Catching up…

  • The Cubs ended the Corey Patterson era by trading three young pitchers to the Marlins for Juan Pierre. The Cubs, who wasted big power years by Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez by having brutal OBPs in the top two lineup spots, fix that problem with a player who should be good for a .340-.350 OBP. Pierre’s off year in ’05 was largely the result of a drop in batting average, to a career-low .276. Just 28, he should get some of that back, making him a viable leadoff hitter.

    The Cubs did well to acquire Pierre for three arms, but I should mention that a lot of people here in Dallas are high on Ricky Nolasco, probably the least known of the trio. Nolasco, a fourth-round pick in 2001, has been effective at virtually every stop along the way in his career, the one exception being a brief Triple-A stop in ’04. At Double-A West Tenn last year, he struck out 173 and walked just 46 in 161 2/3 innings. One scouting report–not the Cubs’ or Marlins’–pegged him as a “solid major-league starter,” a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

    From business and marketing standpoints, the Marlins’ fire sale is difficult to swallow. The execution of that plan, however, has given them a large stockpile of pitchers, and as we’ve often said, the way to have two major-league pitchers is to start with 20 minor-league ones. The Fish have added the kind of quantity that increases their odds of producing some legitimate starters over the next couple of seasons.

  • The Pirates made a strange pickup Tuesday, bringing in Sean Casey and most of his salary to play first base for a year, while giving up Dave Williams to the Reds.

    Williams isn’t a star or anything close, just a newly-healthy pitcher who can provide 25-30 starts from the #4 slot or work as a swingman, if that role ever makes a comeback. He’s arbitration-eligible, but with numbers that should keep his salary at a reasonable level in ’06, something in the low seven figures.

    Casey, on the other hand, is the very picture of “fungible.” A first baseman who hits for a high average and has virtually no other skills might have worked in 1985, but in 2005, that same player is a competitive disadvantage. Casey has a below-average walk rate, mediocre power, is horribly slow and hits into a ton of double plays. In his best seasons, he’s been an asset, but he’s never sustained his power spikes. Add in that Casey will cost the Pirates $6.5 million in ’06, and it’s hard to understand why they would give up a pitcher and money to make a one-win upgrade–if that–going into a season in which they can’t contend. Casey is a local hero and one of the game’s good guys, but if the Bucs are clinging to that as a driver of interest and attendance, they’re going to be disappointed.

  • The Orioles and Giants swapped disappointing relievers, with the Os sending Steve Kline west for LaTroy Hawkins. The deal is interesting largely because it means Hawkins becomes one of Leo Mazzone’s charges in his first season on the Chesapeake. Hawkins has been a very good pitcher at times, and his reputation as a guy who can’t handle pressure situations in more myth than fact. It would not surprise me at all to see Hawkins be one of the top five relievers in the AL next year.
  • The Dodgers hired Grady Little to manage, part of the ongoing effort to fill every significant role in the organization with people the media will like, irrespective of ability. Little is a caretaker who doesn’t bring much to the table beyond experience and affability. Like most managers, he’s essentially harmless, except he’s abdicating responsibility in the biggest moment of his career.

    It’s a better choice than Jim Fregosi, I guess.

  • Quick rumors: the Blue Jays are in the mix for up to three offensive upgrades, moves they need to make to have any hope of making the $100 Million Bet work out in the short term… Matt Morris seems likely to head to San Francisco, but the Cardinals are working hard to bring in a starter even as he departs… Very quiet on Johnny Damon, who could retain his freedom well into ’06… Kevin Millwood is going to end up around four and $40 million, maybe higher… The Bobby Abreu rumors won’t go away, perhaps the strangest ongoing subplot of December…

Tonight is the deadline for offering arbitration to free agents. The inflated market increases the risk involved, as higher free-agent salaries create expensive comparables in the hearing room. Anything that increases risk increases the chance teams will decline to tender the offer, a decision that is generally a mistake for any reasonably marketable player. We’ll be able to see which teams grasp key concepts of value and compensation by the morning.