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Joe Sheehan recapped the activity at the Swan and Dolphin during the 2006 Winter Meetings in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a "Prospectus Today" column on December 11, 2006.
On to the recap of Orlando, where we had a couple of flurries of action, and some movement immediately afterwards that can be traced to the Swan and Dolphin, but on the whole, a fairly quiet week. What was missing were the big trades that were anticipated, given the number of free agents that were off the market by the time the meetings convened. Only the Phillies and White Sox swapped major leaguers, and there were a handful of minor swaps.
A number of teams were essentially invisible during the week, failing to even turn up in a rumor or three. If the Blue Jays, Angels, Marlins and Reds were in town, they kept a low profile. The Jays have essentially filled their roster, but the other three teams have significant holes and chips to trade, so it was odd to hear so little from or about them. In addition, many GMs continued the trend of keeping to their suites and not the lobby. It's more practical, and it certainly makes their lives easier, but it does add to the perception that the winter meetings aren't what they used to be.
The following lists cover moves made during the meetings and in the immediate aftermath.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies added a #3 starter with some upside in Freddy Garcia, while not giving up any elements of their 2007 team or committing to the righty beyond the upcoming season. Garcia's peripherals have slipped a bit since his 2004 peak; he throws more strikes now, allows more homers and gets more outs on balls in play, while walking fewer men and allowing more runs. It may be that the changes have enabled him to stay healthy and in a rotation; he's made at least 31 starts and thrown at least 200 innings for six straight years. His second half featured a near no-hitter, a sharply reduced home-run rate and a 3.5-to-1 K/BB. Among pitchers changing teams this winter, only Jason Schmidt is better than Garcia, so the Phillies have improved relative to the field.
What the deal also did is enable the Phillies to swap places with the White Sox in the seller's market for pitching. Thanks to the ill-considered signing of Adam Eaton, the Phils have six established starting pitchers, with Jon Lieber the most likely odd man out. The Phillies have no right fielder, half a platoon at third base and they're wishcasting behind the plate, so it's critical that they use their excess starter well.
Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez, the players moving westward are C+ pitching prospects at this point. Floyd has yet to put anything together in three stints in the majors, and an extended rotation trial in 2006 didn't take. Gonzalez has some upside due to youth and stuff; Kevin Goldstein flagged him as the #9 left-handed starter in the prospect world. The White Sox had let him go a year ago in the Jim Thome deal. Both pitchers are nominally in the mix for the Sox fifth-starter slot, but neither is as good as Brandon McCarthy. The Phillies did well in trading the future for now in a division that can be taken in '07.
Los Angeles Dodgers: As they did a year ago, the Dodgers signed a premium free agent to a three-year contract, paying a bit extra in annual average value while limiting their exposure on the back end. Jason Schmidt has the best peripherals of any starter on the free-agent market this winter, Barry Zito included. For about the same amount of money the Cubs spent on Ted Lilly, and much less than the Royals spent on Gil Meche, the Dodgers got a better pitcher than either and aren't betting that he'll be effective in 2010. This is the best multi-year free-agent deal reached this offseason.
The Dodgers also strengthened their bench with the additions of Mike Lieberthal and Luis Gonzalez. Lieberthal will be an above-average backup catcher-he's got some bounceback from a lost season in him-and excellent insurance against slippage by Russell Martin. Gonzalez is a good OBP source off of the bench who can play every day for two weeks-on the off chance Nomar Garciaparra has to miss time with a nagging injury-without hurting you.
Atlanta Braves: They made just one move, but it was a good one, trading Horacio Ramirez to Seattle for Rafael Soriano. Soriano immediately becomes the best reliever in their bullpen, maybe the best reliever they've had since moving John Smoltz back to the rotation in '05. His power stuff came back with him last year, and concerns about his surgically repaired elbow have been replaced by visions of a 74/22 K/BB in 67 2/3 innings thrown with a scar.
Getting Soriano was enough to get the Braves on this list. Getting him for Horacio Ramirez gets them the #3 slot. Ramirez has been in the majors for four years, and in two of those, he's spent most of the season on the DL. Even when healthy, he's posted unimpressive peripherals (248/200 K/BB in 521 1/3 IP), and he's been going backwards after a mildly promising rookie season. Arb-eligible as a three-plus guy, he's in line to make at least $3 million in 2007, and could get more in arbitration even off of a 76-inning season. He's closer to being a non-tender candidate than being worth $3 million. The context in which Mariners' pitchers perform could give him a superficially good ERA-hell, it made Gil Meche a zillionaire-but Ramirez isn't going to be better than a bottom-rotation guy.
New York Yankees: After "losing out" on Meche and Octavio Dotel, the Yankees consoled themselves by bringing back Andy Pettitte on a one-year deal for $16 million, with a $16 million player option for 2008. As with Schmidt, the average value may seem a bit high, but there's value in shorter commitment, especially when it comes to older pitchers. Pettitte struggled with location early in 2006, leading to the worst home-run rate of his career. Once he got that under control, his work in the second half was right in line with his 2005 performance.
