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American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Released OF-B Jeff DaVanon. [12/15]

Acquired 3B-R Edgardo Alfonzo from the Giants for OF-L
Steve Finley. [12/22]

Signed UT-B Chone Figgins to three-year contract; signed
OF-R Juan Rivera to two-year contract. [1/14]

Signed C-R Jose Molina to two-year contract; signed RHP
John Lackey to one-year contract. [1/16]

Signed RHPs Francisco Rodriguez and Scot
Shields
to one-year contracts. [1/17]

Generally, some sensible bookkeeping, with particular credit to be given for
the decision to lock up Figgins through 30 and Rivera until after he’ll be
29. The “bold” stroke was the decision to dump Finley on the
Giants, with money effectively being a wash: each old man costs $7 million
to employ, but Finley will cost an extra million to buy out the option for
2007. If there’s a score to the deal, it’s that million bucks that Bill
Stoneman has saved, because both players look finished, and Alfonzo isn’t
really all that likely to be an improvement on Robb Quinlan
at third, let alone Figgins or Dallas McPherson, who are
ahead of them both. By far the better product of the move is its more
indirect result, which is that moving Finley created an excuse to get
Darin Erstad off of first base and into center field, with
the ripple effect being that Casey Kotchman may finally get
to take over at first base. Over the course of the season, the net gain in
runs produced by Kotchman over Finley might mean an extra two wins in the
standings, all the more handy when the Angels’ margin over Oakland seems to
be slipping.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Non-tendered OF-R Eric Byrnes and RHPs Kurt
Ainsworth
and Eddy Rodriguez, making them free
agents. [12/21]

Signed 1B-R Jeff Conine to a one-year contract with a club
option for 2007. [1/4]

Claimed LHP Brian Burres off of waivers from the Giants.
[1/6]

Acquired CF-L Corey Patterson from the Cubs in exchange for
2B-L Nate Spears and LHP Carlos Perez.
[1/9]

Signed RHP Ricky Bottalico, RHP/DH-L Brooks
Kieschnick
and 3B-R Fernando Tatis to minor league
contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/11]

Signed LHP Franklyn Gracesqui and 1B-R Kevin
Millar
to one-year contracts; designated LHP Brian Burres
for assignment. [1/12]

Designated 1B-L Walter Young for assignment. [1/13]

Outrighted LHP Brian Burres to Ottawa, but invited him to
spring training; signed LHPs Bruce Chen and Erik
Bedard
, RHP Todd Williams, and CF-L Corey
Patterson
to one-year contracts. [1/17]

Acquired RHP Kris Benson from the Mets in exchange for RHPs
Jorge Julio and John Maine. [1/21]

Signed OF-L Jay Gibbons to a four-year contract; signed
OF-B Esix Snead and RHPs Eddy Rodriguez
and Tyler Yates to minor
league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/24]

Signed RHPs Jim Brower and Ryan Jensen,
LHPs Vic Darensbourg and John Halama, and
INF-Bs Luis Lopez and Desi Relaford to
minor league contracts with spring training NRIs.

The big stuff here really boils down to three things: the enduring concern
over Oriole DHs and their failure to live up to their job descriptions, the
enduring concern over the team’s failure to develop a quality center fielder
since Steve Finley, and the search for a notional veteran
ace to prop up at the front of the rotation. How well did they tackle these
three problems?

While I sort of liked the decision to haul in Ramon
Hernandez
and potentially let Javy Lopez get in a
good amount of his at-bats DHing, I have no idea why the Orioles think
adding both Conine and Millar helps. You shouldn’t want either of them
thundering around in the outfield corner that Jay Gibbons
isn’t already hiding in, and neither offer you enough bat to leave you well
set at first or DH. It’s the weak sort of DH and first base setup that might
encourage me to think that Kieschnick might be on the right team after all,
since he’d offer the O’s a lefty-hitting alternative to that lot for either
job, while also serving as the twelfth pitcher. (Forgive me, I know that I
don’t get easily disabused of some notions.) I guess the best way to look at
it is that both Conine and Millar are the easily beaten-out temps who should
eventually lose their playing time to Val Majewski and
Nick Markakis.

The Patterson pickup makes all sorts of sense for a non-contender. Sure,
that could have been the Cubs, but Dusty’s spleen is the volcano to be named
later on the Pacific Rim, and while we haven’t seen this year’s first
eruption yet, last season’s torrents of Baker bile pretty much drowned any
chance that Patterson’s career could be resuscitated with his parent club.
However, I would not suggest that Patterson’s an easy fix. In a general
sense, Patterson wasn’t rushed in the sense that someone like Jose
Guillen
or Jon Nunnally was rushed, reaching the
majors without real experience above A-ball. The real question is whether
Patterson can be fixed, or if his impatience has made him permanently
powerless. It’s a worthwhile risk to take, especially for a team that only
has Luis Matos marking time and not really progressing, but
nobody should expect an automatic turnaround. If there was reason to believe
that Sam Perlozzo could take a cue from his pitching coach and fix a
position player, I’d be much more optimistic.

