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DETROIT TIGERS
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Signed UT-R Mike Aviles to a one-year contract worth $2 million [12/17]

Long one of the game’s signature utility players, Aviles no longer really fits that term anymore, as the term “utility” implies “usefulness.” Unfortunately, Aviles is no longer useful in a baseball sense: his inability to reach base (.279 OBP from 2013-15) makes him a complete zero on offense, while what’s left of his defensive and baserunning abilities have become liabilities. His best skill—the ability to make contact and avoid strikeouts—still hangs, but without power and walks he’s still a bad hitter. He is capable of playing multiple positions, just not well.

As a result, it is a bit mysterious why the Tigers would give him a big-league contract. With Andrew Romine in the fold, the Tigers already have a player who fills Aviles’s presumed utility role, only younger, cheaper, and likely better. Aviles still occasionally succeeds against left-handed pitching (and Romine has rarely gotten a chance to face lefties), but Romine is a far superior defender (especially in the infield) and can hold his own from both sides of the dish. This indicates one of two things: the Tigers have no real understanding of basic player valuation—extremely unlikely—or that the team truly values Aviles’s intangibles like leadership and experience over overall on-field performance. I’d bet on the latter. Either way, Aviles will likely be the 25th guy on the Detroit roster for much of the season, occasionally soaking up PAs against lefties and filling in wherever he can do the least damage. —Bryan Grosnick

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Signed RHP Henderson Alvarez to a one-year contract worth $4.25 million plus incentives [12/18]

Despite being projected to cost just $4 million in arbitration, the notoriously parsimonious Marlins cut bait on their 2015 Opening Day starter after a season almost totally lost to injury. Miami’s loss is Oakland’s gain, at least in theory, as Alvarez will look to return to form as one of the unlikeliest mid-rotation starters in baseball, a high-wire act of performance that requires every ounce of his skill to perform. Alvarez offers good velocity on his fastball, primarily going to a heavy sinker offset with a slider and change, but he’s absolutely allergic to whiffs. Between 2013 and 2014, he had the seventh-worst strikeout rate—14.1 percent—among pitchers with 200+ innings, and was only able to channel this into good run prevention by drastically limiting walks and homers while forcing batters to drill everything into the ground. In 2015, his first four starts were ominous; his fastball velo dipped several miles per hour and he looked even more hittable than usual, and he finally had shoulder surgery in July.

Even if Alvarez returns to his old self in 2016—no sure thing, the way shoulder injuries go—the current Oakland defensive alignment won’t do anyone any favors. With the block-fisted Marcus Semien and range-limited Jed Lowrie projected to man the middle in Oakland, Alvarez may long for the days of playing for Miami, which would probably make him the first player in the history of history to feel that way. Meanwhile, the Athletics continue their offseason trend of signing recently-injured pitchers (Rich Hill, Ryan Madson, and now Alvarez), but this young sinkerballer may carry the most risk of the bunch given his surgery’s recency. There’s no real tried-and-true blueprint for success with Alvarez’s peripherals even when he was healthy, so his future is like Churchill’s Russia: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. —Bryan Grosnick

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed RHP Ryan Vogelsong to a one-year contract worth $2 million plus incentives [12/18]

Vogelsong is a marathoner, not a sprinter. It took him a long time to establish himself as a viable big-leaguer, including a five-year sojourn in Japan before contributing to two World Championships in San Francisco. And since he’s returned to the majors, his profile has always been the guy who you slot in at the end of the rotation; relied upon to be just good enough to eat the middle innings, keep it close, put in the miles and the hard work of mediocrity.

If 2015 was any indication, Vogelsong is no longer mediocre or even a viable starting pitcher—back end of a rotation or no—on a team that wishes to contend. Over the last three seasons, WARP believes that he’s cost the Giants about two and a half wins over 400 innings. Despite maintaining his low-90s velocity well into his late-30s, his command appears to be slipping (9.7 percent walk rate in 2015), he has almost given up on his changeup because it is getting hit so hard (.611 slugging against last season), and his best role appears to be that of a low-leverage swingman.

Of course, since he’s going to Pittsburgh, people may expect Ray Searage to work his magic and transform Vogelsong into a new pitcher capable of exceeding replacement-level performance for the first time since 2012. Given what we know about Vogelsong, including his world-traveling backstory and work ethic, unexpected success not completely out of the question. At the same time, his race is nearing the finish line. Expect him to keep pumping his limbs and pushing to the end, but don’t expect him to kick it into high gear this late in the game. —Bryan Grosnick

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kgodd74
12/27
Vogie (i beliave this is how he spells it on his game glove) is a grinder. He gained mad respect from the fans in SF, and i wish him the best in Pirate land. We will miss him here in the Bay. He has fallen off lately, tho. one of my favorite pitchers to watch when he's on.

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