Since January, we’ve published almost 200 editions of the Transaction Analysis column, yet the sport’s unpredictability means that, no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to cover every move that winds up mattering. So, as part of an annual tradition, here are a dozen transactions we wish we had covered, complete with what we would (and should) have written about each. (Players are listed in alphabetical order.)
What we would have said: Butler returns to the States less than a year after heading east to join the Orix Buffaloes. Presumably he couldn’t stand the culture shock, because otherwise he’s banking on his Quad-A reputation changing with 66 plate appearances abroad; good luck with that. Butler has consistently hammered Triple-A pitchingâ€”prior to his departure in ’14 his seasonal line was .360/.481/.547â€”but there are legitimate reasons to think he’s unfit for big-league play. For one, he’s not a good athlete, which limits him to left field and/or DH; for another, his swing-happy approach is unlikely to translate against better, smarter pitchers. Expect Butler to start (and finish) the season in Durham, where his most important task will be avoiding the wrath of Wool E. Bull.
What we should have said: All Butler does is hit and get snubbed. He’s done three full tours of Triple-A and posted OPSes of .881, .865, and .831 while hitting .290 or better each time. What has he gotten in return? All of 21 big-league plate appearances. To think, Butler won’t even turn 29 until March, yet no team seems interested in giving him a legitimate look. The concerns about his athleticism and approach are fair, and there’s a real chance he strikes out too much given his modest power production. But there’s also a chance he could be a league-averageish hitter who, in this instance, helps the Rays if/when John Jaso misses a month due to injury. Here’s hoping Butler finally gets a chance to do it.
Chris Colabello, OF/1B, Blue Jays
The move: Claimed off waivers from the Twins. [12/8]
Seasonal numbers: .323/.367/.508 (.305 TAv) in 281 PA
What we would have said: From World Baseball Classic hero to yawn-worthy waiver claim with two failed big-league stints to his name in a few years’ time. Eek. The only things Colabello has in his favor anymore are his modest power production and ability to play a tolerable outfield. Oh, and the fact he went to Assumption College, which lends itself to all kinds of bad jokes. For instance: our assumption is Colabello will fail to beat out Danny Valencia for a bench job. Nailed it.
What we should have said: Maybe it’s his fun-to-say surname, past theatrics, or cheap power, but something makes Colabello an intriguing acquisition. More likely, it’s his reverse splits, which suggest some zany team ought to give him as many plate appearances against righties as possible. Is that nuts? Almost certainly, since those numbers were accrued in a small sample. Yet having more choices is always a good thing when Plan A is the largely unreliable Danny Valencia.
Jeff Francoeur, OF, Phillies
The move: Signed a minor-league contract. [11/13]
Seasonal numbers: .273/.301/.466 (.277 TAv) in 246 PA
What we would have said: Ah, jeez; sometimes the jokes write themselves. We have nothing against Francoeur, yet a little-known definition of “finished” states “posted a .320 on-base percentage as a 30-year-old corner outfielder in the Pacific Coast League.” He hasn’t been worthwhile in the majors since 2011, and his last few looks have been as miserable as possible. Good rookie season, great arm, probably an awesome guy, but he just doesn’t belong in the majors anymore, not as a hitter, at least.
What we should have said: Ah, jeez; sometimes the jokes write themselves. You know what though? If the Phillies are going to stinkâ€”and they areâ€”then why shouldn’t they give Francoeur a few hundred plate appearances? After all, this is a guy who has deposited more than $25 million throughout his career, yet didn’t fight with or quit on his minor-league teammates last season when they made him an even bigger punchline. Instead Francoeur stayed and rode buses and heard a bunch of awful callback jokes and probably paid for a bunch of post-game spreads anyway. Why? Presumably because he loves playing baseball that much. So yeah, we’re rooting for Francoeur to get some burn. And hey, maybe this will be the year he gets into a few games as a pitcher and decides it’s time to make the switch.
What we would have said: A week after trading Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers, the Angels have acquired someone who is presumably not his replacement. Giavotella is best known for being small and posting quality minor-league numbers. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make him an asset. In addition to being a one-dimensional hitterâ€”he doesn’t walk or bop, meaning he has to hit for average to provide any value whatsoeverâ€”he’s also a below-average fielder thanks to his fringe-at-best arm and range. Expect the Angels to trade for some alternativeâ€”ahem, Ben Zobristâ€”within the next month.