Which brings me to the last major move, the pickup of Benson. The price was
definitely right: Julio’s a reliever with command issues who could command
eight figures if he was fixed, while being more likely to remain
semi-broken, and much as I might like
“Remember” Maine
, he projects as a guy whose upside is fourth
starter, and whose downside is a plaque in the International League Hall of
Good Repute. There is also the cost of paying Benson for the next two years,
which isn’t something most would sniff at ($15.5 million, $22.5 if they pick
up his option for 2008). But isn’t Benson the sort where you’d like to see
what Leo Mazzone will do with him? Admittedly, Rick Peterson’s a pitching
coach with a tremendous reputation, and he didn’t turn Benson into a
world-beater with the Mets. But Mazzone’s supposed to be the best in the
biz, and Benson’s elbow troubles seem a thing of the past. I don’t think we
should hold the money Omar Minaya signed him to or the squalid end to his
Pittsburgh career against Benson; Lloyd McClendon’s list of stupid things
said is pretty long, after all. I’m more optimistic about what the Orioles
will get out of Benson than I am with Patterson, and it’s probably also
worth noting that Benson’s cost is probably less than what it would take to
get a premium free agent pitcher to come to Baltimore these days.

BOSTON RED SOX
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Signed RHP Rudy Seanez to a one-year contract with a club
option for 2007; non-tendered RHPs Wade Miller and
Chad Bradford, making them free agents. [12/20]

Signed C-R John Flaherty to a one-year contract. [12/23]

Signed 1B-L J.T. Snow to a one-year contract; signed SS-R
Alex Gonzalez to a one-year contract. [1/6]

Signed INF-R Tony Graffanino to a one-year contract. [1/11]

Signed RHP Julian Tavarez to a two-year contract with a
vesting option for 2008. [1/12]

Signed RHP Guillermo Mota to a one-year contract. [1/17]

Designated RHP Tim Bausher for assignment. [1/18]

Signed RHP Bronson Arroyo to a three-year contract; signed
UT-L Willie Harris to a minor league contract with a spring
training NRI. [1/19]

Acquired OF-B Coco Crisp, RHP David Riske
and C-B Josh Bard from Cleveland for RHP Guillermo
Mota
, 3B-R Andy Marte, C-R Kelly
Shoppach
, cash, and a PTBNL or further cash considerations. [1/27]

Signed RHP Josh Beckett, OF-B Coco Crisp,
and SS-R Alex Gonzalez to one-year contracts; designated
1B-L Roberto Petagine for assignment. [2/6]

There’s a lot here I flat-out don’t like. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to
see Seanez get a big payout, but do you really want to be the team spending
more than $2 million to see if Seanez can have three consecutive healthy
seasons for the first time since the late ’80s? Do you really want to rely
on Snow as the big half of a first base platoon at 38?

Basically, we can boil the last two months to activities focused on the
bullpen and the margins of the lineup. In the pen, I guess I’m enough of a
long-time Strat player to have my reservations over relying on a
platoon-poxed pitcher like Tavarez. Yes, he’s better than a ROOGY, but do
you want to rely on him and the perennial question of when and if Seanez is
going to be able to pitch? I’d rather have taken my chances with Mota, but
at least they did get Riske in the Crisp deal. Despite declining strikeout
rates, he did see his control improve. Still, there’s a very good chance
that this crew is unstable enough to force the Sox to turn to Manny
Delcarmen
and Craig Hansen, and while that isn’t a
bad thing, it will be if it’s as haphazardly managed as last year. I guess I
see a bullpen with a lot of question marks despite the expense.

As for the lineup, I can live with A-Gonz as the temp at shortstop, but this
is beginning to resemble a filler-driven lineup, where you hope that players
like Snow, Gonzalez, and Mike Lowell don’t kill you. Crisp
was a must-have item and could be an improvement on the Caveman, but he came
at a huge price, a franchise-quality hitter in Marte plus a catcher good
enough to start on some teams (the Padres, certainly). Happily, Crisp is in
the middle of what should be the most valuable portion of his career, and
for a team in win-now mode, he’s a player who will help you win now. But if
this lineup wasn’t entirely dependent on Manny Ramirez and
David Ortiz ranking among the game’s best hitters before,
it will be.

