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Signed minor league free agent 2B/SS-B Eider Torres to a one-year major league contract, adding him to the 40-man roster. [11/2]

Torres is only going to be 24 next year, having been signed by the Indians as a free agent out of Venezuela. He’s not really a top talent, having had to repeat Double-A this past summer, and hitting only .273/.325/.325 at Akron. He plays the little man’s offensive game, making contact, bunting effectively, and running well (41 steals in 53 attempts). The Orioles only have Brandon Fahey on the roster for their big league utility needs, and having never been on a 40-man roster, Torres has a full slate of options, so he’s worth taking a peek at. He’ll be going toe-to-toe in camp with Brave waiver claim Luis Hernandez for a spare infield role, but unless the team assembles a six-man pen that inspires much confidence going into Opening Day, the winner’s more likely to be fitted out for a summer of roster bungee, bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the Orioles’ bench. Let’s face it, beyond Fahey, it isn’t like there will be all that many infield innings to go around with Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada around. Unlike Hernandez, Torres might be in the mix as a pinch-runner, but there he’ll have to compete against outfield reserve Adam Stern, and I wouldn’t place bets on Torres just yet.

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Activated LHPs Abe Alvarez and Jon Lester and RHPs Matt Clement and David Pauley from the 60-day DL. [11/6]

Announced that RHP Keith Foulke declined his mutual option and has become a free agent. [11/10]

The Red Sox weren’t going to pay Foulke $7.5 million owed him on their option to show up in 2007, and if Foulke had accepted his option, he would have made “only” $3.75 million, against his getting $1.5 million payoff for walking away. So, from Foulke’s perspective, he’s only risking $2.25 million against the opportunity to get out of Beantown and start over somewhere else, possibly for more than that in an incentive-laden deal. Meanwhile, the Red Sox get $6 million back in the till to help them afford Daisuke Matsuzaka. Everybody wins, and here’s hoping Foulke gets his career back in order.

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Signed CF-R Luis Terrero to a one-year contract. [11/3]

Acquired RHP David Aardsma and LHP Carlos Vasquez from the Cubs in exchange for LHP Neal Cotts. [11/16]

I like all of this, even signing Terrero, and even though I’m still a fan of Cotts. The White Sox ran up against some lack of depth in their bullpen this past season, and dealing Cotts for good stuff after an ugly 2006 is a pretty nifty trick. To not simply replace him with a potentially handy lefty, but to add a power righty arm like Aardsma makes for an especially canny exchange by Kenny Williams. The club’s real problem was finding a reliable right-handed setup man after first Dustin Hermanson and then Cliff Politte went to pieces. Going into 2007, they’ll have Mike MacDougal for however long he’ll be healthy, but that’s automatically a dodgy proposition. With Matt Thornton looking like another Don Cooper retread special in the primary lefty setup role, the Sox didn’t need to afford themselves Cotts’ coming arbitration case to see if he could return to usefulness. So instead, they’ve got Aardsma, who has the fastball to stick around in a high-leverage relief role. He managed to survive the near-permanent state of insecurity that characterized Dusty Baker‘s bullpen, doing relatively good work, and with the benefit of moving from Baker’s “creative” insecurity to the White Sox’s more sober and structured team-minded approach in the pen, seems like a reasonable bet to blossom. Unlike so many of Cooper’s previous charges, Aardsma isn’t a retread, and while there are concerns about his control, to their credit, Ozzie Guillen and Cooper seem to have gotten more out of Bobby Jenks than most. I wouldn’t be surprised if they similarly help turn Aardsma into a relief star.