What we should have said: A statue would be erected in Jerry Dipoto‘s honor if he made these sort of moves in Boston. But because he runs the Angels, whose games can only be viewed in whole on the east coast by those with student I.D. cards or graveyard shifts (or, more likely, both), he seldom receives the praise he deserves. Rather than trade what few precious prospects he has for a rentalâ€”ahem, Ben Zobristâ€”Dipoto has opted to grab a younger player who fits the mold of David Eckstein and Chone Figgins, previous developmental success stories under Mike Scioscia‘s watch. Giavotella doesn’t play good defense or hit for much power, but how many of the available second basemen do? So long as he hits for a decent averageâ€”and the fact he didn’t as a 23- and 24-year-old doesn’t mean he can’tâ€”then he should be a decent stopgap for a team that ought to compete deep into the season.
What we would have said: The Phillies will have plenty of long-relief opportunities throughout the season, so why not add someone well-versed in the art of mopping up messes? Gomez even comes with the added bonus of a shiny ERA in each of the past two seasons, which you have to figure makes him infinitely more likely to make the roster than if he possessed the same skill set with an ERA a full run per nine higher. Of course while Gomez isn’t anything special, he is cheap and controllable, making him a hair more interesting than some other veteran failed-starter type looking for a final ride.
What we should have said: Obviously Gomez isn’t as good as his 109 ERA+ the past two seasons, but how often is a 26-year-old with that track record available on a minor-league deal? As such, you can’t blame the Phillies for taking a swing. Even if Gomez regresses to his peripherals, the Phillies can use his elastic arm to pitch multiple innings or on zero days’ rest. It beats rushing a youngster or signing someone 10 years older (and probably more entitled) than Gomez to do the same job.
Will Harris, RP, Astros
The move: Claimed off waivers from the Diamondbacks. [11/3]
Seasonal numbers: 1.57 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 50 DRA- in 51 2/3 innings
What we would have said: One of Kevin Towers‘ better bullpen finds during his Arizona tenure, Harris spent most of 2014 in Triple-A following a promising ’13. At his best, Harris uses his two-pitch mix to miss bats, throw strikes, and generate grounders. He’s unlikely to post a sub-two ERA or anything like thatâ€”and there are a lot of 30-year-old relievers with one good season to their nameâ€”but he fits the profile as a potentially cheap middle-relief option. Plus he kinda, sorta looks like the real-life Bobby Hill, which is a bonus.
What we should have said: A steal. Don’t let Harris’ 2014 fool you: Barring injury or suspension, he’ll contribute to the Astros’ bullpen early and often behind the strength of his fastball and curveball. The only question is whether Brent Strom tinkers with Harris’ stylistic tendencies: In 2013 he generated more ground balls and fewer whiffs; in 2014, he did the opposite. Which Harris will show up for the Astros in 2015? Either way, he’ll probably make Jeff Luhnow look pretty smart in a few months’ time.
What we would have said: Need proof that the gap between Triple-A and the majors is alive and well for pitchers? Hendriks posted a 2.30 ERA and 8.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year in the minors, but hasn’t posted an ERA below 5.00 in any of his four big-league stints. He won’t turn 26 until February, yet it feels safe to call him rotation depth and nothing more. Depending on how the Blue Jays’ offseason goes, that might be enough for him to get another look-see; opposing hitters sure hope so.
What we should have said: Just what drove the Blue Jays to reacquire Hendriks some three months after trading him away? Presumably some combination of his shiny minor-league stats (look at that strikeout-to-walk rate!) and the belief that he’s more than a Quad-A pitcher. The Blue Jays ought to get creative with Hendriks by moving him to the bullpen, where his fastball could play up in short spurts and where he ought to be able to avoid the long ball, which has doomed his tries at starting. Who knows, maybe Hendriks could turn into a valuable middle reliever.
Mark Lowe, RP, Mariners (now Blue Jays)
The move: Signed a minor-league contract. [12/8]
Seasonal numbers: 1.56 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 73 DRA- in 40 1/3 IP
What we would have said: Consider this a favor to an old friend, as Lowe came up with the Mariners and spent part of five seasons in Seattle before heading south in the Cliff Lee trade. Whereas Lowe used to be an intriguing power arm, his command and durability woes have most recently left him on the wrong side of a roster-spot battle with Josh freaking Lueke, who, oddly enough, was another part of the Lee trade. Best case: Lowe gets into some unimportant games late in the year for the much-improved Mariners. Worst case: Lowe is released by June to pursue another opportunity.