Finally, as far as odds and ends, I guess we’ll get to see whether Bard gets
offered up as the catcher whose defensive stats get sacrificed to the role
of designated butterfly net backstop for Tim Wakefield, or
whether Flaherty’s experience catching knuckleballer Dennis
Springer
in Tampa wins out. And again, call me more stubborn than a
mule, but I like the possibilities of having a utility player who can offer
some OBP and speed off of the bench, perhaps spotting for Mark
Loretta
at second while being a primary outfield reserve, so I like
the decision to pick up Willie Harris. The problem, as some Sox fans will be
quick to remind me, is that I said the same thing about Cesar
Crespo
, and however right I like to think the decision was to sign
him, he didn’t exactly shine.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed C-L A.J. Pierzynski to a three-year contract.
[12/19]

Traded RHPs Orlando Hernandez and Luis
Vizcaino
and CF-R Chris Young to the Diamondbacks
for RHP Javier Vazquez and cash; non-tendered RHPs
Jon Adkins and Felix Diaz, UT-L
Willie Harris, and OF-L Timo Perez, making
them free agents. [12/20]

Agreed to terms on a three-year, $29-million contract with RHP Jon
Garland
, avoiding arbitration. [12/28]

Agreed to terms with UT-L Rob Mackowiak on a two-year
contract with a club option for 2008. [1/4]

Signed RHP Chad Bentz to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [1/7]

Signed 3B-R Joe Crede to a one-year contract, avoiding
arbitration. [1/17]

Signed RHPs Agustin Montero and Tim
Redding
, OF Darren Blakely, OF-L Ben
Grieve
and INF-R Jorge Velandia to minor league
contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/19]

Ouch. How high a price are you willing to pay to upgrade an already good
rotation, and minimize the likely come-down of Jon Garland?
A pretty high price, apparently, but keep in mind, even if the Indians have
lost Kevin Millwood, they’ve replaced him and Scott
Elarton
with Jason Johnson and Paul
Byrd
, which should be a net gain for them. Still, keeping up with
the Joneses got dangerously expensive, in that picking up Vazquez costs the
Sox $19 million over this year and next plus the best center field
prospect in the game. It isn’t a deal I would have made, but I’m hopelessly
high on Young’s talent. Still, Kenny Williams seems determined to win now to
build on what’s been achieved. If the Sox return to the playoffs again,
while the Cubs continue to falter, can the North Side continue to come first
in hearts and minds? This is naked ambition, not just to win the AL Central,
but to become Chicago’s team. I disagree with the risk taken, but admire it
nevertheless.

While I’m sure everyone’s going to be following what pitching coach Don
Cooper does with Vazquez closely, I guess I’m more curious about what the
White Sox might get out of Redding. We can all reasonably anticipate that
Vazquez will do well: he has talent, and beyond his pinstriped hiccup in
’04, I don’t think there’s that much cause for concern. You might worry
about his flyball tendencies in the Cell’s tight outfield corners, but his
command should keep the number of runs scored on the inevitable big flies
down. Redding, by contrast, has talent, but a pretty slim record for
success, doing a decent job in 2003 as a rotation regular before washing out
of Houston, San Diego, and even Columbus over the last two seasons. Can he
be retreaded? There are a few teams and pitching coaches I’d like to take
the chance with, and the White Sox with Cooper certainly rates as one of
them, especially considering what they were able to get out of
Dustin Hermanson and Cliff Politte on the
famous side of things, but even someone as marginal as Jon
Adkins
in 2004.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Signed C-R Tim Laker to a minor league contract. [12/16]

Signed RHPs Steve Karsay and Danny Graves
to minor league contracts with a spring training NRIs. [12/19]

Non-tendered RHP Jose Diaz, making him a free agent.
[12/20]

Signed C-R Einar Diaz to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [12/23]

Signed RHP Jason Johnson to a one-year contract plus a
mutual option for 2007. [12/26]

Signed 1B-R Eduardo Perez to a one-year contract with a
club option for 2007; designated LHP Brian Tallet for
assignment. [1/12]

Acquired RHP Edward Buzachero from the Blue Jays for LHP
Brian Tallet; signed RHP David Riske to a
one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]

Signed 1B-L Ben Broussard to a one-year contract. [1/24]

Acquired OF-R Jason Michaels from the Phillies for LHP
Arthur Rhodes; acquired RHP Guillermo
Mota
, 3B-R Andy Marte, C-R Kelly
Shoppach
, cash, and a PTBNL or further cash considerations from the
Red Sox for OF-B Coco Crisp, RHP David
Riske
, and C-B Josh Bard. [1/27]

