons, which is pretty valuable. Whether or not he ages well depends on whether or not he avoids a major injury, but he's a nimble receiver who contributes effectively to deterring the opposition's running game. Because of his age, there's no unrealized greatness, just a fine little player having a nice career, and realizing a worthwhile payday.