What we should have said: Though Lowe failed to grab a roster spot last season with the Rays or Indians, there’s still reason to keep an eye on him. He’s always had impressive stuff, but lately he’s put in the work to overhaul his mechanics. If he can find consistency in his new delivery and begin throwing more strikesâ€”and there’s obviously no guarantee that he canâ€”then he could become more than an old friend, he could become a quality middle reliever on a playoff team.
Ryan Madson, RP, Royals
The move: Signed a minor-league contract. [1/14]
Seasonal numbers: 2.42 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 77 DRA- in 48 1/3 IP
What we would have said: It’s time to be realistic: Madson’s triumphant comeback isn’t happening. Not in 2015, not ever. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011, having missed the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, and the subsequent two seasons due to setbacks stemming from that operation. There’s no reason at this point, other than hope and faith, that the third time will be the charm. As sad as it is, one of the league’s former top relievers is now just an ex-famous person with a shot elbow.
What we should have said: Yeah, yeah, it’s cliche to say the third time is the charm. But sheesh, hopefully it is for Madson, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since his 32-save effort in 2011. The Royals are a particularly good fit, since their bullpen is good and deep enough for Madson to be eased back into the rhythm of things. The odds are overwhelmingly against Madson making it through a season, but he’s going to have a shot for as long as he has his changeup.
What we would have said: There comes a point in every player’s career when production has to trump potential. Nicasio had a better excuse than manyâ€”it’s a miracle he’s alive, let alone pitchingâ€”but the Rockies nonetheless grew tired of waiting for his career 5.03 ERA to improve. The Dodgers will probably see if his fastball-slider combination plays better as a full-time reliever. If it does, cool; if not, no big loss. Realistically, he’ll probably be on the move again come summer.
What we should have said: Here’s a safe bet: Nicasio will improve upon his career marks in 2015. He has always featured a hot fastball and nasty slider, but lacked the command and changeup to thrive in the rotation. (One c-word he had but could’ve done without: Coors.) Ostensibly, Nicasio will slide to the bullpen in Los Angeles, where he should miss enough barrels to be an asset. Besides, even if he doesn’t become a high-leverage arm, his ability to eat innings could come in handy as a mop-up man or middle reliever.
Clint Robinson, 1B/OF, Nationals
The move: Signed a minor-league contract. [12/14]
Seasonal numbers: .270/.353/.412 (.281 TAv) in 238 PA
What we would have said: Formerly a Royals farmhand, Robinson has never received much of a big-league look for good reason. Namely, he’s not that worthwhile. His bat is his selling point, yet his power has fluctuated the past few seasons to the point where he’s not guaranteed to earn his keep at the dish. What’s more is his defensive limitations make him a better fit in the AL, where he can get into the lineup as a DH or first baseman. As it is, it’s hard to see where Robinson fits, besides Japan, that is.
What we should have said: An odd 2013 aside, Robinson has always mashed in the minors. Yet he’s repeatedly been passed over due to his Quad-A reputation. It’s true that Robinson doesn’t field well, but don’t be surprised if the Nationals ask him to take up the outfield, where he could prove tolerable if his bat translates against big-league pitchers. Neither Ryan Zimmerman nor Jayson Werth is the most durable of players, so Robinson could well get a shot as a stand-in platoon player. This might be his last chance this side of the Pacific, so he’d better make the most of it.
Bo Schultz, RP, Blue Jays
The move: Claimed off waivers from the Diamondbacks. [3/15]
Seasonal numbers: 2.18 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 61 DRA- in 33 IP
What we would have said: At long last the Blue Jays have answered their bullpen need by adding â€¦ wait, really? Schultz’s backstory is funâ€”he played softball and studied journalismâ€”but, other than the fact his fastball sits in the mid-90s, he appears more qualified to blog than to pitch middle relief. Even his numbers echo the sentiment: Last season, as a 29-year-old, mind you, Schultz posted a 6.18 ERA and 5.5 K/9 in Triple-A. This must be the Jays’ idea of a joke. Hah, good oneâ€”now go sign Rafael Soriano.
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