Wow, that’s a deal. No, not getting Michaels for Rhodes, although that’s
pretty sweet. Getting Marte in the Crisp deal is all sorts of smart. First,
while you might be concerned that this leaves the Tribe stuck with Michaels
and Casey Blake as their regulars in the outfield corners,
keep in mind that Brad Snyder isn’t too far off from being
ready. So what position or positions did Mark Shapiro have to wonder about,
not simply this year, but over the next five years? With quality players and
young stars at short, catcher, center field, with Ryan
Garko
on his way towards replacing Broussard, and with Snyder and
perhaps Franklin Gutierrez on the way, if there’s a real
question, it’s about third base, currently manned by an aging and dubiously
worthwhile Aaron Boone. Eventually substituting a potential
franchise hitter like Marte for a placeholder, and in exchange for an
effective-right-now center fielder, was a no-brainer. And despite a winter’s
worth a frantic rumor-mongering in Beantown, it appears that Marte’s elbow
is fine, meaning that he’ll have a shot at winning the job away from Boone
at the get-go, let alone being a key component of a great Indians infield
for years to come. This is the sort of move that can make a contender stay
that way perennially.

Will Michaels pan out as an everyday left fielder? He’s about to turn 30,
and he’s not really a reliable power source, not after posting ISOs of .141
and .111 in his two seasons as a semi-regular for the Phillies. You can hope
that he’ll give you some power and continue to reach base well as a
sort of poor man’s Brian Downing. That’s handy when it
isn’t a key cog in your lineup, and the Tribe has already announced that
their plan is to plug Michaels into the second slot, where he’ll be handy,
if something less than a VORP monster compared to other left fielders.

What about the rest of the Marte-Crisp deal? Replacing Riske with Mota seems
reasonably worthwhile, in the sense that if Mota continues to devolve into a
fungible Antonio Alfonseca-type, the Indians have young
pitching on the rise, and can afford to have discarded either Mota or Riske,
especially when it’s a matter of getting a talent like Marte. What I’m more
impressed with is getting Shoppach as a throw-in. Whether or not the Indians
use him, or immediately peddle him around while settling for Diaz or Laker
as their backup backstop shouldn’t matter too much, not unless there’s some
sort of concern about Victor Martinez‘s ability to catch in
the years to come. So far as I know, there isn’t, so Shoppach makes a nifty
in-season bargaining chip. That said, he’s a bargaining chip that Shapiro
should convert quickly, since he’s about to turn 26, meaning his future is
now.

Admittedly, Jason Johnson isn’t an ace starter, but he’s not going to be
asked to be. He’s instead being charged with replacing Scott
Elarton
, and on that score, he’s projected to be a good win or two
more valuable, while also being able to boast taking his turn every fifth
game four of the last five years. That makes up what should be some of the
margin lost by having to replace Kevin Millwood with
Paul Byrd, while also costing the Tribe considerably
less.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Signed UT-B Ramon Santiago, OF-R Ryan
Ludwick
, and LHP Hector Mercado to minor league
contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/4]

Signed RHP Matt Mantei to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [1/10]

Signed LHP Mike Maroth to a two-year contract; signed 3B-R
Brandon Inge to a one-year contract. [1/11]

There’s little to be said about a decision to sign Mantei these days. If
he’s healthy, he won’t be for long, and he might not be particularly
effective. Happily, los Tiggers signed him up for the scale to which he
should be consigned to, a deal with little or no risk. Beyond basic
bookkeeping, the move here to feel good about is taking a look-see at
Ludwick, who lost last year to sporadic play, a demotion, and an injury.
There’s still reason to hope for more power potential from him than your
average Dunwoody, and it isn’t impossible to see him actually turning in a
nice career given a break. New managers take a gander at all sorts, so who
knows? Maybe Jim Leyland takes a fancy to Ludwick. Stranger things have
happened.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Designated DH-R Ken Harvey for assignment; signed C-L
Paul Bako to a one-year, $700,000 contract; signed 2B-R
Mark Grudzielanek to a one-year contract; signed RHP
Scott Elarton to a two-year, $8 million contract; signed
1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz to a one-year, $1.85 million
contract. [12/16]

Acquired RHP Ricardo Rodriguez from the Braves for OF-R
Matt Diaz. [12/20]

Acquired RHP Justin Barnes from the Brewers for RHP
Chris Demaria. [12/21]

Signed OF-R Reggie Sanders to a two-year contract; signed
RHP Joe Mays to a one-year contract. [12/23]

Designated RHPs Kyle Snyder and Devon
Lowery
for assignment. [1/6]

Outrighted RHP Kyle Snyder to Omaha; outrighted RHP
Devon Lowery to Wichita (Double-A). [1/12]

Signed RHP Runelvys Hernandez and LHP Jeremy
Affeldt
to one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1/17]

Signed DH-R Ken Harvey to a minor league contract. [1/25]

Signed RHP Bob Keppel and OF-R Chad Allen
to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [2/1]

