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Agreed to terms with RHP Kevin Gregg on a two-year, $10 million contract, with a vesting option for 2013. [1/4]
Re-signed MI-S Cesar Izturis to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [1/5]
Consummated their one-year, $7.25 million deal with 1B-R Derrek Lee. [1/6]

Sometimes the concept of replacement level is useful, and sometimes less so. Consider the case of Kevin Gregg. He’s making a lot more per annum than you’d say a “replacement-level” player should be earning, and he’s notched 20 saves or more in four straight seasons. But what did it take to get him? Originally, he was discarded by the A’s at the height of their Moneyball omniscience, back in 2002, so he turned up in the Angels organization. Breaking through to stay in 2005, he gave the well-regarded Angels franchise three years as a utility pitcher, and generated all of 1.4 total WARP at the major-league level. So far, so good, a totally interchangeable arm, somebody who can stick, but not somebody you make a point of employing. Smart teams had him, and smart teams didn’t really miss him.

Things changed when he was ditched to the Marlins–not the other way around–before the 2007 season. The cost was a very replacement-y Chris Resop, and the deal came because this was at the point at which Gregg was arbitration-eligible and getting expensive–again, traded to the Marlins, not the other way around. The Fish needed everything, and he was initially supposed to fill that same utility gig he’d held in the past. That remained true until that season’s presumed Fish closer, Henry Owens, scragged his shoulder by May. Out of necessity and a lack of good alternatives, Gregg was patched into the slot, and he ran with the opportunity. He delivered a 3.50 FRA and struck out a career-high 24.5 percent of opposing batters, notching 32 saves in 36 opps.

With that, his fortune was made. He did not develop a new, amazing pitch. He just had a good year, the way relievers can and do. For all of the arguments about closers having to have “closer stuff,” Gregg made for a pretty compelling example that, while not every pitcher can close, many can. He’s not some epic overpowering fire-breathing closer; instead, he might be the reigning lunch-pail saves tradesman. He logged another 29 with the 2008 Marlins despite a bad knee that wrecked his second half; his FRA climbed to 4.08. Now too expensive for the Fish, he was dumped on the Cubs for promising prospect Jose Ceda, and managed another 23 saves despite a career-worst HR/FB rate; his FRA ramped up to 4.77. Wandering over to the Blue Jays, he rebounded in that his homer rate returned to normal, so he saved 37 games for the Blue Jays despite a 4.22 FRA.

He isn’t the worst closer out there, but he’s not someone you’re ever likely to find among the best. You could compare him favorably to other place-holding closers from the recent past, say Joe Borowski, without giving offense. Even his 2007 breakout doesn’t rank in the best 500 relief seasons of all time. I expect despite that he sleeps just fine. That might be more than Orioles fans can do, but if you’re old enough to remember Don Stanhouse, you might want to alert the surgeon general, because Full Pack is back. However, where Stanhouse was walking more than 16 percent of opposing batters in 1978 and 1979, Gregg is “just” walking 11 or 12 percent of his foe-men.

Is that worth $5 million per annum? Given Gregg’s journeyman past, you’d think it ought to be easy enough to find his like knocking around. But here again, having lucked into his opportunity back in 2007, Gregg is no longer seen as just some guy. Instead, he has closer cred, because via the circular logic that only people who can do the job get to do the job, his success seems to have obscured his roots. Buck Showalter has been able to trust stranger selections in the save-generating role–dial back to his early Yankee days, and he was counting on Steve Farr or Steve Howe. The man got a 32-save season from Akinori Otsuka. In short, I won’t be surprised if we again find Gregg among the league leaders in save opportunities and raw saves, and unloved by interpretive metrics.

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Claimed C/1B-R Max Ramirez off waivers from the Rangers; designated RHP Matt Fox for assignment. [1/5]
Officially re-signed LHP Hideki Okajima to a one-year, $1.75 million contract; designated C/1B-R Max Ramirez for assignment, and lost him on a Cubs waiver claim. [1/10]

Since the deal was agreed to before New Year’s, if there’s a surprise, it isn’t that Okajima is back after ranking among baseball’s 10 worst relievers by almost every measure last season, it’s that the Sox DFA’d Ramirez. That would have been instead of some warm body like Matt Albers, who looks like the latest in Theo Epstein’s long line of fungible right-handed relievers who could fall down a well and not really be missed until the time comes to repurpose his roster spot. But this winter, Boston doesn’t have Boof Bonser or Robert Manuel to bounce easily enough. Other than Fox–already excused–and Albers, the Sox weren’t keeping that many of the kinds of guys who seem to be Epstein’s default holding-pattern players until he finds something else he’d rather do with the roster spot.

