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Signed LHP Bobby M. Jones to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/17]

Another PawSock seeking PawSockery. As notches on the Triple-A journeyman’s belt go, it’s a must-have, otherwise the grandkids might not believe the stories in 50 years. “You played everywhere but Pawtucket? OK, give it up, gramps, you really just sold insurance in all those towns, just like Mr. Mertz said.” “But I’m a lefty, you gotta believe me!” “You AARPies are all alike, needy ‘me’ people. Sheesh, get a life. D’oh! Too late! Hahahahaha.” “O sharper than a serpent’s tooth…thankless child…grumble, mutter, mumble…”

More basically, with Phil Seibel having been claimed off of waivers, and Nick Bierbrodt looking for a retreading, and with Mark Malaska and Kevin Tolar around, Jones should be free of concern about any late night phone calls telling him to pack for the next day’s game at Fenway.

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Signed RHP Greg Maddux to a three-year, $24 million contract, and SS-B Felix Martinez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/18]

Getting Greg Maddux means you won, right? I mean, you outbid everybody, and that makes for that thrill of shopping victory, and…then you sort of have to wonder if you weren’t doing your shopping on Christmas Eve, and buying whatever was left.

Don’t get me wrong, as an ex-Chicagoan, I love the angle. Maddux back on the team of his long-gone youth, memories of the false hope of ’89, a time when at least once every five days, there’d be a real ballgame, and not another exercise in seeing how many more steps Ryno had lost, or whether Dunston would even bother with the feed to second any more when he could cover the bag and finish the deuce faster, or whether Jerome Walton would ever figure out that he set up too shallow in center. Harry would enthusiastically gargle his way through a broadcast, and Stoney was there to gently guide you through the day’s actual events. They were happy times, for Greg Maddux, for Cubs fans, and for me.

But $24 million? For a fifth starter? I don’t mean a fifth starter in the sense of he’s the #5 guy, but in the sense that he’s their fifth-best starting pitcher, and this is a team with other holes that could have used some filling. This team has expensive filler at short and catcher, and while Pudge Rodriguez might have needed more than 24 million reasons (not to mention location, location, location, or contention) to come play Wrigley Field, he would have been better game to have hunted. Instead, you’ve got a team with obviously great starting pitching, but two clear holes in the lineup, a prayer that Moises Alou does something useful as a regular, another prayer that Corey Patterson is 100%, and two aging mediocrities at second. In terms of priorities this winter, a quality hitter at short or catcher, or picking up a better fourth outfielder than Todd Hollandsworth might have been worth considering. Instead, they’re going to pay Barrett a big chunk of change, which, on top of what they’re spending on Maddux, adds up to more expense than Pudge at the Tigers’ price in 2004.

To be fair, perhaps Pudge’s desire to go back to the AL couldn’t be bought, and the Cubs had to settle for what they’ve got. Accepting that premise, then you have ask, is Maddux worth it? He won’t sell an extra ticket, so whatever warm fuzzies this deal can and will generate won’t make this city or these fans any more enthralled than they already are. No, deduct the emotions and the lost opportunities, move beyond any notional claims of how this will help ratings or officially scalped ticket sales, and you have a deal that makes you wonder on two levels. First, while there’s no point in getting hung up on who’s fifth and who’s third or what–Maddux is going to start in any postseason series the Cubs reach–is that so special? Set aside Maddux’s checkered postseason career: there isn’t a lot of predictive value there, and it isn’t like he’ll see the same opponent with the same lineup in the same ballpark that he did in 1998. He’ll be 38 this spring, and he’s coming off of his worst year since 1987. He just gave up a career-high in home runs. He’s supposed to give you $8 million of value in your rotation for the next three years?

More basically, will he thrive in an environment where he probably won’t be catered to in terms of his workload, as he was in Atlanta? His innings working for Dusty Baker instead of Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone will probably go up. While you might affect a blasé pose about that, given that he’s only got so many professional tomorrows left these days, he’s still got three years of tomorrows left on the Cubs’ payroll. Do you want to bet he’ll be good for 32 or more starts in Year Three of the deal?

On the plus side, he still likes to pitch in daylight, and he’ll theoretically impart some wisdom to the four young guns he’ll be working alongside in the rotation. We shouldn’t ignore either thing, although the first is based on limited data, and the second is sort of anecdotal. Certainly, back in the day, Maddux was supposed to have been a huge help to a young Frank Castillo, to the point that Castillo was taking signs from Maddux, and ignoring the authority figures in the dugout. Much as I complain about Dusty Baker’s supposed virtues, I do think that’s the sort of thing he won’t find threatening.

But will Maddux add that many wins? I do think that the rotations that the Cubs and Astros have put together probably combine to spell doom for the Cardinals, and it should make for some great matchups in-season between Houston and on Chicago, but I don’t see this clinching anything. On some level, maybe there’s value to be gained from the fact that the Cubs don’t have a fifth starter worth skipping. This will be a true five-man rotation, and not a five-day rotation, where you hope the schedule lets you skip the Jamey Wrights of the world every other week or so. But you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little skeptical about the value of that–taking some of the workload off say, Carlos Zambrano’s shoulders does help, to be fair–contrasted with getting a better bat in what remains a shaky lineup. The Cubs already had four good players in their rotation; that may be more than they’ll have hitting for them on a day-to-day basis.

There’s something terribly appropriate about the organization that drafted Ben Christensen signing Felix Martinez, one of the other most notorious diamond thugs of recent vintage. I guess if there’s a saving grace, it’s that the Cubs don’t have an announcer who refers to the hometown nine as the ‘good guys’ as routinely as the Sox do. It would be so inappropriate, after all.

