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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Signed SS-L Stephen Drew to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million with another $500 thousand available in performance bonuses. [12/17]

If the Boston faithful found J.D.’s hype-to-production ratio underwhelming then hold onto your hats, folks, things may get testy with Stephen. The younger Drew enjoyed a banner season three years ago. Since then, Drew has spent most of two campaigns dealing with and recovering from a fractured ankle. Excepting Drew’s 2010, he’s usually a solid-to-good player. Not the superstar envisioned of him during his Florida State days, but not Pedro Ciriaco, either—which is to say he’s a legitimate starting shortstop.

The most-asked question in the aftermath of the Drew signing, besides how he got $9.5 million, is what this means about Boston’s feelings toward Jose Iglesias. Not to slice an otherwise interesting narrative in half, but it doesn’t seem to mean much. Iglesias made progress during his second tour of Triple-A, then went 8-for-68 during a big-league stint. He’s a special defender with enough wax left on the candle to envision further offensive progression, perhaps enough to make his bat tolerable at the bottom of the order. Even so, Iglesias needs more time in the minors. This is not an instance of prospect mollycoddling, it’s simply proper development.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Signed 1B-L Carlos Pena to a one-year deal worth $2.9 million with another $1.4 million available through incentives. [12/17]

Examining role without considering team context is a mistake. Although last season was the first since 2006 in which Pena failed to hit 20 or more home runs, the Astros will likely bat him in the middle of the order by necessity. It’s not a pleasant thought given a subpar 2012 that saw Pena post a career-low ISO and strike out at the second-highest rate of his career. Yet the man nicknamed “Los” did manage a .266 True Average, a figure that ranked in the bottom-third among first baseman, but would have ranked fourth on the Astros (behind Jed Lowrie, Jose Altuve, and Justin Maxwell).

There are plenty of reasons to doubt Pena’s ability to bounce back. His bat looked slower last season, and his ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching persists. But Pena is signing with Houston to serve as more than a middle-of-the-order bat. The former All-Star should bring intangibles and stability to a young clubhouse. First-time manager Bo Porter will have his hands full with issues arising from a poor ballclub. Giving Porter a first lieutenant like Pena should ease the leadership burden. Porter would welcome Pena helping with the offensive limitations, too. 

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Signed SS-R Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million with a club option for a third year worth $5.5 million. [12/17]

Oakland signed Nakajima hours after Drew signed with Boston, ostensibly signaling his status as the fallback plan. Patrick Newman, who knows the NPB as well as anyone, suggested last winter Nakajima is a worse hitter than Norichika Aoki. Nakajima is a “back-leg hitter,” Newman added, with a “big stride that he will occasionally shorten up.”  If Newman’s report gets you all hot and bothered then Ben Lindbergh's recent piece on Nakajima’s chances of succeeding is required reading.

If Nakajima fails then the A’s will return to square one. It’s too bad Tyler Pastornicky’s arm limits his upside. Otherwise, a trade where the Braves send their extra shortstop to Oakland for a left fielder would make sense. Perhaps Oakland will sign a veteran safety net, someone such as Alex Gonzalez, just in case.