Which is another way of saying that the Sox aren’t just full-up on their 40, they have tough choices to make with any addition from here on out. Maybe the nicest thing you can say about this turn of events is that Boston knew somebody would have to come off with Okajima’s signing waiting to become official, they saw Ramirez hit the wire, and risked nabbing him to see if they’d be more fortunate than the Rangers in slipping him through waivers. Obviously, they weren’t. You could also hope this means good things for Mark Wagner‘s recovery from last year’s season-trashing broken hamate, but that’s a wishcast at this point.

But it also makes for a tough road for any of the non-roster invites, which is important because that’s where most of Okajima’s competition for the situational lefty chores will come from. Both Rich Hill and Andrew Miller still possess excellent stuff despite careers equally mired over their failures to perform, while Randy Williams had his moments pitching for the White Sox in 2009, before pitching his way off their team in 2010.

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Claimed RHP Brian Schlitter off waivers from the Cubs. [1/5]

Schlitter doesn’t really have any more of a shot of contributing to the Yankees than Rule 5 pick Dan Turpen, the pick from the Red Sox that was basically made to create a logistical nuisance, since Turpen was reportedly one of the bodies in the pick’em pot to complete the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Like a lot of teams, the Yankees have a couple of lukewarm bodies sloshing around at the back end of the 40-man, which at this stage of the offseason is sort of their purpose–they’re mildly interesting, but also eminently outrightable in case a non-roster invite has to be added to the roster. Guys like Schlitter or Jordan Parraz get passed around like bad pennies into February, while toolsy non-entities like Greg Golson or Reegie Corona consume space and time like rostered black holes, right up until that vacuum gets plugged with something of value. The Yanks are at 39, but with rotational needs and an interest in Justin Duchsherer, that isn’t going to last much longer.

What Schlitter specifically brings to the table is common enough: he’s big, and the throws low-90s heat that didn’t overpower major-league hitters in his first spin in The Show, and a slider that isn’t enough of a swing-and-miss pitch to fool left-handed hitters consistently. If you’re wondering about late-round selections for save-generating dudes in that all-important International League fantasy draft, he’s a good pick. If he adds something to his arsenal, maybe he becomes more than an aspiring seventh man in a bullpen, but you could say that about a couple of hundred people showing up in big-league camps in a month.

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Traded Ryan Kelly to the Rangers for RHP Guillermo Moscoso; designated RHP Philip Humber for assignment. [1/8]

Moscoso’s value as a pickup isn’t that much greater than Humber’s, but it rates just enough to deserve the slot on the 40-man in his place. The Venezuelan remains what got him designated for assignment in the first place: a shortish right-hander with a nice moving fastball that doesn’t get past the low 90s (he helps it with some deception in his delivery), whose off-speed stuff doesn’t play well enough for him to be more than a candidate for a back-staff utility role. He can eat innings in Triple-A in the meantime, but if he’s a dark-horse candidate for the fifth slot in the rotation or as the fifth right-hander in the pen, it’s only a matter of contingencies encompassing kidnappings, salmon mousse in the post-game spread, or a collective dare to get in on what Grant Desme is up to.

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Consummated their deal with C-R Miguel Olivo; designated RHP Anthony Varvaro for assignment. [1/3]

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Traded RHP Matt Garza, LHP Zachary Rosscup, and OF-L Fernando Perez to the Cubs for RHP Christopher Archer, C-R Robinson Chirinos, SS-L Hak-Ju Lee, OF-R Brandon Guyer, and OF-L Sam Fuld. [1/8]

My writeup of both sides of the Garza deal can be found here.

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Signed 3B-R Adrian Beltre to a five-year, $80 million contract, with a $16 million voidable option for 2016; noted the loss of C/1B-R Max Ramirez to the Red Sox on a waiver claim. [1/5]
Designated RHP Guillermo Moscoso for assignment. [1/7]
Traded RHP Guillermo Moscoso to the A’s for RHP Ryan Kelly. [1/8]

Settling up with Beltre got written up last week, but the subsequent details can be found on the incomparable Cot’s: the Rangers may void that 2016 option if Beltre fails to reach 1,200 PAs in 2014-15 combined, or 600 PAs in 2015 the option vests if Beltre reaches 1,200 PAs in 2014-15 combined, or 600 PAs in 2015; if the option vests and Beltre is on the DL at the end of 2015 season and not healthy by the following spring, the club may defer $12 million of his 2016 salary at one percent interest.

Those are enough additional stipulations to make that age-37 season about as insured as you could ask for it to be. If the bat slackens in the back end of the deal to the point that his playing time endangers its vesting, that takes the option off the table; if he can’t play third by then, he may well lose at-bats to alternatives at DH or first base, which would also potentially take that sixth season off the payroll. But if he retains the playing time and stays healthy through the first five seasons, that’s a happy result.

