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Re-signed LHP Andy Pettitte to a one-year, $11.75 million contract. [12/9]

It’s one of the defining characteristics of this year’s Winter Meetings that this has been the day’s big news. It isn’t really, not when Pettitte’s choices seem to be limited to pinstripes or tee times. As things now stand, the rotation’s crowded with options ranging from excellent to OK, which you might expect takes them out of the Roy Halladay running, except that they’re the Yankees, and they have to be in on everything, else they wind up just dully competent, and what’s the fun of that? Add him to the potential proposition that Chien-Ming Wang might be back in action by May (should the Yankees tender him a contract), and we might have a whole new round of Jobamarama and the inevitable freak-outs in the Big Apple. Should he relieve? Should he start? Is Chad Gaudin good enough as a fifth starter? Is the plan to stick Phil Hughes in the rotation really going to happen? It’s a fun set of options for a team that could choose almost any of the alternatives and feel good about the choice. If anything, I’d consider it a major upset if they tender Wang, but it’s not like they can’t afford the gesture.

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Noted the decision of RHP Rafael Soriano to accept arbitration to determine his 2010 compensation. [12/7]
Designated OF-L Ryan Church for assignment. [12/8]

There are notions of surprise, and the words that describe them that leap upon the language like… well, like an ambush. ‘Ambuscade,’ for example, is the lovely cognate of ambush, and you can always turn to terms attached to these things, such as the elaborate concern with ‘masked batteries’ in the Civil War, or ‘franc-tireurs’ in the Franco-Prussian. Essentially, these are all concepts involving an unpleasant surprise, although they tend to be a bit on the martial side.

Jumbling through these notions seems appropriate to the Braves walking right into this contretemps, because while Soriano’s very much worth having around, this is a symptom of a marketplace where arbitration offers can’t be handed out lightly. As Joe touched on yesterday, the market for relievers offered arbitration can be brutal, because the number of front offices that anticipate being able to get more out of a first-round choice than a good-not-great reliever is large enough to depress offers such that a guy like Soriano, having just made $6.1 million in 2009, looks at what Juan Cruz wound up with last winter ($6 million over two years), and decides to settle for a one-year gig.

That’s actually not the end of the world, whatever the transient embarrassment involved. The Braves, caught flat-footed after having already landed upon Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito as their new late-game duo, are now “cheated” of the draft pick they might have hoped for, and have had to work out an arrangement with the player where they’ll deal Soriano after his arbitration case. That’s actually not the end of the world for either party; the Braves should be able to get something for Soriano (although less than they might have aspired to), Soriano should wind up with an excellent compensation package if little job security. There is, of course, also the slender possibility they just end up keeping him, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given that they cannot really count on Saito if he has to be used as gingerly as the Sox felt they had to last season.

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Noted the decision of RHP Rafael Betancourt to accept arbitration to determine his 2010 compensation; released OF-R Matt Murton to sell him to the Hanshin Tigers in the Japanese leagues. [12/7]

There’s nothing wrong with Betancourt accepting arbitration, except that it short-circuits the team’s apparent desire to have re-upped with him for a multi-year deal with a lower average annual value. He’s still a Rockie, and it’s only somebody else’s money, so we’ll see if this really has an impact on a team that doesn’t seem to have a burgeoning payroll issue.

As for Murton’s dispatch to Japan, I would think that reflects the basic problem as far as his limitations. I’ve harped on this for a while now, but he’s not some mighty, untapped, Ken Phelps All-Star hero, he’s just a corner outfielder with a good glove, moderate patience, and not nearly enough power, and now that he’s headed into his age-28 season, it’s telling that he fulfilled nobody’s sense of need at this stage of the winter. He could still contribute, of course, on a team that gets power from non-standard sources (up the middle, obviously), but how many GMs want to go out of their way to make a point of adding him and leaving their outfield corner situation enough in doubt that he has a shot? We obviously know the answer now, so here’s hoping Murton bops in Nippon, earns some yen, and is able to come back unattached to any team and picks the best possible circumstance for him.

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Signed RHPs Roy Corcoran, Gary Majewski, Ryan Sadowski, and Casey Daigle, INF-L Drew Meyer, 1B/3B-R Chris Shelton, MI-R Oswaldo Navarro, and OF-L Alex Romero to minor-league contracts. [12/8]

In case there was any hope as far as the Astros‘ farm system having much in the way of near-ready talent, guess again. This is a decidedly rummy lot. Majewski, if healthy, might be an adequate middle reliever again. Shelton can’t really play third, although he was asked to for Tacoma last year, and he gave it his best shot; if he sticks with a good spring, he’s not really a fix there as much as an emergency plug-in, first-base reserve, and pinch-hit power source. Romero’s almost the very definition of the non-descript outfield reserve of dubious utility.

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Claimed MI-R Luis Cruz off of waivers from the Pirates. [12/7]

For reasons only they can explain, because why would you commit a 40-man roster spot to a glovely infield reserve who can’t hit and won’t, and who isn’t any better than any number of people you could scrabble after on the minor-league free agent market? I suppose there’s always the possibility that he’s the sort other people would let slip through waivers once you outright him to make space for something more valuable, but we’ll see.

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Signed 1B/3B-R Mike Hessman to a minor-league contract. [12/8]

One of the less frequently discussed horrors of last year for the organization was its poorly stocked Triple-A team, a blight on a Buffalo affiliate that, upon a time, had a proud enough tradition of quality teams and quality support that it was mentioned as a market that might rival Denver’s for eventual major leaguery. Twenty years on, that seems sort of quaint, but to give credit where it’s due, at least Omar Minaya can share some of the blame for stocking the Bisons with baseball-killing dross. Hessman’s coming off one of his worse years as the most recent ultimate Mudhen, having put in five seasons with Toledo; 23 homers, a .217/.324/.442 line, not good stuff for a guy headed into his age-32 season. Even so, he’s a serviceable defender at both corners, and his Mighty Casey act has some entertainment value at Triple-A.

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Signed RHP Vinnie Chulk to a minor-league contract; noted the loss of MI-R Luis Cruz to a waiver claim by the Brewers; outrighted RHP Jeff Sues to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [12/7]

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Signed RHP Brad Penny to a one-year, $7.5 million contract. [12/9]

In for a Penny, in for a pound, but that goes for both parties in this particular bit of transaction tango. He knows what he’s going to learn from Dave Duncan, and he obviously appears to be OK with that on his conscience. Today’s more polite brand of baseball won’t lead to any horrified bleats about cheats (witness the 2006 World Series), because whatever Penny achieves, it isn’t going to be Mike Scott-level significant, just some range of outcomes bouncing between sunk-cost cuttery to mediocrity to unapologetic third starter.

Maybe my expectations are overly low, given that Penny’s return to the weaker league last season produced five quality starts in six turns as a Giant, and maybe the NL Central’s a great place to be for the mostly adequate. I still think his getting spindled and mutilated in the AL East’s Charnel House for the Merely Adequate counts for quite a bit, and he saw some September lineups in his Giants spin, while getting mauled the second time out by the one team that saw him twice (the Dodgers). There were probably all of two locations Penny could go where you might anticipate good things, and this was one of them; the other was Petco, and there was no way the Pad people were going to give a veteran journeyman with a spotty track record $7.5 million.

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Signed OF-L Jerry Owens to a minor-league contract. [12/8]