This winter’s “Buddy, can you spare a vowel” shopping extravaganza
might be best described as a late-term job-saving operation, as Allard Baird
takes a splash in the shallow end of the free agent pool in pursuit of that
always-beguiling prospect of a 75-win season. But is that really what you
want? I’m not quite sure what Reggie Sanders was thinking in winding up
here, other than that it might be easier to let Baird send him to a
contender this July or next rather than figure out which one to sign with
himself. What Minky’s for boggles the mind. Doesn’t he do what Matt
Stairs
is supposed to be for if Justin Huber isn’t
ready? If Huber isn’t ready and Mike Sweeney is hurt, why
do you want to showcase a lineup that has Stairs and Minky in it? You’ve
already got Chip Ambres on the bench now that Sanders is
starting in one outfield corner. What does Grudz give you, other than a
one-year non-answer to the question of whether either Ruben
Gotay
or Donnie Murphy are going to pan out? I was
talking about it with Baseball
Encyclopedia
front man Gary Gillette a couple of days ago, and his
comment was that nothing kills fan interest faster than a
going-though-the-motions veteran ballclub. Not that any of us expect Bako or
Grudz or Minky to not do their jobs, but it makes for a pretty uninspiring
gaggle of veterans.

On the pitching side of the fence, nobody should be sold on the virtues of a
rotation that might have to boast Elarton and
Joe Mays, even if each has had his moments. Three aspiring
fourth starters don’t get spot-welded into a single solid #2, even if you
make Doc Frankenstein a spot gig as the team trainer. That leaves you with
works in progress with Zack Greinke and Runelvys
Hernandez
, equally plausible #4 or 5s in Mike Wood
and Jeremy Affeldt, and an outfit whose best bragging right
is that it doesn’t have Jose Lima in it. Nobody should
suggest that progress may not be linear, even if it’s upward, and not when
the rest of the division boasts improved rotations.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Signed 3B-R Tony Batista to a one-year contract; signed
C/1B-R Shawn Wooten to a minor league contract. [12/15]

Signed OF-L Andres Torres to a minor league contract with a
spring NRI. [12/20]

Signed OF-R Rondell White to a one-year contract with a
vesting option for 2007. [12/22]

Signed LHP Dennis Reyes to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [12/27]

Signed LHP Gabe White to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [1/4]

Signed LHP Darrell May to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [1/10]

Agreed to terms with INF-R Nick Punto on a one-year
contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/24]

Signed DH-B Ruben Sierra, RHPs Pete Munro
and Ryan Glynn, and OF-B Tim Raines Jr. to
minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/31]

So, what’s the good news? Swapping out Jacque Jones for
White? Replacing J.C. Romero with Reyes or White? Having
May or around to replace Joe Mays and Terry
Mulholland
? At best, these moves are token roster manipulations,
and the Twins will instead stay focused on the important things, like
whether or not Scott Baker or Francisco
Liriano
are ready for spots in the rotation, and if they’ve got the
gumption to give the shortstop job to Jason Bartlett.
Futzing around with reimporting the odd Batista or spending money on Rondell
doesn’t change the balance of power in the AL Central in the least, while
those are the players who, if it is to change, will have to be part of the
reason.

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Signed LHP Mike Myers to a two-year, $2.4 million contract.
[12/15]

Acquired LHP Ron Villone from the Marlins for LHP
Ben Julianel. [12/16]

Re-signed RHP Ramiro Mendoza to a minor league contract
with a spring NRI. [12/19]

Re-signed OF-B Bernie Williams to a one-year contract.
[12/22]

Signed CF-L Johnny Damon to a four-year contract. [12/23]

Signed RHP Octavio Dotel to a one-year contract. [12/29]

Signed 2B-B Miguel Cairo to a one-year contract. [1/4]

Signed LHP Al Leiter to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [1/6]

Signed RHP Aaron Small to a one-year contract, avoiding
arbitration. [1/24]

Claimed RHP Darrell Rasner off of waivers from the
Nationals; designated RHP Jason Anderson for assignment.
[2/10]

There’s a lot here to count among the things that make you say
“huh?” Dotel under contract, sure, but not past the year he’s
going to spend a large part of on the DL? That isn’t what the Cardinals did
with Chris Carpenter, the Cubs with Scott
Williamson
, or the Yankees themselves with Jon
Lieber
. Why settle for one year in which he’ll get to spend a good
chunk of the year working out in Tampa? It isn’t like he’s got that
Jeff Nelson cachet for postseason dominance. And does
anyone expect situational superfreak Myers, Leiter, or a solid utility
pitcher Villone to fix their pitching staff? Admittedly, having both Villone
and Aaron Small around to back up a rotation made up of
Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, and four
question marks makes sense. And Myers might make a nice tag-team partner
with Kyle Farnsworth in getting games to Mariano
Rivera
. But that still involves a lot of faith in Villone and Small
in relief roles, even more in the utterly replaceable Tanyon
Sturtze
, and no clear indication that Joe Torre’s going to take a
shine to everyone and use them regularly enough to keep everybody sharp, or
if, more predictably, he’ll forget the last five to seven guys on his
roster.