Vasquez is no ordinary throw-in, having made an impressive recovery from elbow surgery that kept him shelved in ’05 after ending his 2004 season early. He throws a hard sinker with nasty breaking stuff, generating a lot of groundball outs. Although he was never seen as a top prospect in the Cubs’s system, that’s more a product of his past injury and the organization’s overall depth. On the year, he struck out 91 and walked 41 in 85 innings spread between High-A Dayton and Double-A West Tenn, while allowing only 65 hits. It’ll be interesting to see if a year further removed from surgery will improve his command, but his stuff works against righties and lefties both (allowing only a .269 SLG against everybody), and if he only develops into an effective second lefty in a major league pen, that’s still somebody who will have replaced Cotts, perhaps as soon as some point during 2007.

As for Terrero, he’s not a bad choice to bring in as a potential fifth outfielder. He can run well enough and play center, two qualities you usually look for in the type, but he’s also coming off of a fine season at the plate, having hit .318/.367/.560 in Ottawa. He won’t draw walks, but that unexpected power spike looks like more than just a pretty platoon split or a cozy home park. Although he might seem to be yet another quick bat on a bench already pretty well-stocked in that regard, it wouldn’t be all bad to have Rob Mackowiak as the lefty-hitting outfield reserve, and Terrero as the speedier center field reserve who bats righty. The real question is how they would balance that out in terms of roster space against not keeping both Scott Podsednik and Brian Anderson in the everyday lineup, and how Ryan Sweeney fits in.

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Signed free agent 1B-L Sean Casey to a one-year, $4 million contract. [11/16]

So, you have a flabby and relatively punchless first baseman, a hitter who’s given his employers one genuinely good year in the last five, or exactly as many as you got from Carlos Pena in the last two. Of course you give him $4 million. What better way to make sure the fans who sign up for season ticket packages in 2007 wind up regretting their investment? As much as the Tigers don’t have the benefit of a prospect-packed farm system, I’d argue this was a better roster to Huizenganate to wind up with future promise than the 1997 Marlins. Does anyone have a reason to expect great things from Casey? Every excuse has been made for him (“He’s a good guy!” “He’s a gamer!” “He’s actually doing something more than twelve-ounce curls this winter!”), and it still hasn’t mattered-he hasn’t been a major offensive asset at a position where most people stock difference makers. Getting Sheffield was a move with an eye towards winning 90+ games again; bringing Casey back is a way of letting you know either they don’t really take their chances all that seriously, or they just haven’t actually watched the guy play.

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Declined their 2007 option on RHP Brian Meadows, making him a free agent. [11/3]

Released RHP Tyler Walker. [11/10]

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Signed C-R Miguel Ojeda. [11/16]

It looks like Ojeda’s locked in as the most likely candidate to back up Gerald Laird behind the plate, as the Rangers sensibly elect to let Rod Barajas get overpaid by somebody else. Defensively, Laird throws well enough to more than make up for whatever slack that might arise from Barajas’ ability to deter the running game, and at the plate, Laird’s an improvlement. Ojeda shouldn’t hit that much worse than Barajas would have, and the Rangers will get the double benefit of improving the team and their bottom line, and sparing themselves a couple of million dollars better employed elsewhere.

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Signed RHP Matt Roney to a one-year contract. [11/13]

I guess I consider it a bit of a surprise to see Roney on a 40-man roster, but it’s a split contract. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s a matter of having him in-system before the Rule 5 draft, and then moving him back off of the 40-man once the Jays start inking major league free agents. As noted elsewhere, the new CBA will keep a number of minor leaguers off of 40-man rosters and probably eviscerate the Rule 5 draft, but it also ends up creating potentially better circumstances for guys like Roney. Nevertheless, it seems a bit of a stretch-he gave up four runs per nine as a River Cats reliever, there’s no secret pitch in his arsenal, and he doesn’t seem like the sort to succeed in even the odd right-handed situational role.

