American League

National League

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Chicago White Sox
Exercised 2012 club option on RHP Jason Frasor. [10/31]

The White Sox acquired Frasor as part of the Edwin Jackson deal. At the time, Frasor looked like a good-to-very good set-up man on an affordable contract. Frasor made 20 appearances for the Pale Hose and wound up increasing his seasonal earned run average from 2.98 to 3.60 by yielding 10 runs in 17 2/3 innings pitched. The strikeouts were still there, but Frasor walked more batters, allowed more hits, and had more balls clear the fences. Whatever the issue, Chicago decided he would be worth paying $3.75 million in 2012 with eyes on a return to form. Should that happen, look for Frasor to pick up some of the relief slack left behind by Chris Sale, whom the White Sox intend to move into the rotation.

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Texas Rangers
Exercised 2012 club options on RHP Colby Lewis and RHP Yoshinori Tateyama. [10/31]

The American League’s leader in home runs allowed, Lewis failed to repeat a tremendous 2010 season, but still offered value to the AL champions. Whether you favor Lewis’s 101 ERA+ or his 96 FRA+, the common thread between them is that he pitched close to league-average. C.J. Wilson is set to become a free agent, and Texas may dip into an open market to find his replacement if they feel the need to solidify their rotation through an external solution (i.e. instead of moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation). In such a case, the Rangers could do worse than paying Lewis $3.25 million to provide stability.

Tatemaya showed enormous platoon splits in his first season stateside. Righties hit a meager .189/.230/.274 against the former Ham Fighter, but lefties hit .260/.333/.575. Despite throwing a screwball, Tatemaya’s delivery is consistent with same-handed specialists, so it isn’t too surprising to see an extreme split. Paying a potential right-handed specialist $1 million makes sense given the Rangers’ situation.

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Cincinnati Reds
Declined 2012 club option on RHP Francisco Cordero. [10/31]
Exercised 2012 club option on 2B-R Brandon Phillips. [10/31]
Sent RHP Jared Burton outright to Triple-A Louisville. [10/31]

Cordero moved into 10th place on the Reds’ all-time relief appearances list this season when he made his 260th with Cincinnati. With another 50-plus appearance season, Cordero would leapfrog Ted Power and David Weathers, placing him in position to break into the top six depending on what happened next. Before Cordero can continue to ascend the list, he has to work out a new contract with the Reds, who bought him out for $1 million on Monday instead of exercising a $12 million option.   

Twelve million is a considerable sum to pay a reliever, but Cordero has proven to be an effective option for the Reds over the last four seasons by compiling a 2.96 earned run average and striking out almost a batter per inning pitched. With strikeouts often come walks, and walks have plagued Cordero’s career with a rare exception here and there, like his All-Star 2007 season—the last one he spent with a non-Reds team—or 2011, when he walked a batter every three innings. That dip in free passes coincided with a decrease in strikeouts too, leaving Cordero with just his third-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in a Reds’ uniform.

Reportedly, the Reds are interested in bringing Cordero back at a lesser rate, signaling they may not have too many concerns about his viability despite the down strikeout totals. PITCHf/x data suggests Cordero did lose some velocity on his fastball (from 94.5 miles per hour in 2010 to 93 miles per hour in 2011), but the Reds should know his health better than anyone or anything, even a radar gun. A telling sign could be if another team jumps into the bidding and the Reds concede without much fight.

Walt Jocketty passed on paying Cordero $12 million, but did exercise Phillips’s $12 million option. Phillips talked about his long-term prospects a month ago, sounding disenchanted at the thought of the Reds using his option without talking to him about an extension:

“No bueno,” he said. “This is my last contract. There’s no homeboy hookup. That ain’t going to work. I want to be paid what I’m worth.”

Phillips’s motivation for those comments seem to be two-fold: 1) get the Reds to the negotiating table; and 2) put “homeboy hookup” into the public lexicon. There is a case to be made that Phillips is a top-10 second baseman—perhaps a smidge higher if you disregard defensive statistics—and while next season will be his age-31 season, he has been worth about three Wins Above Replacement Player on average since 2009.  Yet, the Reds still should enter any talks with caution since studies have suggested that second basemen fade quicker than other positions. Letting Phillips walk after 2012 might hurt the Reds, but re-signing him to an ill-fated contract to avoid a public relations hit could hurt them more.

Burton elected to become a free agent.