All of which dodges the major question, about whether or not Damon’s worth
it, which is what you really want to know, right? Now, don’t get me wrong,
avoiding Bubba Crosby in the limelight is a fine thing
indeed. Would you pay $52 million for that? While you and I might like
Damon’s complete package of skills, there’s an awful lot for histrionic
Yankees fans to latch on to as far as what he doesn’t do. He has power…
for a center fielder who hits leadoff. He draws some walks, but not one in
ten plate appearances, not lately. He runs well, but not all that often. He
isn’t among the game’s best gloves in center, and his arm should provide
Yankees fans with a few too many reminders that this isn’t any different
from Bernie Williams‘ limp noodle. If Yankees fans give him
a break, forget his Beantown past, and instead think on the similarities
that Damon has with his justly beloved predecessor, things might be fine,
but a slow start and an increasingly worried media market might go rabid on
him in ways that might make him turn to Steve Kemp for
advice on hideouts.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Signed DH-R Frank Thomas to a one-year contract; designated
C-L John Baker for assignment. [1/25]

There’s still some magic for me when it comes to the Big Hurt. Maybe it was
my fifteen years in Chicago, when we had the opportunity to compare and
contrast the way in which time stood still when Andre
Dawson
, Sammy Sosa, or Thomas went to the plate.
For myself, Thomas was the one to watch, even if each was exciting in his
way, in part because you just never knew what might happen. Would he hit a
clout of truly historic length? Would he get nothing, and just up the ante
with a walk? Would he settle for showing off the sort of batsmanship that
huge sluggers generally aren’t known for? The thing about Thomas was that
while he didn’t get the same opportunities that Dawson or Sosa did in
showing off his physical talent in the field, you also didn’t mistake Thomas
for John Kruk. He wasn’t just a baseball player, he was an
athlete. Now that he’s busted up, I guess I like seeing him get a shot at
the Jaha job, seeing if he can do what the former Brewers’
slugger
did for the A’s in 1999 if he’s up to it, but at the very least,
hopefully being ready to give the A’s a dangerous bat off of the bench in
October. It’s going to be weird seeing him in green and gold, but maybe MLB
and the Raiders could finally cut the people of Oakland a break and let the
guy wear a silver and black A’s jersey or something. Bah, skip that, there’s
no pride to be taken in that. Maybe we can settle for keeping him out of a
pair of white shoes; that just wouldn’t look right on the big guy.

Assuming that the big man can play, that might push Nick
Swisher
and Jay Payton into a platoon in left
field, with Bobby Kielty shunted all the way back to a
fifth outfielder’s role. That sounds worse than it might be, practically
speaking, since we don’t know what to expect from Thomas, and whether or not
Milton Bradley might break down in any and every sense of
the word. If nothing else, the lineup’s pretty on paper, with the depth
being the real source of comfort.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed LHP Jarrod Washburn to a four-year, $37.5 million
contract. [12/19]

Claimed LHP Jake Woods off of waivers from the Angels;
designated 1B-L Greg Dobbs for assignment. [12/20]

Signed RHP Kevin Appier and 2B-L Fernando
Vina
to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/9]

Signed RHP Julio Mateo to a two-year contract; designated
RHP Scott Atchison for assignment. [1/12]

Signed UT-R Willie Bloomquist to a two-year contract.
[1/17]

Signed RHP Gil Meche to a one-year contract. [1/26]

I guess the jury’s in, in case you were wondering whether Bill Bavasi was the guy
who nicked just enough credit from his former team’s victory in the World
Series to get himself a new job, or the guy just spectacularly ill-prepared
to deal with that club’s failures on his watch. I might have a similar soft
spot for Washburn, but at least it isn’t in my head, and certainly not the
sort of thing you spend this sort of money for when you’re talking about a
starting pitcher whose rates and peripheral stats are all headed in the
wrong direction. Washburn can’t even boast a good health record, having
missed missed time in each of the last two years. I think we can all
recognize that a pitching staff with King Felix,
an increasingly decrepit Jamie Moyer, and the infrequently
worthwhile Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro
begged for improvement, and with Ryan Franklin skipping
town, a slot was open. But to spend this sort of money for Washburn is the
sort of move that might make people outside of Cincinnati forget Dan
O’Brien’s decision to give Eric Milton an insane amount of
cash, and not just because of the payday. This move could end up being very
like the Milton deal, in that after it exasperates everyone in Seattle, it
might be the big free agent signing that costs the GM his job.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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Signed 3B-L Sean Burroughs to a one-year, $1.5 million
contract with a $2.25 million club option for 2007; acquired C-R
Josh Paul from the Angels for 3B-R Travis
Schlichting
. [12/19]