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Signed RHP Wade Miller to a one-year contract. [11/9]

Signed INF-R Mark DeRosa to a three-year deal. [11/14]

Signed C-R Henry Blanco to a two-year deal with a mutual option for 2009. [11/15]

Acquired LHP Neal Cotts from the White Sox in exchange for RHP David Aardsma and LHP Carlos Vasquez. [11/16]

Sure, it’s noisy, but like the Aramis Ramirez move, there’s not really that much here that makes the team all that much better, and there’s a more fundamental overvaluing of some pretty unremarkable talents. At least Miller’s $1.5 million seems something close to market rates for a market-standard banged-up veteran starter who might or might not give you twenty or more starts; paying Henry Blanco more than that to play a less-important role is a matter of electively picking a lottery winner instead of leaving it to chance. Blanco’s already 35, so betting that he’s going to repeat last year’s uncharacteristic productivity at the plate and paying him $1.8 million to back up Michael Barrett in 2007 is silly enough, but guaranteeing him $2.8 million for 2008, when he’ll be pushing 37 and that much more likely to be back down bobbing around the Mendoza Line, is simply insane. And why deal for Cotts after an ugly 2006? As much as I’m inexplicably fond of the wild lefty, why bring him in when he’s arbitration eligible when you already have Scott Eyre and Will Ohman around? Is a third lefty really going to be that important to this ballclub? Enough to be making something more than the minimum? Isn’t that what Glendon Rusch (due $3.25 million in 2007) is already for? Not that this is going to be as bad as Jon Garland for Matt Karchner, but at least that had some credible suggestion of benefit to the Cubs. The only up-side in this trade is that Cotts will somehow turn it around on the mound, and while he did get his unintentional walks down to three per nine, that could also be a matter of his becoming just very, very hittable.

So beyond a lot of activity signifying nothing (at best), the only real move with any promise to improve the ballclub was signing DeRosa after a career year to give them a useful everyday second baseman. Even calling it a career year is a bit much-it was a career two months, basically, as DeRosa was hitting .346 and slugging .514 through June, and .263 and .397 from July 1 to season’s end. Now, while DeRosa’s brief spring fling with linedrives a’plenty was enough to get him some newfound job security and a liberal compensation package, and while his past as a utility infielder offers you more flexibility than Mark Grudzielanek did, this looks like another decision to dance with a decidedly mediocre partner at the keystone. Even with his spring hot streak, his career averages are .273/.331/.404, or a lot more like what he did from July 1 onwards. Considering that he’s also going to be 32, that he doesn’t run especially well, and he’s not seen as an especially gifted second baseman, and you’ve got just another placeholder on a team where that’s more the rule than the exception. Even if Derrek Lee hits like it was 2005, and Aramis Ramirez like it was 2004, this lineup needs major improvements, and DeRosa isn’t one, not now, and most likely never.

At least the ripple effects of the move are relatively beneficial-Cesar Izturis probably moves back into a role as an everyday shortstop, and Ronny Cedeno‘s relatively limited horizons have been cruelly circumscribed. Although the choice between them as hitters was essentially negligible, Izturis was once the plus defender, and as long as Lou Piniella‘s willing to pinch-hit for whichever one starts, I suppose the damage they do to the team’s fortunes at the plate can be minimized. The pity is that the team is spending money to field a lineup that might have a mediocre second baseman and some lightweight contributions at short, and they see this as progress. Maybe Jim Hendry starts packaging lefty pitching to bring in a top-shelf outfield bat; maybe he spends oodles of cash. But right now, this team isn’t significantly better, and it isn’t even especially different.

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Placed RHP Jason Standridge on waivers; signed OF-L Bubba Crosby to a one-year contract. [11/10]

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Exercised their 2007 option on RHP Jason Jennings. [11/7]

Signed 2B/SS-R Kazuo Matsui to a one-year contract. [11/13]

There was never any doubt as far as Jennings’ option, since it’s for $5.5 million and he’ll only be entering his sixth full major league season, and that coming after his outstanding 2005. In contrast, you can consider the $1.5 million spent on Matsui as flushed money.