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Signed RHP Rudy Seanez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/19]

I’ve made light of Traction Action’s notorious unreliability in the past, but this is the sort of deal that’s worth the investment. He may not give you 60 innings, or fifty, and you can never count on his being healthy at a time when you need him. Seanez has that allure that only a man wrapped in mystery and bandages can have, but at his age, you have to start wondering what’s under wraps. With a pen already stocked with Mike MacDougal, D.J. Carrasco, Curtis Leskanic, and Scott Sullivan on the right side, and with flyers having been taken out on Jaime Cerda and Mike Venafro for lefty situational work, the Royals don’t have to count on him, but they can profit from whatever he might have left in the tank at this price.

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Won their arbitration case with RHP Eric Gagne and will pay him $5 million instead of the $8 million he was asking for. [2/19]

There’s something wrong with having to acknowledge the wisdom and good fortune of not paying your closer $8 million, but that’s the real world, not the “I got the high score at the pachinko palace!” karma of save accumulation. I’m still baffled about why people get so hung up on 80 innings or so, but some fetishes beggar explanation. Since closers don’t play much a role in a team’s wins, merely adding footnotes to them, will Paul DePodesta ever dare to ever push Gagne back into a starting role? I suppose the Dodgers have the money to afford the luxury of paying a closer oodles of cash and even to waste talent on the role.

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Re-signed 1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz to a two-year, $7 million contract with a $3.75 million club option or $450,000 buyout for 2006, avoiding arbitration. [2/17]

We’ve flogged the Twins for their commitment to Minky in the past, but to put this in the best possible light, consider that last year, he was the AL’s third-best hitter at first base, he’s not really that expensive for being signed through what should be the remainder of the famous part of his career, and while he’s almost certainly at his ceiling and downward-bound, between the price, the past history, and his reputation as a glove man, if Justin Morneau really does finally win the organization’s confidence, they’ll be able to move Minky pretty easily. The danger is that they’ll never give Morneau a fair shake, they really think Minky’s going to be all that over the life of his contract, and they’ll ignore a chance to help themselves. In itself, it isn’t the deal that’s as obnoxious as the potential repercussions, including the persistent rumors that they want to move Jacque Jones. Even that’s not the end, assuming that Michael Cuddyer finally gets the break he deserves. But if the Twins are thinking about this simply in terms of how cheaply they got Doug Mientkiewicz, then they’ll never rise above the modest ambition to win the AL Central.

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Re-signed LHP Gabe White to a one-year, $2.15 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/17]

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Signed LHP Randy Keisler to a minor league contract. [2/17]

Wow, was it only 2001 that Randy Keisler was the Big Apple flavor of the week? Life seemed so much brighter then, it was an innocent time, we could make double-edged Paul O’Neill double entendres, and nobody knew which one you were talking about, and we’d laugh milk out our noses. Or something. Whatever it was, it involved a lot less attention being paid to Fox News. Anyway, Keisler had his moments last year, posting a 4.13 ERA in 102.1 IP during his first season pitching since blowing out his shoulder. He’s a lefty, he still isn’t even 30, and if nothing else, he’ll give Norfolk a veteran lefty in the rotation.

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Signed RHP Willis Roberts to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/17]

Signed 1B-L Randall Simon to a one-year contract with a club option for 2005. [2/19]

Because when you think Randall Simon, you can’t help but think of seconds with an option for thirds. Remember, this man scares sausage. How can you put a price on that? He’s supposed to be the left-handed half of a platoon at first with Craig Wilson, but why bother with the expense if you’re really in cutting to the bone mode? It’s not a bad idea, when you consider that Simon has hit .303/.332/.466 against right-handers the last three years, not bad for what is nevertheless substandard production out of a first baseman. But Wilson has hit .249/.340/.450 over three years of limited exposure to right-handers, so all you’re really getting out of that is a few singles and the off chance that you’ll make Julian Tavarez look into the dugout in a game where the Bucs’ shot at a dream season fifth-place finish is on the line. As long as they’re poormouthing, you could be excused for thinking that they should have taken their chances with Wilson and perhaps Daryle Ward. The best you could point to is the off chance that they could flip Simon again, as they did last year.

As for Roberts, tearing up your elbow isn’t the sort of thing you just walk off. I wouldn’t hold out a lot of hope that he’ll be a dark horse solution to the Pirates’ pitching problems.

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Lost their arbitration case with C-L A.J. Pierzynski, and will pay him $3.5 million rather than the $2.25 million the Giants were offering. [2/18]

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Signed RHP Alan Mills to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/17]

Because when you’ve got a pitching staff with young cubs like John Halama or Paul Abbott or Trever Miller or Todd Ritchie, not to mention impressionable young relievers like Todd Jones or both Carlos and Al Reyes, you’ve got to get out there and bring in a legend for them to rally around. You know, a real zen master, someone who has been away from the game for a couple of years, and who can give his team veteran leadership, pitching know-how from a year of volunteer coaching at a nearby high school, and a story that might be optionable to Disney. So naturally, you think ‘Alan Mills,’ and pick up the phone. This big league stuff is a piece of cake, I tell ya.

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Signed RHP Doug Brocail to a minor league contract, with a spring training NRI. [2/17]

Brocail has missed the last two seasons to injury, and these are the Rangers, proud owners of the game’s most underwhelming collection of moundsmen, a team only the staff of the 1930 Phillies could admire. After serious money for Mark Petkovsek or the Mahomes misadventures, surely there’s nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, these are the sorts of rewards the Rangers can reap this time of year; whatever ‘financial flexibility’ they now have will have to wait until next year, because they won’t be adding big-money talent or worthwhile prospects trying to flip Einar Diaz or Eric Young or Herb Perry.

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