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CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Agreed to a minor-league deal with SS-S Jimmy Rollins.

There’s been a persistent push for the White Sox to sign Ian Desmond, on the premise that the team (one still very much geared toward winning while the Chris Sale-Jose Abreu core is intact, as their winter trades for Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier indicate) could ill afford to take a chance on late-blooming Tyler Saladino on an everyday basis. This will put an end to that speculation, for better or for worse.

Rollins reportedly passed up guaranteed deals that would have made him various teams’ utility man to take one more shot at winning a regular shortstop gig. Saladino is about as unintimidating an obstacle to that as any incumbent, but PECOTA finds the two harder to distinguish than you might guess:

Player

Projected PA

Projected TAv

Projected FRAA

Projected WARP

Jimmy Rollins

538

.244

-2

1.2

Tyler Saladino

524

.237

0

1.1

(Obviously, both playing-time projections pre-date Rollins signing with the Sox. It’s nice that the system had them pegged for roughly the same amount of work, though; it provides a pretty clean comparison.)

After the flop of a season Rollins had with the Dodgers in 2015, many people will harbor understandable skepticism that Rollins can even achieve these projected numbers. He’s aging, for sure, and his plate discipline eroded last year. He also had a .246 BABIP, though, which is a little low to be believed, even for a switch-hitter who never had a terribly high-BABIP skill set. He’s probably better than he showed last year, even if his glove is permanently compromised. PECOTA’s long memory is a feature in most cases, and almost certainly in this one.

Still, what that table says is more or less: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Rollins is a no-cost risk for the White Sox, but he’s likely to be almost exactly as valuable as Saladino. Maybe he takes off, earns the job, has one last pull from the jug of glory, and pays off big-time, but if that were likely, it would have taken more than a minor-league deal to draw him in. If Chicago really wanted to change its playoff odds measurably, they would have been better off signing Desmond… right?

Well, maybe. PECOTA does view Desmond more favorably than either Rollins or Saladino. (Try not to faint from the shock.)

Player

Projected PA

Projected TAv

Projected FRAA

Projected WARP

Ian Desmond

604

.258

2

2.6

If the Sox had signed Desmond, though, taking into account all the money they’d already added to the payroll this winter (in escalating contracts, arbitration raises, and the salaries of Frazier and Lawrie), it’s unlikely they would have had anything left to spend. And if they had nothing left to spend, they would have no way to improve at a position where PECOTA thinks they’re much, much weaker.

Player

Projected PA

Projected TAv

Projected FRAA

Projected WARP

Avisail Garcia

513

.259

RF -5

0.1

Dexter Fowler

613

.268

CF -9

1.3

Austin Jackson

528

.254

CF -3, RF 0

1.0

Marlon Byrd

532

.257

LF -2, RF 1

0.7

Once you adjust Fowler’s defensive rating to whatever it would be as a full-time right fielder (something positive, probably), you’re talking about at least as large a potential improvement there. Alternatively, if the White Sox want to hold onto their draft pick, they can now pick up a spare outfield piece like Jackson or Byrd, still improve, and reassess what (if any) future value it makes sense to trade for this year as the season develops. For my money, the Sox have maintained better flexibility and more room to improve by choosing Rollins over Desmond, and they’ve still stabilized a key position at which they had huge questions to answer. There are no bad minor-league deals, really, but this one might be downright good.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Signed 3B-R Juan Uribe to a reported one-year, $5 million contract.

Last season, the Indians failed to get much performance out of the “hot” corner. They used six players at the position—hardly a disaster—but those six guys all fell into one of two camps: good defender/bad hitter (Giovanny Urshela, Jose Ramirez, and surprisingly Lonnie Chisenhall) or bad defender/bad hitter (Mike Aviles, Chris Johnson, and Zach Walters). For 2016, Cleveland looks to double down on this strategy by acquiring perhaps the league’s most sterling example of the former type of player in Uribe.

Uribe’s one of those players where you look at his career WARP and it absolutely blows your mind. Very quietly, he’s racked up 25.7 wins while bouncing around both the infield and the league. For perspective, an incomplete list of players that Uribe has out-valued over his career includes: Tino Martinez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Darin Erstad, Jermaine Dye, and Travis Hafner. These past few seasons, he’s settled into a role that suits him just fine: a clubhouse-leading defensive whiz who hits near the league average and cares not for your American football. The Indians could really use a guy like that—namely someone who does the job they were looking to fill last year, but better.