Designated RHP Joe Borowski for assignment. [12/20]

Signed 3B-R Ty Wigginton to a one-year contract. [1/10]

Signed RHP Dan Miceli to a two-year contract through 2007,
with a club option for 2008; designated RHP Franklin Nunez
for assignment. [1/12]

Acquired RHP Edwin Jackson and LHP Chuck
Tiffany
from the Dodgers in exchange for RHPs Danys
Baez
and Lance Carter. [1/14]

Signed RHP Shawn Camp to a one-year contract and 2B-R
Luis Rivas to a minor league contract with a spring
training NRI. [1/18]

Signed LHP Casey Fossum to a two-year contract with a club
option for 2008. [1/23]

Signed 4C-L Russ Branyan to a minor league contract with
a spring NRI. [1/31]

Some of this is definitely to the Rays’ credit. Although there’s obvious
risk with young pitching, I like the chances that Jackson can be turned
around and that Tiffany will pan out, and given that the only thing that
Tampa has surrendered was one year of Baez (Carter’s pretty fungible), those
are rolls of the dice worth throwing. I also like the overlapping third base
solutions at the club’s disposal. Yes, Burroughs may not pan out, but maybe
he just needed out of San Diego and the ruts of frustration he seemed mired
in there. If he flops, the Rays can turn to either Branyan or Wigginton, or
some combination thereof. While I’m not all that wild about Dan Miceli, the
money is minor, ranging from a minimum of $1.5 million if they don’t pick up
the option to $2.75 if they do and he earns all of his escalators. While
Miceli’s been a bit of a roster hot potato in recent years, as well as being
a player with the hubris to go after his manager publicly, there is always
the consideration that if a veteran reliever signed to such a small deal
pitches well, he might fetch something in barter before the end of July 2006
or 2007. Basically, while there’s been some grief given to the new guys for
their failure to achieve some masterstroke trade involving Huff, it’s
important to note that the opportunity to flip him for serious value was
already lost, and on Chuck LaMar’s watch. I think it’s worth waiting to see
if someone ends up with a particular need for a lefty bat at either infield
or outfield corner or for the DH slot, and see what you can get for Huff
then. And since the Rays have already added Branyan, they won’t even miss
Huff, having someone already well-suited to do all of the things Huff does
for the time being.

What won’t work? The pity pickup of the Legend of Buffalo Grove, and your
Official Postseason Goat for 2005, the lamentable Paul. He might beat out
Kevin Cash, but would anyone besides you, me, and their
mothers know? I would rather see the Rays take a look at Mike
Rose
now that the opportunity to see if Pete
Laforest
can do anything is gone.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Signed 2B/3B-B D’Angelo Jimenez to a minor league contract.
[12/16]

Signed RHP Kevin Millwood to a five-year contract. [12/29]

Acquired RHPs Adam Eaton and Akinori
Otsuka
and C-L Billy Killian from the Padres for
RHP Chris Young, 1B-L Adrian Gonzalez and
OF-L Terrmel Sledge. [1/4]

Signed RHP Joaquin Benoit to one-year deal for 2006,
avoiding arbitration. [1/12]

Signed C-R Rod Barajas to a one-year contract for 2006,
avoiding arbitration. [1/16]

Signed 1B-B Mark Teixeira to a two-year contract; signed
OF-L Brad Wilkerson to a one-year contract; signed RHP
Adam Eaton to a one-year contract. [1/17]

Aarom Baldiris off of waivers from the Mets.
[1/20]

Signed OF-B Gary Matthews Jr. and RHP Vicente
Padilla
to one-year contracts. [1/28]

Signed OF-R Kevin Mench on a one-year contract. [2/3]

I guess I’m not quite so certain that the
Rangers got anything they really needed out of Eaton-Young deal, and if Eaton’s
useful, he’s also more expensive, and that makes it more difficult for the
team to do something when the rotation is already relying on Vicente
Padilla
to bounce back and adapt to life in the rough environs of
Texas. A front three of Millwood, Eaton, and Padilla just doesn’t look all
that fearsome, not in a division where both the Angels and A’s offer much
better.

I don’t see Otsuka as that valuable, in that his WXRL last season was 1.542, good for 55th in the game, a big comedown after a
brilliant “rookie” campaign in 2004 (his WXRL of 5.066 that year
was tenth in all of baseball). Maybe there’s something to be said for
Japanese pitchers losing the ‘surprise’ effect after the league sees a bit
of them. Shingo Takatsu went from valuable to marginal
pretty quickly, and guys like Keiichi Yabu didn’t even
manage that initial bit of bushwhacking. But if Otsuka’s just an okay
right-handed reliever, then you just added expense in the rotation without
getting a guarantee of quality to add an adequate bullpen staffer and a
lefty-hitting catcher who’s years away from being a ‘maybe.’ This was simply
a bad move, all to acquire a recognizable young veteran for the rotation,
and it’s going to come up short.