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Declined their 2007 option on RHP Eric Gagne, making him a free agent. [11/3]

Re-signed INF-R Ramon Martinez to a one-year contract with a club option for 2008. [11/8]

Who’dathunkit? Gagne and Darren Dreifort, comparing scars and wondering what couldashouldamighta been. In Gagne’s defense, the man did more and got less, and was more transparently the victim of mismanagement. The Dodgers basically saved themselves $11 million by paying off the $1 million buyout, but with the expectation that Gagne will be ready to pitch in the spring, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them re-employ some of that money in inking the former fireballer to an incentive-laden deal.

As for re-signing Martinez, he’s a competent veteran reserve, and if he’s the particular model in that class that manager Grady Little likes having around, you can’t really blame Ned Colletti for re-inking the former Giant. One of the nice advantages of having Wilson Betemit around is that the Dodgers don’t really need a utility infielder who can play all that much shortstop-if something bad happened to Rafael Furcal, Betemit could move over to play short while they call up Andy LaRoche, thereby leaving Martinez ensconced in his reserve role.

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Claimed RHP Jason Standridge off of waivers from the Reds; re-signed UT-B Jose Valentin to a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2008; re-signed free agent RHP Orlando Hernandez to a two-year contract. [11/14]

Acquired OF-R Ben Johnson and RHP Jon Adkins from the Padres in exchange for RHP Heath Bell and LHP Royce Ring. [11/15]

Signed INF-R Damion Easley to a one-year contract. [11/16]

I like everything here, so while I’ve been a relatively harsh critic of Omar Minaya in several other areas, most of this works for the money or talent involved. Valentin’s going to get $3.8 million, with his 2008 option for $4.3 million vesting if he gets 400 plate appearances-that’s a challenge for him to stay healthy and hit right-handers as well as ever (.288/.341/.538 in 2006), because if he doesn’t, he’ll come out of the lineup. For El Duque, the stakes are steeper, $4.5 million in ’07 and $6.5 million more for ’08 (and a $1 million bonus), and while he’s far from a reliable starter, he is somebody you can probably count on to give you two dozen starts while not wilting in New York. If it was a park other than Shea or on a team in the DH league, I’d be more critical, but for the Mets, it’s not the worst way to stock their third or fourth slot of their rotation. The real problem is sorting out the rest of the rotation, but that’s still obviously on Minaya’s to-do list. I’m less excited about bringing in Easley to replace Chris Woodward as the team’s primary infield reserve, not because Woodward was all that valuable, but because a 37-year-old utility infielder who can’t really play short isn’t all that handy. However, considering that he’s only costing the club $850,000, and that Jose Reyes and David Wright will play at least 90% of the innings at short and third, Easley’s obvious playing time outlet will be as Valentin’s platoon partner at second. While he isn’t a lefty masher, he has some pop, and where else could he be the younger half of a platoon at second?

Similarly, I’m impressed by the decision to go out and get Johnson for a couple of relatively interchangeable relievers. Not that Ring and Bell might not prove useful, but finding their like on the minor league free agent market isn’t all that difficult, and in a system with as much nearly-ready pitching talent as the Mets, they’re not the sort of guys you want crowding your 40-man. What this team needed was outfield help, and in Johnson, they’ve added a right-handed hitter who can spot for Carlos Beltran in center when he isn’t sharing the job in right field with Shawn Green. I especially like the alternative he makes to Green-he can field the position, has the arm for the right field corner, and power enough to more than adequately replace Xavier Nady. There’s still left field to sort out, of course, but if they wind up with Lastings Milledge winning the job away from Endy Chavez, that’s not exactly bad news.

