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American League

National League

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Signed OF-R Chris Denorfia to a minor-league deal. [3/2]

Previously a perfectly fine fourth outfielder with the Padres, Denorfia is now 35 and a half years old and coming off consecutive substandard seasons. He is, in all likelihood, at the end of his big-league career. (The situation is so dire that you can’t even label him a lefty masher, since his multi-year True Average against lefties is just .247.) But that doesn’t mean his days in baseball are finished. Denorfia’s reputation across the league suggests he could well become a coach or instructor in the near future; thus, while the Yankees are unlikely to carry him on their 25-man roster barring an injury, they might offer him a different job in the coming weeks. It’s all good either way. —R.J. Anderson

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Signed OF/1B-L Efren Navarro to a minor-league deal. [3/2]

Did you think Jerry Dipoto was done adding ex-Angels? Navarro is evidence to the contrary. While his contact-heavy approach hasn’t worked during his various big-league stints (he’s tallied a Zunino-esque .232 True Average in nearly 300 plate appearances), his mastery of Triple-A pitching should please the good people of Tacoma. And that’s the extent of the upside here. If Adam Lind tweaks something, the Mariners figure to pass over Navarro in favor of Gaby Sanchez or Dae Ho Lee (whichever one doesn’t make the bench) to fill the void; Navarro is around to serve as an emergency option and, just as importantly, to help with the kids at Triple-A. You’d be kind to think there’s a special place in baseball heaven for reliable organizational soldiers; there’s one on the corporeal plane, too—for old Angels, anyway, it’s called a Dipoto-run organization. —R.J. Anderson

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Signed LHP Matt Thornton to a minor-league deal. [3/3]

Thornton said a month ago that he wanted a big-league contract; that he’d consider retiring rather than deigning to sign a minor-league pact. He must’ve changed his mind, because here he is, accepting an invite to Padres camp. Not that you can blame Thornton if he remains annoyed about his offseason; for all the concern about his increasing age and declining peripherals, he nonetheless held lefties to a .188 True Average last season. On merit alone, he deserves a chance to prove whether 2015 was a fluke. But before Thornton can do anything in the regular season, he’ll have to convince the Padres (or some other team) over the next few weeks that he’s worth carrying.

If you’re willing to bet on Thornton cracking the Padres, then you’re wilder (or more confident) than most: San Diego has the most fluid bullpen situation outside of Philadelphia. Veterans like Fernando Rodney and Carlos Villanueva are guaranteed spots, while Drew Pomeranz and Nick Vincent are each without options. That leaves three vacancies for Kevin Quackenbush; Rule 5 picks Josh Martin, Luis Perdomo, and Blake Smith; and veteran NRIs Thornton and Casey Janssen to fight over—and that’s ignoring the eight other relievers on the 40-man roster. If we assume the Padres have something like 14 relievers gunning for three spots, then A.J. Preller and Andy Green have . . . oh, more than 360 ways of filling out their bullpen. Good luck, Thornton. —R.J. Anderson

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Signed 2B-L Kolten Wong to a five-year extension with an option for 2021, for $25.5 million.

This could be a really, really short analysis. It’s almost overthinking it to say anything more than, “Team signs good young player to deal that affords them cost certainty, extends their control over the player beyond the initial term, and adds virtually zero risk to the club. Good on them.”

I’m always one for overthinking, though, so let’s consider this another way. Wong posted an impressive 3.1 WARP in 2015, but a whole lot of that value came from his glove work at second base. Wong’s .259 True Average was a hair below the offensive standard of a regular at that position last year: the median TAv for regulars at the position was Cesar Hernandez’s .261. He was an asset on the bases, but a modest one. If not for the 11 runs FRAA said he saved defensively, he’d have been a two-win player.

Now, Wong did all this at age 24, and his offensive output was considerably better than the .241 TAv he posted amid Mike Matheny’s mishandling of him in 2014. There’s reason to believe in Wong’s bat. PECOTA doesn’t think he’ll progress this season. In fact, PECOTA never thinks he’ll have a season as good as his 2015 again. His top handful of comparable players are almost cruel.

  1. Blake DeWitt
  2. Josh Barfield
  3. Jose Lopez
  4. Luis Valbuena
  5. Steve Lombardozzi
  6. Gordon Beckham

The Cardinals probably wouldn’t have committed to Wong this way if they thought these guys laid out a fair map of his possible career outcomes. I tend to think he’s better than this, too. The bet the Cardinals are making, though—on the complicated development of left-handed hitters, on Wong’s defense and baserunning value proving to be both real and sustainable, and most of all, on a player to demonstrate better ability than he’s shown over his first 1,108 MLB plate appearances—seems tenuous.

It’s tenuous because, looking at what Wong has done to reach the levels he has attained in his first two-plus seasons, it’s hard to see an offensive star turn coming. Wong doesn’t strike out much and uses the middle of the field, but he’s been dreadfully impatient (60 walks) and only modestly, very middle-infielderly powerful (73 extra-base hits) over his career to date. For all the talk about his sneaky, scary power, he’s a little guy who does just what you’d think a little guy might do, power-wise: shoot the gaps, stretch occasional hits for an extra base, and yank one out of the park every two weeks or so. His next opposite-field home run will be his first. There’s not a lot of inspiring track record here; there’s just projection.

You might be thinking that the Cardinals aren’t necessarily betting on Wong turning into a star anyway, with this small commitment. I eagerly concede the point. It’s a trap, though, because my counterpoint is this: teams ought to be less eager to lock up average players like Wong. It’s not just the $25.5 million the Cardinals are spending on Wong; that money doesn’t matter much. If it’s a good deal, it’s a good deal precisely because there’s very little risked here. Even if Wong totally flames out, the way Allen Craig did, the Cardinals can just pair the next Joe Kelly (Marco Gonzales?) with him and deal him for whatever the 2018 version of John Lackey will be (Wei-Yin Chen?). One way these contracts prove fireproof is that they retain trade value until the very last drop of value has been wrung from the actual player, and sometimes longer than that.

No, the risk in this deal, the real cost of it, is the opportunity cost. Craig did St. Louis a lovely favor, crumbling into a hobbled mess after a serious injury. He was easy to move on from. Wong, though, could easily hang around as a two-win player for the life of this contract. That’s fine. If he does it, the team will have saved a little money, relative to the arbitration awards he would otherwise have gotten, and they’ll have saved a lot, relative to what a similar player would cost on the open market.

On the other hand, in that scenario, the Cardinals would also have a very hard time justifying jettisoning Wong. Second base is a place a lot of different, flawed, talented players can end up, but not in St. Louis for the next five years, not if Wong more or less meets PECOTA’s tepid expectations for him. The cost of this deal is that it creates the possibility that the team will settle for a player with the 18th-best TAv out of 31 regular second basemen for years to come. Committing too early to second-division players, or at least guys who could quickly land there, is a real danger. A team like the Cardinals, with no shortage of resources and a perpetual intention to contend, has a right to hold out on guys like Wong, and look to aim a little higher.

All of that said, the Cardinals signed a decent young player to a deal that affords them cost certainty, extends their control of him beyond the initial term (if they want), and adds little risk to the club. It might not be the kind of bold move that will help them regain primacy in the NL Central, but it’s not a bad move, either. —Matthew Trueblood

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Very nice write-up Matt. I agree, Wong seems awful replaceable to guarantee money.