As for replacing Moscoso, the man shunted from the 40-man for Beltre, Kelly wasn’t on the A’s 40-man, but he was interesting enough as a right-hander who can touch the mid-90s on his heat, and had just come to Oakland in a minor-league swap for sporadically-interesting speedster Corey Wimberly.

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Claimed LHP Wil Ledezma off waivers from the Pirates. [1/5]
Outrighted LHP Wil Ledezma to Las Vegas (Triple-A). [1/11]

Luck be a live-armed lefty, because if that’s what you are, you’ll always find somebody willing to get grabbity. Ledezma still throws harder than most southpaws, but this will be his second float-through with the Jays’ system, having bobbed by in 2009 while moving from seven organizations in the last four years. Some might call it a charmed life, but it’s the sort of thing that probably makes George Clooney look like a piker. Maybe this is a matter of feeling need in the wake of Scott Downsdefection to the Angels, but the Jays’ crowd of lefties is fairly thick, numbers Jesse Carlson, Rommie Lewis, and David Purcey on the 40-man, plus Sean Henn and Mike Hinckley among the non-roster invites.

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Released LHP Brent Leach. [1/3]

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Re-signed LHP J.C. Romero to a one-year, $1.35 million contract. [1/6]
Designated LHP Sergio Escalona for assignment. [1/7]
Traded LHP Sergio Escalona to the Astros for 2B-R Albert Cartwright. [1/10]

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Signed 1B-L Brad Hawpe to a one-year, $2 million contract, with a $6 million club option for 2012 ($1 million buyout). [1/3]
Released RHP Radhames Liz. [1/4]
Signed SS-R Jason Bartlett to a two-year, $9.5 million contract with a $5.5 million vesting club option for 2013 ($1.5 million buyout). [1/10]

Nicely played by the Pads on both counts. While your first reaction might be to think that there’s not a ton of cause to have faith in Hawpe’s ability to mash at sea level, let alone in Petco, his career rates away from Planet Coors are .271/.367/.467, which are employable in a place-holding way at first base. But Hawpe might be even better than that, considering a career-long big platoon split: .288/.386/.504 vs. right-handers, or a .292 career True Average vs. RHPs against .254 vs. LHPs. He’ll also get the benefit of moving back to his original position, first base, having given the outfield his best shot on orders. Add in that the price was right since he’s making only slightly more than many bench players command, and this was a reasonable risk, well worth taking on the off chance that Hawpe isn’t done yet, even after last season’s disaster. Until Kyle Blanks earns the job at first base by proving that he’s healthy and that he can hit the way he did in 2009 debut, there are obvious platoon/job-sharing possibilities.

As for getting Bartlett to accept the security of this multi-year offer, that represents a particularly happy resolution to the team’s shortstop situation for the next three years. Bartlett almost certainly stood to make more in 2011 via arbitration (having drawn $4 million in pay from the Rays), and the market-relative pricing from this winter’s possible shortstop options is quite cheap. Setting aside the deals Troy Tulowitzki and Derek Jeter got as reflections of their particular value to their teams, the Dodgers were willing to pay Juan Uribe an average annual value of $7 million over three years, Miguel Tejada got $6.5 million for one year, and the Tigers committed themselves to either $11.25 million over two years or $16.25 million over three. So strictly looking at this as a financial commitment, the $15 million over three years or $11 million over two seems like a good exercise of leverage by Jed Hoyer. The Pads should be nicely set at short in the meantime, and they can afford to stick Everth Cabrera in Triple-A to see if his hitting comes around.

What about Bartlett’s value on the diamond and at the plate? In the field, the news is good, in that both 2008 (+10.6 Runs Above Average) and 2010 (+11.0) were strongly positive according to Colin Wyers‘ new Fielding Runs metric, while his 2009 was less so (+3.8). Total Zone and Plus/Minus are also generally positive, but we aren’t talking Ozzie Smith-level greatness. Nevertheless, teaming him up with Orlando Hudson should give the Pads some slick work around the bag, helping prop up a rotation that will need more than just the park to get them through the day. At the plate, Bartlett is fairly sure to disappoint any unreasonable expectations that he has another 2009-level breakout in him. He’ll walk about eight percent of the time, and probably deliver a BABIP below league average because he’s a fly-ball hitter without much sock, but his seasonal True Average marks in the years before and since 2009 are all around or slightly above last year’s .255 TAv standard for the position.

To put all that together with a bow on it, the Pads have a player who’s pretty much as advertised: a defensive asset and a mid-pack hitter for his position. As part of a Pads roster that should upset expectations of total implosion, he fits right in, every bit as much as he does on the balance sheet.

Tomorrow, we’ll go over the NL Central’s recent run of transactions, plus anything additional that transpires transactionally.