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Signed minor league free agent LHP Ryan Ketchner to a one-year contract, adding him to the 40-man roster. [11/2]

Acquired RHP Heath Bell and LHP Royce Ring from the Mets for OF-R Ben Johnson and RHP Jon Adkins. [11/15]

I really don’t get the decision to deal Johnson for Bell and Ring. The Pads appear to be fascinated with Bell’s potential, and while his forkball is indeed interesting, and while Ring’s potentially a useful big league lefty reliever, that’s two relatively generic relievers with ‘maybe’ potential for a guy whose downside is as a quality fourth outfielder. It could work out just fine, and certainly, if it does, it’s a testament to some canny scouting by Kevin Towers and his crew, but Johnson might actually pan out as a pretty good center fielder over the next four years, and is certainly something more than just an adequate fourth outfielder in the making. Although the Pads are talking about bringing in a big-name outfielder, there’s no more guarantee that they’ll be able to land one, although there at least there might be a larger probability than that of Ring and Bell both turning into quality bullpen assets. Johnson was a steep price to pay for a bit of wishcasting.

Ketchner’s the former bounty acquired by the Dodgers from the Mariners for Jolbert Cabrera in a less-than-storied exchange in April 2004. Like so many other Mariner draftees, Ketchner could not escape a date with the surgeon’s knife, shredding his elbow and missing all of 2005 and most of 2006 rehabbing it. He doesn’t throw hard, but has a decent enough changeup and command of his assortment of junk, so he’s not an implausible candidate for a second lefty’s job in a big league bullpen. The other thing to note is that, like Curtis Pride, Ketchner is deaf. Between lip-reading and a hearing aid, he’s dealing, but if you’re looking for some extra reason to pull for a guy whose already had more than his share of poor fortune, there’s also that.

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Re-signed CF-L Jim Edmonds to a two-year, $19 million contract. [11/10]

Re-signed UT-B Scott Spiezio to a two-year, $4.5 million contract, with a club option for 2009. [11/16]

These both look like honeymooner deals, because outside of the fuzzy warmth that comes from being number one, I don’t see either deal making all that much sense.. As much as we don’t know about Edmonds’ recovery from his concussion, the Cardinals had no reason to give him an extension like this-they already had a $10 million option on 2007. Why they decided to instead spend $8 million per year in each of the next two, and pay out $3 million (notionally earmarked for 2007) in $300,000 annual installments from 2010 through 2019, it beats me. Maybe this is Edmonds telegraphing that he only plans on playing the next two or three years. His numbers have taken a couple of significant drops in the past two seasons, and while that’s natural enough, there’s nothing natural about it in his case. This year’s second-half slump was a product of his injuries, and I don’t think his final-season rates (.257/.350/.471) reflect anything at all like what you can at least expect. I guess I see things poised on a knife’s edge, where the wielder isn’t Doc Andrews, but the nornir. Maybe it’s the concern that he’s becoming like Fred Lynn, but either he’ll be healthy, and do better than that, or he won’t be, and he’ll have a hard time doing even that well. Taking a chance on that for one year seemed sensible enough-betting an extra $9 million that he can do it twice and fully recover from offseason shoulder surgery seems pretty foolhardy.

As for Spiezio, however much it might be cool to have a guy with a Cardinal-red soulpatch, and however much we might all like to believe that those two years in Seattle didn’t count, the guy’s 34 and moves around about as well as your average loveseat. He’s handy, and I certainly understand the desire to bring him back, but if this is what you get for being the one team willing to have taken a chance on the guy, complete with hometown discount, I’d hate to see what he’d want from somebody who didn’t do him the favor of resurrecting him in the first place.

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Signed RHPs Tim Redding and Joel Hanrahan, INF-R Josh Wilson, and OF-R Michael Restovich to one-year contracts; purchased the contract of LHP Matt Chico from Harrisburg (Double-A); signed RHPs Jermaine Van Buren, T.J. Nall, Colby Lewis, Felix Diaz, Eduardo Valdez, Josh Hall, Winston Abreu, and Jim Magrane, LHPs Mike Bacsik, Billy White, and Chris Michalak, C-Rs Juan Brito and Danny Ardoin, INF-L Joe Thurston, 2B/SS-B Alejandro Machado, OF-R Darnell McDonald, and OF-L Wayne Lydon to minor league contracts. [11/6]