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Pittsburgh Pirates
Declined 2012 club options on SS-R Ronny Cedeno, C-R Chris Snyder, LHP Paul Maholm, and C-S Ryan Doumit. [10/31]
Sent RHP Kevin Hart, 1B-R Steven Pearce, LHP Brian Burres, LHP Aaron Thompson, and 3B-R Brandon Wood outright to Triple-A Indianapolis. [10/31]

It felt inevitable that Snyder, Maholm, and Doumit would have their options declined. Pittsburgh was never going to pay Snyder an extra $6 million after he underwent his second lower back surgery in the last two years. Nor were they going to pay Maholm almost eight figures given his expected performance and strained left shoulder strain (an injury that ended his 2011 campaign prematurely). Meanwhile, Doumit profiles as one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball who compliments league-average kill rates with abysmal receiving skills. A team would be wise to consider Doumit as a first baseman or designated hitter. Perhaps it would help curb his growing injury history, too.

Cedeno, though, comes as a surprise. At $3 million, the Pirates would have gotten a worthwhile defensive shortstop with a 2011 True Average comparable to two playoff starters (Yuniesky Betancourt and Willie Bloomquist). The curious part of the decision is not passing on Cedeno, but whom the Pirates have in mind to replace him. Their farm system lacks a 2011 answer—unless you think Pedro Ciriaco is going to stop hacking long enough to cut it in the majors—so they could troll the free agency market for a low-cost option similar to Cedeno, but not Cedeno.

Neal Huntington spent the rest of Halloween cleaning the dreck from the Pirates’ 40-man roster. Pearce and Hart are the two who could contribute in the future in limited roles should they ever stay healthy.

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St. Louis Cardinals
Declined 2012 club options on SS-S Rafael Furcal, RHP Octavio Dotel, and OF-L Corey Patterson. [10/31]

The World Series champions may bask in their glory throughout the offseason, but the recent high intakes of champagne did not affect their option choices.

St. Louis has expressed an interest in re-signing Furcal at a reduced rate, since paying $12 million for his services is excessive. The buyout pays Furcal $1.3 million, so perhaps the Cardinals can work that into his 2012 salary if the two sides do wed for future seasons. If not—and you have to think other teams needing a shortstop will give Furcal a look—Furcal will leave after appearing in 50 regular season games for the Cards and hitting .255/.316/.418.

Dotel would have cashed in on $3.5 million had his option been picked up, instead he receives a $750 thousand buyout. The Cardinals may choose to offer Dotel, a Type A free agent, arbitration in hopes of acquiring a draft pick, but there cannot be too many teams willing to sacrifice a first- or second-round pick for the services of a 37-year-old nomad reliever who struggles against left-handed hitters.

More surprising than the Cardinals declining Patterson’s $1.1 million option is that Patterson had a $1.1 million option in the first place.

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I'm confused about the notion that there is just a case to be made for Phillips being a top-10 second baseman. Other than Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler, and a mythically-healthy Utley, how many others have produced as consistently as Phillips? Uggla, prior to this year, perhaps? And as FRAA shows a high annual variance on just what it thinks of Philipps' defense, it seems odd to use that as a further disqualifer.
To this list should be added Ben Zobrist, who has been productive and has made the transition to 2B gracefully, and probably Rickie Weeks, who has certainly produced when healthy. One must also keep context in mind. Phillips plays in a noted launching pad, and his raw numbers get a spike from it that advanced methods aren't impressed by. His TAv turns out to be exactly tenth this year (his best in TAv) among second basemen with at least 200 at bats. Fold in the fact that he's (barely) on the wrong side of 30, and "a case to be made" probably works better than "no brainer" does.
I'm in no way implying that he's top 5 or a borderline MVP candidate. I believe his one-year option is a good deal for both sides, and that a long-term deal of similar value would only be good for one side. I also just think the 2B bar is low enough that top-10 is not that high a jump.

I think I am more surprised to see someone take a shot at his fielding as being that large of a detriment to his value, especially since not all of the others we have listed as possible top 10 players, such as Weeks, have been particularly adept with the leather.
From your article, it sounds like you're saying Phillips is a bad defensive player. Is that true? I know it doesn't mean everything, but he did win the Gold Glove and makes great plays on a fairly routine basis.
Thanks for the link to Nate Silver's article about aging by position. I still really miss him, and quite a few others who used to write here. But I suppose that change is inevitable, especially since basebal analysis for public consumption has become a bigger business. And I do enjoy your columns!
The Pirates had Jordy Mercer at shortstop for Triple-A Indianapolis. He projects very similarly to Ronny Cedeno, low BA and OB with some power to go with a +10 glove. But I think I would have spent the money on Cedeno.
I'm surprised I saw an article using comparisons to Betancourt and Bloomquist as if it's a ringing endorsement of someone's value, especially with how erratic fielding metrics are.
Just a small thing. Your comment noting that Tatemaya was a former "Ham Fighter" is not quite right--- "Nippon Ham" is the name of the sponsor corporation and the "Fighters" is the team nickname. It would be something like a Japanese commentator calling Derek Jeter the all-time York Yankees hit leader. (Although the idea of a "Ham Fighter" has a certain "Warrior for the Kosher Way of Life" appeal...)