The Millwood deal is interesting in that it carries all sorts of provisions
that voids the fifth year after 2009 if he doesn’t achieve certain IP
thresholds: 540 IP in 2007-09, 360 IP in 2008-09, or 180 IP in 2009. That
basically means he can’t afford to miss much more than ten starts over that
three-year stretch, a nice risk for the ballclub, an important challenge for
a pitcher who hasn’t made 32 starts in either of the last two seasons. Then
there’s spreading a quarter of the deal out as a signing bonus that doesn’t
get paid until 2011-15, and the way the dollar’s going, heck, that doesn’t
seem like you’ll be paying anything close to $15 million in 2006 dollars by
then anyway. So the expense isn’t quite so massive as “$60
million” sounds, not when one year can come off of the books, and not
when so much of it is going to be a minor financial handicap more than five
years from now.

There are a couple of little moves I do just simply like for their own sake.
Nabbing Baldiris on waivers seems like a good risk, since he might pan out
as a second baseman, but at the very least might make a good-hitting infield
reserve someday. I also like the decision to bring in Jimenez as a bit of
insurance in case Ian Kinsler isn’t ready this spring. I
expect that Kinsler will be, but nothing’s wrong with making the kid win the
job in camp, and better to do that with a plausible alternative.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired 3B-R Troy Glaus and SS-R Sergio
Santos
from the Diamondbacks for RHP Miguel
Batista
and 2B-L Orlando Hudson. [12/27]

Signed C-R Jason Phillips to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [1/3]

Acquired RHP Brian Wolfe from the Brewers for 3B-L
Corey Koskie. [1/6]

Signed 1B-L Lyle Overbay to a one-year, $2.525 million
contract; signed LHP Scott Downs to a one-year, $705,000
contract. [1/16]

Signed LHP Ted Lilly to one-year contract; acquired LHP
Brian Tallet from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for RHP
Bubbie Buzachero. [1/17]

Signed RHP James Baldwin to a minor league contract with
spring training NRI. [1/24]

Signed C-R Ben Molina to a one-year, $5 million
contract, with an option for 2007. [2/6]

Designated LHP Brian Tallet for assignment. [2/8]

Signed 1B/3B-R Shea Hillenbrand and RHP Pete
Walker
to one-year contracts. [2/9]

With so much of what the Jays have accomplished on the offensive side of the
ledger boiling down to reshuffling without improvement (here, I’m thinking
of the decisions to pick up Overbay, or sticking with Shea
Hillenbrand
), I guess I’m glad to see some element of risk being
taken. What Toronto has to hope is that if they’re going to get any
significant lineup advantage over the competition, beyond Vernon
Wells
they have to hope to get it from Glaus and Molina. Glaus can
be the sort of player who can be a five-win hitter in a lineup (by WARP),
and Molina’s had years where he’s been three or four wins better than a
replacement-level player. That’s exactly what this lineup needs if it’s
going to get to 90 wins or more, but can Glaus remain healthy and give the
Jays that sort of boost? Can Molina? For all of the crowing that the Blue
force of the North has got Red Sox Nation and the Pinstriped Menace running
scared, it’s a wee bit bombastic to think that this team will do anything
more than finish in third place, same as last year.

While I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of Molina, beyond the lineup
considerations, I do like what this deal does for the Jays right now. First,
it makes the decision to put Guillermo Quiroz in Syracuse
pretty much automatic. There, he’ll get in his first full 100 game
season at that level, as well as his first in three years. Having Molina also pushes
Gregg Zaun into a reserve role, not a bad thing in itself.
But with the decision to pick up Phillips, not only do they have a better
third man than Ken Huckaby but it also creates the
possibility that, for the right spare part, J.P. Ricciardi could part with
Zaun. It would be a risk–as the Dodgers learned, a lot of Jason Phillips is
not a good thing–and it would depend on what they were getting, but at
least it’s now on the table. There’s nothing wrong with having Molina and
Zaun both, of course.

While the decision to swap Hudson has been portrayed as assuring
Aaron Hill‘s status as the team’s second baseman of the
immediate future, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. First, Hill went in the
tank in the second half last year, hitting .221/.291/.308. Few are the
prospects so good that you ride that out for long, and there’s no guarantee
that Hill’s that good a prospect. Second, the team has some pretty good
alternatives who are close to ready in Ryan Roberts
(.272/.379/.479 at Double-A after being promoted from Dunedin). Hill’s the
better prospect, but a slow start might put the Jays in the position of
wondering if they really want John McDonald out there,
creating an opportunity for Roberts.