Four guys, none of them ‘name’ free agents, all of them signed to contracts that put them on a team’s 40-man roster. That’s not standard operating procedure, but welcome to the unique confluence of talent-bereft organization and a new acquisitions landscape. Basically, I think this sort of thing is symptomatic of the new CBA and its importance to minor league players not having to be added to the 40-man until after their fourth or fifth years as pros. Especially when you’re stuck with a relatively empty farm system to start off with, that extra year’s development time is affording the Nats the opportunity to add guys who might have only gotten minor league NRI deals in other organizations. Generally speaking, everyone will have a little more space to be able to put these guys on the 40-man (similar to the Pads with Ketchner, or Torres with the Orioles), but in the Nats’ case, they have that much more space, given that they emptied their bench onto other people’s rosters down the stretch, and the almost complete absence of veteran pitchers worth retaining from last season.

Books, Holidays, and the Little People

Generally speaking, I’m not going to write up and comment on minor league signings. In part, that’s because I’m going to be making more of an effort this winter to keep up with major league moves through that portion of the year where I normally ignore everything beyond working on the annual, other than perfunctory observances of Turkey Day, the birthday of Sol Invictus, and New Year’s Eve. However, I will show off the Nats latest minor league free agent swag because it reflects a refreshingly aggressive and early bit of shopping in this segment of the “free talent” market. In brief, the Nats get it, and while this also reflects their generally poorly-stocked upper levels down on the farm, that’s a Minaya legacy issue more than a reflection on Jim Bowden and Dana Brown. Machado and Thurston might be able to stick as utility infielders, Ardoin makes for a righty-hitting catch-and-throw backup backstop no less qualified than Gary Bennett or Brandon Harper, McDonald and Lydon make for plausible fifth outfield types, and the arms are a decent group of guys with former promise, spotty track records, some big league experience, and a few major surgeries.

All four of the new Nats were worth bringing in, certainly. Signing Redding on the off chance that they can get his career back on track as a bottom-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever is certainly a risk I’d take in their shoes. He’s still a big guy who throws relatively hard, and in RFK’s thick air, that’s a better low-cost, high potential yield pickup than seeing what Pedro Astacio has left in the tank. Hanrahan’s equally interesting, in that only a few years ago he was a top pitching prospect in the Dodgers system, but it seemed like he never really made the adjustments to thrive above A-ball. However, he’s a sinker/slider guy with solid velocity, he’s only 25 and has been relatively durable, and he did manage to post a relatively solid season between Double- and Triple-A. He’s been knocking around Double-A for the last four years, so I wouldn’t get that worked up over his up-side, but he didn’t give up much in the way of extra-base hits, and he missed a goodly number of bats. At 25, he’s still relatively young for all of the disappointments he’s had as a Dodger, so it’s definitely worth picking up and taking a look. Of course, I’ve said as much about Billy Traber as well, but basically, why pay for Ramon Ortiz-type performance at Ramon Ortiz-type prices? Better to save the big-ticket money for genuinely big-ticket pitchers, and if in the meantime that means seeing if guys like Redding or Hanrahan can be re-treaded, that works for me.

The position players aren’t quite as interesting. Restovich is probably more of a platoon goof than anything else, but pair him up with Ryan Church in an outfield corner, and you wouldn’t regret it. Restovich has the arm for right, but he’s not the swiftest outfielder on the hoof. Basically, on a team with Austin Kearns and a group of former somebodies to try and fill out the outfield with, Restovich is a reasonable option. Between Church, Restovich, and Alex Escobar, I’d be willing to bet that one of them pans out and turns in a decent four-year run, and for a franchise hamstrung by the neverending Jose Vidro contract, economizing in the outfield might have to be a necessary adaptation. As for Wilson, he isn’t your standard-issue utility infielder-to-be, as he has more power than most of his ilk. While his glovework at short isn’t the best, he can play the position well enough, and however much his .307/.376/.475 season at Colorado Springs was altitude-inflated, and he’s got more pop than most infield reserves, he isn’t a stumblebum on the bases.

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