Compare the 2016 PECOTA projections for these three third basemen: Uribe and two incumbents:

Name Year PA OBP SLG TAv FRAA WARP
Juan Uribe 2016 375 0.289 0.369 0.245 7 1.1
Giovanny Urshela 2016 486 0.285 0.395 0.242 4 0.5
Yandy Diaz 2016 250 0.354 0.386 0.266 -4 0.3

That’s interesting, right? Look how similar the projections for Uribe and Urshela are for next season. Both of them have poor OBPs, some pop, and positive defense. Not so different. It seems like the big takeaway here is that both of these third basemen have similar profiles, but a few points of on-base percentage and a couple of fielding runs can go a long way. And there’s an upside play here too, in some ways. If Uribe goes back to being the +13-run defender he was back in 2013 and 2014, then that's great for the Indians. If not, well, PECOTA still sees him as an upgrade over the younger, newer version of his skill set.

So can we talk a little bit about the last name on that table? That belongs to Cuban import Yandy Diaz, who was an Eastern League All-Star this past season. Diaz doesn’t have the raw power of Uribe or Urshela, but he’s an on-base machine in the minors with a solid hit tool and a great approach. And despite what his PECOTA fielding projection displays, Chris Crawford said recently that he “can go get it at third base” and has a good reputation defensively. He could be the best bet of the three, and sooner rather than later.

Because he’s younger, it may be tempting to think there’s upside with Urshela—and his upper-percentile PECOTA numbers top Uribe’s—but Uribe gives the Indians a slightly better chance to compete for 2016 and perhaps more certainty for a season in which they are obviously aiming for a playoff run. Plus, there’s the psychic benefit from Uribe’s magnificent clubhouse presence. Given his injury history, there’s probably some chance for Urshela to get plate appearances, and there may even be a chance for Diaz to make his mark, but Uribe gives the Indians the best-case version of the all-defense, low-hit third baseman for 2016.

For the low cost of less than $5 million and a single year, Juan Uribe adds a little more certainty at a position of weakness in Cleveland. From his perspective, he gets to a contending team and this may have been the only place where he could’ve landed a starting job. It’s a win-win … unless you’re the incumbent who’s left holding the bag. We may need an Emo Giovanny Urshela Tumblr to replace this old site.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed LHP Manny Parra to a minor-league deal.

The Cubs can’t get enough middling middle relief depth, or so it would seem. Ten days after they claimed lefty drifter C.J. Riefenhauser off waivers (and successfully snuck Edgar Olmos, who is the same guy only from Van Nuys instead of Yonkers, through them, outrighting him to Triple-A), they signed Parra. That’s a lot of lefties to stack up going into spring training, especially considering that the team already had a logjam of players who figure to fit precisely the role for which these three will vie. Travis Wood is a surefire member of the bullpen, but Clayton Richard and Rex Brothers (whom the team has signed for a combined $3 million or so) are fighting just to stay in a crowded relief picture, and two long-time organizational arms (swingman Eric Jokisch and reliever Zac Rosscup) are still squatting on the very fringe of the 40-man roster.

This is a team unafraid to flash a little cash and pull a few extra veterans into camp, if there’s a chance it will result in better insurance against injury or a pop-up performance from someone we’ve all dismissed already. Don’t get too attached to any non-elite Cubs reliever; cut days throughout camp could be hard to watch. Not even Wood, with his hefty salary and some potential trade value, or righty Neil Ramirez, who’s out of options, are exceptionally safe bets to stay in the picture at this point.

If Parra is just the latest spaghetti strand tossed at the wall, he’s a little more likely to stick than most. It’s easy to forget that, in two of the last three seasons, he’s been a pretty solid situational reliever for the Reds. He didn’t miss bats the way he has generally done in 2015, and PECOTA thinks he’ll post a pedestrian 4.54 DRA in 2016, in too few innings to be more than replacement level. Then again, he’s really only a replacement option, so replacement-level performance (or a hair better) would be just dandy.