The catch here is the idea that Pettitte may be followed to New York by Roger Clemens, reversing the move the two pitchers made after the '03 season. The two are close friends, and the thought is that if Clemens pitches, the team that employs Pettitte will have a leg up on signing the Rocket. I think it's a bit simplistic, but the chance that Pettitte might bring company to New York actually is worth paying for. This deal is a pretty good one even if Clemens doesn't come to New York.
If they're serious about adding one more starter, the Yankees could tell Clemens to stay in Houston until May and make out on the deal. After all, they're trying to play deep into October, and Clemens has scuffled at the end of his last two full seasons. Spring training is too long by about three weeks to begin with, and it's essentially useless to the 23-year veteran who is fanatical about staying in shape. (He's signed now, but I made the same argument with respect to Barry Bonds last week. Why make him work for in March when you really need him in September? I don't think it will become commonplace, but I think offering a shortened spring training could be a perk in a limited number of free-agent negotiations.)
Meanwhile, the Red Sox didn't sign Daisuke Matsuzaka in Orlando, and seem unlikely to do so before this week's deadline. That's not a Yankee transaction, but it no doubt puts a smile on the faces of the boys on River Ave.
Kansas City Royals: I give Buster Olney credit for trying. He laid out an argument for the five-year, $55-million contract the Royals handed over to Gil Meche, and as the workings of a devil's advocate go, it's not bad. I don't think there's a whole lot of evidence that "statement" signings eventually lead to enhanced credibility in dealing with future free agents, but the idea certainly has legs within the game. Money and winning seem to be the biggest factors in winning bidding wars, not an established willingness to overpay for mediocrity.
Make no mistake about it, that's what the Royals have done. They've committed $55 million-a magic number in the history of Stupid Free Agent Tricks-to a pitcher with no track record of being anything better than a #4 starter, who's never been healthy for three straight years, who has been incredibly protected pitching in Safeco Field in front of good defenses. He didn't get better as the year went on, he's not developing in any significant way-he has never gotten back to where he was in 2000-and I'll bet dollars to donuts that when Nate Silver generates his PECOTA comps, we're going to see a lot of guys who were out of baseball at 32.
The money is actually a secondary concern. The Royals have money to burn, as do all the other teams in the game, and I don't know that I can even make the argument that throwing $11 million a year away on Gil Meche is going to negatively affect them down the road. It's having Gil Meche that's the problem. He's not even a legitimate mid-rotation starter like Ted Lilly or Vicente Padilla. He's product of his environment, and removed from it, there's a better chance that his ERA will be above 5.00 than below 4.00. That may still make him the #1 guy in Kansas City, but it doesn't make him worth that kind of money or that kind of commitment.
The Royals also tossed away a power arm in Ambiorix Burgos, acquiring some back-rotation fodder from the Mets in Brian Bannister for their trouble. I'm not a fan of Burgos, who makes way too many mistakes with his stuff to be a contributor right now, but he had 65 and 72 strikeouts in the past two seasons out of the bullpen. I'm not sure Bannister, a starter, will do better than that.
St. Louis Cardinals: Just as they were a year ago on A.J. Burnett, they were first loser in the Jason Schmidt sweepstakes, leaving them without a #2 or #3 starter and with none left on the market. If the money spent on Chris Carpenter-$65 million over five years, but more accurately a three-year, $49-million deal covering 2009-11-was a preemptive strike on complaints about a large investment in Schmidt, then the Cards were left with the worst of both worlds: no Jason Schmidt, and a massive, unnecessary commitment to Carpenter's ages 34-36 seasons without knowing how he'll get through the next two years.
I remain unconvinced that Chris Duncan can play left field for a major-league team, although I might concede that his bat could carry his glove if the team got a lot of strikeouts and had a small outfield in their home park. Does that sound like the Cardinals to you? A Duncan/Jon Lieber deal makes some sense, as Duncan could team with Shane Victorino as an offense/defense platoon in right field for the Phillies. The guy does have legitimate 35-homer, .550-SLG power, but he just doesn't fit the Cards' roster. They have to turn him into the best starting pitcher they can find, and they didn't do that last week.
It turned out to be a non-story, but for a few hours last week, wasn't the idea of Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols batting back-to-back just too delicious? That probably would have been the second-best 3-4 in baseball history, behind only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and that's with Bonds in his .260/.420/.520 decline phase.
But hey, Bonds/Aurilia will be almost as good.
Chicago White Sox: They blew their huge advantage-six starting pitchers-on Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez, and they still have both Scott Podsednik and Brian Anderson starting in the outfield. I have come around on Kenny Williams, who in addition to building a championship team is a pretty funny guy, but this was a clunker. Floyd and Gonzalez don't have a place on the Sox, who might actually have six guys better than the two and who have most of the rotation locked up years into the future. They'll gain $9 million in payroll flexibility, but there's no obvious way for them to spend it. I wonder if the Phillies would have thrown Pat Burrell into the deal and picked up some money.
There was a rumor last Thursday that the Sox were about to deal Jon Garland to the Astros for Willy Taveras, Taylor Buchholz and possibly Jason Hirsh. It didn't happen, and it doesn't appear that it will, but that's the kind of deal I expect from Kenny Williams these days.
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